October 20, 2017
Comments Off on CPA Exam: Here’s Some Advice You Don’t Want to Miss!!
This week, we bring you some valuable CPA exam advice from Mark Hogan, CPA, MBA, Director-CPA Exam Preparation and AICPA Academic Champion at Northern Illinois University; Julie Cukla, a staff accountant at Lou Malnati’s corporate office, who has successfully completed all four sections of the CPA exam on her first attempt; and current NIU students Byron Downen and Harshana Reyhart, who have both already passed one or more sections of the CPA exam.
In Q&A form, Mark and Julie provide some CPA Exam preparation strategies and tips for staying motivated throughout the process:
Q: What study tools are helpful when preparing for the CPA exam?
Julie: I used a professional CPA review program. I chose to do online lectures instead of attending classes, which I found worked best with my work schedule. The combination of multiple choice and simulations that the program provided made me feel very prepared when going into the actual exam. I also made my own study guide for each section to help with final review.
Mark: Even straight-A students should take a CPA Review course – this will greatly increase the probability of passing the 4 parts of the exam:
- FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting)
- AUD (Auditing and Attestation)
- REG (Regulation)
- BEC (Business Environment and Concepts)
Taking a CPA Review course is important not only to refresh your memory, but also to a) “fill in the gaps” (for some topics that you may not have had in class) and b) gain experience with the different types of task-based-simulations (the question types other than multiple choice). Exam candidates can contact me (email@example.com) for advice on which CPA Review provider is best suited to their needs.
In addition, all candidates should carefully review these resources at aicpa.org:
- CPA Examination Tutorial (to gain familiarity with the tools available on test day, such as the on-screen calculator)
- CPA Examination Sample Tests (“mini” tests, one provided for each of the 4 parts of the exam)
Q: What is the hardest part about developing effective study habits and how do you combat these problems?
Julie: The hardest part was studying each day. There were times I took too many days off in a row, and this set me back. I combatted this problem by creating a study plan week by week for what I wanted to accomplish.
Mark: The hardest part is accepting the tremendous dedication and sacrifice that’s required — even though it’s much more than worth it in the end! Another hard part is studying your “least favorite” topics – but it may very well be the points you get from a “least favorite” question or two that makes the difference between passing or not! So as you prepare for each section, you should even start with your least favorite topics.
- Of course, focus on just one part of the exam at a time.
- Develop a game plan (schedule) which maps out, by day, which topic(s) you’ll study.
- While it’s inarguably lots of study (see the next question), you do need breaks – often just a 5-minute break can make you feel better for tackling more material.
Q: About how much time do you need to study for each part of the exam?
Julie: I found my personal study time depended on the test that I was studying for at the time. Financial and Regulation took the longest amount of time because it had the most amount of information. On average, I would study at least an hour a night, with 5 hours each day on the weekend.
Mark: A very rough rule of thumb is 100+ hours (spread over approximately 5 weeks). But a much better answer is it depends (on how recently you’ve finished related course work, how you did in those courses, which section you’re taking, etc.). So depending on individual circumstances, a candidate might invest anywhere from 50 to 200 hours to prepare for a section.
Remember: The #1 reason candidates don’t pass the CPA exam is not because they’re not smart enough; it’s because they underestimated the significant amount of time required to properly prepare (using a CPA Review provider).
Q: Any other advice for students preparing to take these exams?
Julie: The harder you work, the sooner you will get it done. You will have to make sacrifices, but it will be worth it in the end. I would recommend starting with the hardest exam first because this would allow you to take your time with the material without the pressure of the 18-month window to finish all the exams. Lastly, I would recommend taking a day off each week for a mental break. Studying can be mentally exhausting and keeping a positive mental attitude throughout your studies can make all the difference.
Mark: Planning ahead is key! An ace example of how planning ahead can pay off is testing as a provisional candidate: You can start testing during your last semester (the semester in which you will have completed all educational requirements required by the Illinois Board of Examiners).
There are lots of other tips I give students, a sampling being:
- Talk with others that have passed the exam – they can provide encouragement and tips.
- Have a dedicated space for studying – perhaps at the library, to eliminate distractions.
- After you test for a section, “exhale” and take a couple days off to do something fun before starting to study for the next section.
- Get a bit of exercise each day — it really helps!
We also asked NIU students Byron Downen and Harshana Reyhart to share their insights. Here are their thoughts:
- Take your studying seriously and make sure you understand every practice problem, even ones you miss! These explanations and then your own subsequent repeating of the questions will equate to you truly learning the material as opposed to just memorizing one answer. Your level of confidence will thank you.
- Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go well at first. These things may take a lot of time to figure out and the exam is not meant to be easy. Push through and things will go as planned.
- Confidence is key! As with most things in life, a positive attitude and a high level of confidence going in will lead to better results. Don’t try to cram an absurd amount of studying in during the week of the exam. Some light studying won’t hurt, but putting yourself through a long grind in exam week will only tire you out and have you running on fumes before you even get to exam day. Trust in the work you put in and trust in yourself. You will be much calmer on exam day.
- The Task Base Simulation for the CPA is also very helpful when preparing for the exam. This simulation mirrors the real exam environment by showing questions in the same format as the actual exam. It gives you experience using the computer resources, like the calculator, that are provided during the real test. It provides you with a sneak peek of the exam and can reduce your nerves on test day.