Any time someone makes a list of the hardest professional exams in the world, you’ll find the CPA exam somewhere near the top. But with the right preparation and planning, there’s no reason why you can’t pass it with flying colors.
Here are some useful tips to help you along:
1. Understand the Rules and Requirements
Before you can begin studying for the CPA exam, you need to make sure you understand the CPA exam schedule and requirements.
The first step is to apply for the exam with your respective state board of accountancy. Assuming you meet the basic prerequisites, you’ll receive something known as an Authorization to Test (ATT) via mail.
Within 90 days of receiving your ATT, you’re required to select which CPA exams you’ll sit for and when. Then you register and pay the exam fees.
Within three to six weeks of registering, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS). This permits you to sit for your first section of the CPA exam. You’ll be required to obtain a separate NTS for each of the four exam sections.
Generally speaking, you’ll receive your score for each CPA exam section within two weeks of when your files are received.
2. Use the Right Study Tools
Choosing the right CPA exam study materials is one of the most important steps in the process of preparing for the CPA exam. And it all depends on the type of learner you are.
Do you learn best by reading books and working through study guides? Or are you a visual learner who absorbs information by watching a screen? Do you prefer to listen to lectures and recordings while doing something else, like mowing the grass or driving to work?
There are CPA exam prep materials for every learning style. It’s up to you to decide which options work best for you.
3. Create a Study Schedule
Generally speaking, you’re going to spend somewhere between 100 to 200 hours studying for each CPA exam section. (That’s as much as 800 cumulative hours.) In other words, you aren’t going to cram everything in two weeks before the test. You need months to prepare.
The only way to reasonably make enough time to study is to create a detailed study schedule far in advance of the actual exam sections. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll require at least eight to 12 weeks if you’re working full-time or six to eight weeks if you aren’t working.
You’ll have to create a schedule that fits with your lifestyle, but you should ideally spend five or six days per week studying and take one day off each week. This downtime gives you a chance to mentally recharge your “batteries.”
4. Take Practice Exams
If you’ve done a good job of scheduling out your studying and pacing yourself, you should be ready to sit for the exam roughly 10-14 days before the actual exam date. You can use these last two weeks to take mock CPA exams and practice tests.
Mock CPA exams are just as much about time management as testing knowledge. By taking two or three practice exams, you can start to get a feel for the proper pace and how much time it takes to complete individual sections.
5. Plan a Test Taking Strategy
As you take practice exams, you should flesh out your test-taking strategy. Because you can go back and forth between exam sections, you’ll have to decide how you want to handle questions that you’re unsure of. Most people choose to quickly tackle the ones they know and then circle back to the ones they’re uncertain of later on.
It’s also important to note that you don’t get penalized for wrong answers. You should always answer a question, even if you aren’t sure of the answer. At the very least, you have a 25 percent chance of getting it right. If you can eliminate one answer, your odds improve to 33 percent.
Adding it All Up
The CPA exam is difficult. (Over the past decade and a half, the cumulative average pass rate has hovered somewhere between 45 and 50 percent.) But it’s certainly not impossible. Those who plan ahead and develop a proactive plan tend to perform much better than those who cram at the last minute and take the exam without much understanding of what to expect.