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Understanding EA Test Questions – Qualifiers

One of the best things you can do for EA test prep is answer as many questions as possible leading up to the exam.    If you intend to pass the IRS EA exam, familiarity with the question format is important to your success.  The IRS does not ask each question in the same way.  On occasion, the format can be tricky, causing you to miss a question that you could otherwise answer correctly.   Here is a tip you may not find in your EA training course.

Logical Qualifiers  –  NOT, EXCEPT, EXCLUDED, INCLUDED, and ONLY.

A qualifier is a word that determines the scope of the question. These words apply logic to the question, and can alter the answer dramatically.  Every EA test will contain qualifiers that you must interpret properly before you can provide the correct answer.  Qualifiers are often tricky.  A qualifier not only tests your level of EA training, it tests your ability to read and understand the question itself.

Example: The following statements about dividends received from a dividend reinvestment plan are correct except:

A. Reinvested dividends are not taxable if not removed from the plan.

B. Reinvested dividends are taxable in the year paid.

C. Reinvested dividends are taxable and are added to the basis of the stock or mutual fund.

D. Reinvested dividends are treated as ordinary or qualified dividends.

In this question, the word EXCEPT is a logical switch that completely changes the correct answer.  Because of this qualifier, the correct answer must be an incorrect statement.  The correct answer is A, which is the only choice that is FALSE.  On occasion, you may see a form of qualifier known as a double negative on an EA exam.  A double negative occurs when two negatives appear in the same sentence, canceling each other out.  A double negative changes the answer to a positive.  For example “The following are not requirements of a qualified plan, except” is looking for an answer that is a requirement.

While most EA test takers understand this concept, unnecessary mistakes often occur during EA testing due to careless reading habits.   No amount of EA training can compensate for carelessness when reading a question.  For some, the difference between a passing or failing score on the enrolled agent exam is just one incorrect EA test question.   This is the kind of mistake that has you kicking yourself after the exam.


Rain Hughes is the co-founder of Fast Forward Academy, a leading publisher of IRS Enrolled Agent Exam courses, ea test review questions and continuing education for all tax professionals.

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