Passing the CPA Exam

The difference between passing the CPA Exam and failing does not come down to your intellect or whether you studied accounting in university. Rather, to pass your CPA Exam you need to think in terms of tactics. You need to come up with a study plan and stick to it.

As you probably know, the CPA pass rate  usually hovers around 45%.

Here are some of my top study tips to help you pass your CPA exam on the
first try.

pass your cpa exam

Tips For Passing the CPA Exam

Choose the right CPA Exam Study Course

There are a lot of great CPA Exam Study Courses. Becker is viewed as the gold standard, however, it is the most expensive. You should do your research on each one and find the one that best suits your learning style and your needs.   Just be wary that a lot of websites that pretend to offer advice about CPA Review courses are actually affiliate websites making a commission.

Make Time To Study

Put the Time into Studying

Passing the CPA Exam requires a lot of study time.  It is recommended that you study between 180-250 hours for REG and FAR, and 90-140 hours for AUD and BEC.  It is also highly recommended that you study and take each section separately.  It is much too much information to take all at one time, since you are required to get a 75 on each section.

Use CPA Summary Notes

There is a lot of information in the CPA Exam Course.  It is important that you review it all, but retention is a whole different ball game.  One of the most frustrating things for CPA exam candidates is that they study a lot of information, but don’t know where to focus most of their time.  Often, they go to take the test, and feel overwhelmed by the number of questions that are asked in areas they spend little time.

CPA Study Guides are available on CPA Army that are written and compiled by former CPA exam candidates that have taken and passed the CPA exam.  This way, you have notes that are applicable to the material on the exam.  These CPA study guides are quite inexpensive and will help you weed through the unnecessary information.

Save Time: Batch Tasks

One little hack that I recommend for making more CPA study time is to batch your tasks. One of the top time savers is to batch your preparation of meals.  Yes, you’re probably not going to have the variety of meals you might like but you will save a boat load of time.  Let’s say one of your staple meals is spaghetti. Instead of making only one serving of spaghetti you would make 4-5X your normal serving and freeze the rest. When you want to have dinner, you simply microwave the frozen meal you prepared before. If you have the freezer capacity you can freeze a whole months of meals. You will be saving time on food preparation and cleaning. It might not sound like much but you might save 30-45 minutes per day using this batching strategy.  That equates to 315 minutes per week or over 6 hours more CPA study time.

You should always be on the lookout for other time wasters that you can batch. Laundry and cleaning are other examples that most people can batch for time savings and consequently more CPA study time.

Record Key Concepts On Your Phone
Another big time waste is the commute to work. The solution is to record key CPA exam concepts on your phone. You want to remember the terminology updates in SAS 130, An Audit of Internal Control Over Financial Reporting,  why not record them on your phone. Listen to it on the car or train for the commute. Much more valuable than listening to the latest Drake song on your headphones. Small tweaks can result in 90 minutes more of study time. Over the course of the month that adds up and extra time can be used to help you pass your CPA exam.

Watch Video Lectures On Youtube

If you cannot afford a CPA Review course, you will find lots of high quality video lectures on Youtube. For example, Roger CPA will post a lot of free videos. If you feel confused about a particular topic you may be pleasantly surprised that there is a free video lecture from another CPA review course on Youtube or Vimeo.

Use Practice Questions

Use AICPA Practice Questions

One hidden gem for ALL CPA students are the AICPA released questions. Some students don’t bother with these questions because these are “retired” questions that will no longer appear on the MCQ’s. Big mistake.  The AICPA questions may change in content but the style of questioning does not change from year to year.  It should be noted that there are not huge swings in the weighting of questions. Some subsections are simply tested less frequently than others. The 450 MCQs found in our CPA Practice Exams can also help you pass your CPA exam.

Tips On Using Practice Questions

How many practice CPA questions should I do?

The number of practice questions you do should depend on your previous knowledge and experience. If you are comfortable with the material you obviously need less study time in aggregate in order to pass.

As a general guideline, I think 2000 questions is the minimum.  I’ve noticed that the probability of success rises substantially after you have practiced 3000 questions.

Is there any value to practicing the same question twice?

Yes. For areas that give you trouble, looking at the question twice is a good use of time. However, don’t simply repeat easy questions in order to log in study hours.

Are Practice questions harder or easier than the exam?

This largely depends on the exam and which practice MCQ’s you use. As a general rule of thumb, practice question are a little harder than the actual exam.

