How to Pass the CPA Exam

The CPA is like a marathon. It is intimidating from afar, but it’s not until you start training for it that you truly realize the amount of time and effort you are going to have to commit in order to achieve your goal. If you commit to being one of the few people willing to work hard and sacrifice your time, your achievement will be rewarded for the rest of your life. There is not one correct way to prepare for the CPA exam, but there are four essential points of guidance that, if you follow, will greatly increase your chances of passing:

Develop a realistic plan

This is the first and most important thing to do before you begin studying for the CPA. The experience of studying for the exam is different for every person, so you may want to plan to take the exam over a time period of six months to one year. You should treat studying as a full-time job and cultivate your plan depending on the time you are actually going to allot to it. If you are fortunate enough to have the summer off before you begin your full-time job, take advantage of it. It cannot be emphasized enough that studying after a full day of work is much more difficult and stressful than having an entire day to study.

It is important to consider the order in which you plan to take the tests because each of the four parts of the CPA exam have different volumes of content, and some material may be more challenging based on your interests and knowledge. For example, I decided to take regulation as my final exam because there was a lot of information that I thought I would be more difficult to learn. I wanted to have the maximum amount of study time while also having the motivation of being in the last leg of the race.

You must apply for a notice to schedule (NTS) before you are able to take any test. When applying, you choose which of the tests you’d like to take, and the notice expires in six months. I recommend applying for only two tests at first because if you do not pass them within the six-month window, you will have to pay the test fee again. If you happen to finish your two tests and would like to take your third, you can simply apply for another NTS.

Establish productive study habits

CPA exam candidates are extremely fortunate in the sense that there are a variety of study materials available. Most programs include video lectures, textbooks and practice questions. Everyone learns in a different way, so figure out how to best absorb the material based on your preferences. I watched the lectures while following along in the textbook and highlighting the important material. After the lectures were over, I went back through the highlighted material and typed up notes, so I had condensed study guides to review later.

When studying for the exam, be sure to answer every practice question and complete every simulation at least twice. If you get a question wrong, make an effort to fully understand why it was wrong and why the correct answer is a better option. This may be obvious advice, but it is extremely important as it can be disheartening to answer hundreds of questions incorrectly.

You want to make sure that the time you spend studying is efficient. Instead of sitting in the library for ten hours, go out to lunch with a friend or go for a run. It’s easy to burn yourself out, so take small breaks throughout the day.

Stay motivated

If there is one absolute key to passing the CPA exam it is finding motivation. It’s important to remember the reason you are spending your days inside in the middle of summer and missing movie night with your friends. At most accounting firms, you are required to have your CPA in order to be promoted to a certain level, so if you intend to stay in public accounting, obtaining your CPA is not optional. If you don’t intend to stay in public accounting forever, possessing a CPA will guarantee job security for the rest of your life, a privilege that very few people have.

The biggest mistake that I see a lot of people make when studying for the CPA is the failure to exhibiting a lack of urgency. When you’re young, you have minimal responsibilities, but they will quickly start to accumulate at work and within your personal life. It is extremely important to sustain your focus as early as possible because the longer you wait, life gets in the way.

Be confident

It is exceedingly rare for candidates to pass each part of the CPA exam on their first try, as the pass rate for each test is around 50%. In my opinion, it is impossible for a candidate to master all of the material available to be tested in a reasonable amount of time. You could sit for an exam today and score a 65, but sit tomorrow and score an 80; it just depends what questions you receive and what material you are comfortable with.

If you are confident walking into your test that you are as prepared as possible, then you will have a greater chance of passing. If you fail an exam, don’t become discouraged. Rather, adjust your study plan and habits as necessary and build on the knowledge you’ve already accumulated to set yourself up for success.

Hopefully, my four tips will help you as you prepare for the CPA exam. If you develop a realistic plan, establish productive study habits, stay motivated, and maintain your confidence, I am confident that you will be able to become a CPA. Good luck! For more information on passing the CPA exam, contact us. 

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