How to Solve Option List Simulations

August 10, 2021

Option list simulations are one of the five types of task-based simulations (TBSs) you will encounter on the CPA exam. Together with the written communication questions (for BEC only), these in-depth, multi-step word problems are worth 50% of the total score for the CPA exam. MDS CPA Review has prepared guidance documents for each type of TBS and for the BEC written communication testlet to help you gain proficiency with these questions and score higher on the CPA exam.

Options List simulations CPA Exam

Options List Simulations on the CPA Exam: A More Sophisticated Multiple-Choice Question

Option list TBSs resemble multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in that there are options for answers, such as in a drop-down list, from which to choose. Typically, a short scenario or a list of details is given followed by a series of questions and, sometimes, additional resources are provided in the exhibits tab to help you determine the correct answer.

One major difference in option list TBSs and MCQs: the process of elimination doesn’t work as well for the TBSs as it does for MCQs.

This is because, in option list TBSs:

  • More answers are provided than needed, and
  • The instructions often state that answers “may be used once, more than once, or not at all.”

The Option List TBS Guidance Document Provides Detailed Instructions Such As:

How to simulate the exam experience (not just the exam content) during your studies

  • Use an online highlighter tool to highlight words to easily connect the TBS to the explanations in the book and more easily select the correct answers.
  • On the exam, the highlighter tool can be used to organize content by connecting related elements in the question to those in the exhibits.

Time-saving test tips

  • Learn how to use the authoritative literature as a search tool to locate specific details needed to solve the questions.
    • For example, you could use the tax code (Internal Revenue Code) to review information about a 1231 gain and a 179 deduction.

Practical study tips

  • Look for similar or paired answer options and use these as “clues” to the specific information you need to locate in the scenario or exhibits.
    • For example, option list simulations often provide similar choices, such as: Bad Debt Expense or Recovery of Bad Debt; $1,100 credit or $1,100 debit; SOC 1 report or SOC 2 report.

Quick access to authoritative resources that explain how to excel with TBSs

The practice tests and tutorial videos from the AICPA are excellent resources (especially the “Help” button within the practice tests).

How to make and implement a time allocation plan for the TBSs on the exam

The options list TBSs vary in length and difficulty, but, in general, they require more time than do the research questions and less time than do the document review questions. Therefore, they should take about 15-20 minutes each.

Ways to check your exam answers for accuracy before clicking “submit”

For example, look for extreme language including words like “always,” “never” and “only.” These are usually (but not always) the incorrect answer.

CPA Exam Review Course

Our How To Solve Task-Based Simulations Series:

Need Additional CPA Exam Prep? We’re Here to Help!

Sign up for a free trial with MDS CPA Review to access the TBS guidance series and the BEC Written Communication document (in Bulletins in the drop-down list under your name), or reach out to us at: We look forward to helping you succeed!