Deciding to take the CPA exam can be a stressful decision. The hard fact is, more than 50% of CPA exam candidates FAIL!
That little, but true statistic made me shakin in my boots that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough to become a CPA. I’d heard plenty of stories about people taking the exam over and over and over again to just keep failing and failing and failing. It didn’t give me much hope.
For those of you wondering, the CPA exam is divided into four sections: Regulation (REG), Financial and Reporting (FAR), Auditing (AUD), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Each section takes hours to take, and it consists of multiple choice, essay, and research. The test changes each year because accounting laws change each year. You have to get a 75 or higher in order to pass. Yes, I’ve known people who have gotten a 74!
Once you pass your first section, you must pass the rest of the sections within 18 months, or else you have to take that section again. It’s a rolling 18 months, so you must have passed all four within 18 months of each other. You could potentially pass a section many times, but because you fail others or don’t pass others within the time frame, you have to retake it to fit in the window. Another classic story from CPA candidates.
Sounds fun huh?
Well, here’s the thing. You CAN pass the CPA exam, and you can even do it on your first try, in less than 18 months even! Wanna know how I know that? Because I did.
I even passed with flying colors. I got 80-90’s in all four sections (all on the first try!). How did I do it? I’ll tell you.
- It is SO important to get a CPA review course. All the people I know that didn’t pass their first time were studying independently without a review course. They would get the Wiley CPA books and test bank and study on their own. I am convinced the review courses I used are what made it possible for me to pass the exam so quickly, and have no re-takes! I can’t rave enough about Yaeger CPA Review. I used them for FAR, BEC, and REG. I got a jump-drive with hours of video where a teacher went through and made the insanely complicated accounting laws understandable. They were so much easier to watch and listen to than reading a big fat book. For AUD I used Roger CPA which I also loved. I read that theirs was better for AUD so that’s why I changed it up. One thing I REALLY liked about Roger CPA was that he had a lot of acronyms that were super easy to remember come test time.
- You need to have a physical calendar that lays out your study schedule. I printed full calendars off the computer specifically to schedule out what sections/chapters to study on what days, how many practice tests to take, etc. When I completed the task, I put a huge X in the day with a permanent marker. It felt so good! If you don’t schedule it, you wont do it.
- Reward yourself. I’m a chocolate addict, and I would set up a system so that if I got through X amount of practice questions, I got some chocolate. It sounds silly, but it works! I’d also reward myself with tv time if I passed a practice test (anyone else like Grey’s Anatomy?).
- Be strategic in your study time. I didn’t do practice tests while I studied the material. I first scheduled my exam date, usually giving myself about 3 months to get ready for a test. I would then divide however much time I had before the exam into three time slots. The first two slots of time (first two months) would be dedicated to getting through the material. For study courses that meant just getting through the videos/notes. The last slot of time (last month before exam) was completely dedicated to practice tests. I would spend hours answering the thousands of questions provided by test banks. I would set up an entire exam that is typical of the real thing, and take it over and over until I passed. Do this for a MONTH! Do you think it’s excessive? It’s not. Because once you are in there and all you have is your nerves and a computer screen and it’s the REAL DEAL? You will be so glad you practiced. Believe it or not, I saw a lot of the same exact questions on the practice exams that were on the real exams. It also teaches you to manage your time wisely…each exam has a time limit. Don’t give up when you get bad scores on practice exams. I totally got 50% on so many practice exams. It was awful. I thought I was the stupidest person ever. But I soon got the hang of it and my scores went up!
- Study the exam format on AICPA.org. They give you practice tests on there so you can see exactly what the test will look like and there are no surprises.
- Be strategic about what order you take the exams. Some people like to take the easiest first. I kinda mixed it up. I decided to get the hardest out of the way first, FAR. It has by FAR (get it?) the most information out of all of them, and it actually overlaps into some of the other sections too. Then I did BEC to give myself a bit of a break, because it’s supposed to be the easiest (it was). Then REG, then AUD. So basically, HARDEST, easy, HARD, not as hard. That’s the order I chose and it worked out really well for me. I think it made it so I wasn’t worn out and got some (kinda) breaks.
- Do the exact same routine every testing day. I wore the exact same outfit (a twilight shirt, jeans), ate the same exact breakfast (chocolate donut, jamba juice), and took the exam at the same exact time (9am) every single time. There are studies done that when you have routines on days of exams, you remember things better. I don’t know, maybe those donuts helped me get in the zone!
- When you sit for the exam they will allow you to have a piece of scratch paper to do work on. It’s blank when they give it to you. The second I sat down I wrote down a bunch of information as quickly as I could. I wrote acronyms that helped me remember concepts, I wrote formulas I knew I’d face, and any other information I thought I may need that I didn’t want to forget. When you’re in the exam, it’s easy to get frustrated, stressed, or forgetful. This strategy helps you get lots of important information down before your brain gets tired, and you can refer to it when it DOES get tired.
- When you are done with the exam, don’t go back and recheck everything. There are studies that prove the first answer you give is typically the right one. I often got done with my exam in half the time that was given to me. Want to know what you should do with that extra time? Go home and take a nap.
- This last tip may not be possible for everyone, but for Idaho it was. Like your state’s board of accountancy facebook page. Our Board of Accountancy would post everytime they got new scores in. This made it so I wasn’t checking incessantly everyday. Exam scores come in batches, and yours may not come at the same time that your friends does. Try not to be obsessive about it. The score will come and when it does, CELEBRATE!
These things truly helped me pass the exam, and helped me pass it with ONE try. If I did it all over again I’d do it exactly the same way.
Lastly, I won’t lie to you- this exam was one of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished. It took hours and hours and HOURS of dedication. You need a support system around you so that when you’re weak (and you will be) someone is there to tell you, “You can do it!” And the great thing is- YOU CAN! You totally can. I truly believe that anyone can become a CPA if they put in the hours and the work. And it’s so worth it! I have never regretted becoming a CPA. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
Let me know if you have any questions! I’d love to help out in any way I can.
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