Having taken the CPA exam four times now has taught me a few things; it’s also given me hindsight as to several things I would have done differently that I would like to share with any first time candidates.
Looking back on my approach to passing the four sections of the exam
1. I took too much time in preparing at the beginning. Granted some sections are tougher than others, I still feel I took more time than was necessary to prep for FAR. I let life get in the way, which allowed me to justify the excuses I made as to why I was not ready to schedule my exam. You must be dedicated once you start, and you cannot slack no matter how tempting.
The time, effort, and money you put into the exam are too precious to waste. Two failed attempts later here I am moving on to AUD.
2. A two-month window works best, which is the suggestion of Gleim and other study guide providers. In this timeframe, you are less prone to forget the information you covered at the beginning of your studies, and you will have just enough time to review before test day. The more sections you can cover right out of school and into your career the better. Everyone’s situation is different, but there is no doubt that once you start working and you have a family it will only get harder to focus on the exam.
You will only get busier as life happens.
3. Retake a failed section as soon as possible regardless of whether you started studying for another section. I let nearly a year pass after I failed FAR before I tried again. I lost almost all relevant information and started from scratch again. It would have been much smarter to retake it immediately after learning I had failed. I know this because I got the dreaded 74 on AUD my first time through. Instead of throwing in the towel and continuing with my next section, REG, I scheduled an appointment to retake AUD two weeks later. Though I have not gotten my score back, I know that I was able to pass simply from having taken two versions of the same test so close together.
With that being said, the clock is ticking. I am in over-drive right now trying to make sense of REG and hoping to take BEC before tax season starts.
4. Tax season… another justification for pushing back the exam. I strongly recommend not hiding behind tax season as a break from studying if you are a candidate and working for a CPA firm. If your window of opportunity to pass the exam in eighteen months has not started, that is great. But, you can still take some time to pick up a book and do some reviewing. If your timer has started, you have even more reason to stay on top of your studies. Understandably, I would not recommend taking the exam in the heat of tax season; but, do not put it on the back burner. Be ready to come back strong once it’s over. It can only help you.
I know the exam is overwhelming, discouraging, a drag, and a “necessary evil”. This is why I cannot stress it enough not to drag it out. It will save you a lot of time, money, and sanity to get it done and over with as quickly as possible. Your social life will be non-existent during this time, but it will be well worth it afterward to have those valuable three letters after your name and a fancy piece of paper to hang up in your office. Your career in public accounting will be solidified, people will want to hire you, and you’ll have something you can be truly proud of…something you worked hard for to achieve.
Time is a wasting – GO STUDY!
Author: Mike Glowacki, Staff Accountant