The passing rate of each of the four parts of the CPA exam is about 50%. And although we tend to sometimes focus on the half who fail, remember: 50% of the people who take the test do pass. Some of my colleagues and I were able to pass all four parts the first time we took the exam. Check out some of our tips on how beat this challenging test:
The Best Time to Take the Exam
Most public accounting firms have new staff start in the fall. This means that when a college senior graduates in April or May, he or she has five to six months before starting work full time. This is hands down the best time for you to start studying and taking the test. You’ve just finished four-to-five years of college, so you’re still in that academic mindset, and you may have free time like you’ll never have again. Take advantage of those summer months, because when you start working you might be too busy or tired to study seriously.
Develop a Plan and Stick to It
Before your buy your study materials or notices to schedule (NTS), develop a study and exam plan. Know when the blackout months are and decide on which months you plan on taking each test. It is possible to complete the test in just six months; you can plan to study for a month, then sit for a test. If this isn’t realistic due to other commitments, develop a reasonable schedule that fits your life. Plan how many hours you will study each week and keep track of those hours as you start. This is not a test you can beat without putting in time studying.
Buy Your Materials and NTS
Most public accounting firms offer staff free or discounted study materials through nationally recognized companies. Do your research and decide which programs fit you and your needs, then make sure you do everything the program tells you to do. These companies have done their research and know what it takes to get people to pass. Some materials, like Becker, even offer pass guarantees. If you follow Becker’s program and don’t pass, you get to repeat the course at no additional cost.
Additionally, buying your NTS ahead of time will hold you accountable to taking the tests. NTS are only valid for a period of time, so you’ll have to schedule your tests within that timeframe.
Along with buying materials, you should also make some of your own. Creating flashcards or drafting outlines will help you learn and remember the information. Some companies sell flashcards, but it’s definitely worthwhile to make your own. Not only will you learn from taking the time to write out the information, but you can use those items to study.
Study Like It’s Your Job
If you’re fortunate enough to live at home the summer between graduation and your start date, and have some money saved, avoid picking up a summer job. Treat studying and taking the CPA exam as your full-time occupation. Study 40-50 hours a week and you’ll be able to knock out your test before you start. All your energy will be focused on the test and you won’t have to worry about being too tired after work to study. Just as you will when you work a paying job, you can still have fun on the weekends and can even go on vacation. Just make sure you factor that downtime into your study schedule. If you don’t take the time to relax and enjoy some free time, you’ll burn out before you’ve finished the test.
Don’t Get Discouraged
If you sit for a part of the exam and feel like you don’t understand any of the questions, don’t panic. Just do your best on those tricky questions and move on. Trust that you did everything you could to prepare. If you do happen to fail a part of the exam, don’t feel discouraged. This test has stumped some of the best accountants. Just realize that this exam is set up to be extremely difficult. Pick yourself back up and start studying for that part again. I have many friends who’ve failed at least one part and have retaken those parts and passed.
Remember, these tips don’t in any way guarantee success, but I hope they can get you on the path to success.