Should I Simulate Exams?

This is difficult to do without SIMS. In addition, the actual exam is adaptive. I do not think that any software bank of MCQ’s is adaptive in the same way as the CPA exam. The CPA exam is based on hundreds of thousands of students taking the exam under real world conditions. Any software program cannot match the algorithms on the real exam.

Should I Use a Timer?

Passing the Cpa Exam is largely an exercise in grace under pressure. Subsequently, I think it is important to practice taking questions under time pressure. Learn to move on when you hit a tough patch. You do not want to agonize over one question. Exam time management is a major skill needed to pass the CPA.

Only Study Multiple Choice Questions?

Almost everyone who studies for the CPA exam is pressed for time. The volume of information is so great that if you do not have a study plan in place you end up in a whirlwind of information.  It reminds me of researching something on the Internet and then realizing that four hours has passed by!

One of the strategies that some students advocate is only practicing multiple choice questions. You then review the material related to that multiple choice question in the textbook. The thinking is that if you take enough MCQ’s you will end up covering all the material in the textbook. Essentially, you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Do I like this strategy?

I am a huge advocate of taking CPA practice tests. It’s a far more interesting way of studying. It’s more engaging. You answer a question and read about why the answer was right or wrong.

However, if I used the MCQ’s as my primary study tool, I would always be worried that there are holes in my arsenal. When you approach studying in a methodical fashion, topic by topic, you can easily check off which sections you have covered. By focusing on the MCQ’s you are risking too many holes and you may not pass your CPA exam.

Furthermore, this is simply not the way any of us studied for exams in the past. All of us have been conditioned to read and study materials and then sometimes practice questions. We never just dove into a math problem without first trying to understand the concept. I am not in favor of a radical new study method at such an important juncture.

I suppose if you are massively pressed for time by more than 100 hours this is a potential solution.

However, in general I view this study approach as something of a Hail Mary Pass.

Dealing With Distractions

Dealing With Family Distractions
After you pass your CPA Exam, you will look back and observe that distractions were one of the biggest hurdles.

Specifically, your friends and family do not allow you to study enough. One of the more annoying things about studying for the CPA exam is everyone knows you are studying for the CPA exam. Your friends and family try to be supportive and they ask you questions about how the studying is going. Then they pepper you with questions about when you will receive your scores.

Your parents might ask you a dozen times “what is the date of the exam?” Your siblings might ask you another dozen times “what score do you need to pass?”

If the questions irritate you maybe you should not talk about the exam. Don’t bring it up to anybody.

I think one of the reasons people do not want to talk about the exam is that eventually you may have to fess up that you failed. Most people do not realize that the CPA exam is a different animal. Most people are used to college/high school tests where almost everyone passes. If you fail and you tell them about it, they give you that look of uber pity. The embarrassment is quite a distraction.

Of course, passing the CPA Exam can sometimes come with a feeling of guilt. After all, the nosy people peppering you with questions are trying to supportive. It is always better to have people care about you rather than show complete indifference to your struggles and goals.

Here are my tips:

  1. Change the subject. People bring up the CPA exam and you divert the subject.
  2. Do not tell anybody that you are taking the exam. Make up another excuse for why you are in hibernation mode.
  3. If you do tell people you need to also mention that the CPA exam is a 50/50 exam. They have to understand the level of difficulty and the low odds of passing all four sections.

Passing the Cpa Exam may require you to be temporarily ruthless with your friends and family if they do not understand the strain that you are under.

Limit Internet Usage

For most CPA candidates that I come across, the enemy is to limit distractions. Internet, Facebook, t.v. shows on Netflix are the three primary culprits. My recommendation is to disconnect the Internet. This will eliminate any impulse surfing. In order to actually check your email you would have to stand up and plug in the modem. Chances are your self-discipline will kick in and you’ll realize that you do not need to check Facebook and you’ll go back to the monotonous CPA studying tasks. You can also use a browser extension to block you from accessing certain website during defined parts of the day. I personally use Stay Focused.

Destroying Procrastination

Jerry Seinfeld, the famous comedian and best selling author offered a great tip about how he would stop procrastination dead in its tracks. When asked by a young comic how to be successful, Seinfeld shared the following tip,

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

I think that Seinfeld’s procrastination tip can help you study more and pass your CPA exam.

I would love to hear more tips from other students about passing the CPA Exam. Drop me a line with your study hacks!