The Strategic Approach: Which Section of the CPA Exam to Write First

Embarking on the journey to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is no small feat. The CPA exam, comprised of four sections, is a rigorous test of one’s knowledge, skills, and dedication. As aspiring CPAs prepare to tackle this challenge, a common question arises: which section of the CPA exam should be tackled first? This decision holds significance as it can set the tone for the entire exam experience. In this article, we’ll explore the strategic approach to determine which section of the CPA exam to write first.

Understanding the CPA Exam Sections

Before delving into the strategic considerations, let’s briefly outline the four sections of the CPA exam:

  1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD): This section focuses on audit procedures, ethics, and professional responsibilities related to auditing engagements.
  2. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): BEC covers business concepts, corporate governance, economics, financial management, and information technology.
  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): FAR delves into financial accounting standards, reporting, and business transactions.
  4. Regulation (REG): REG covers federal taxation, business law, ethics, and professional responsibilities.

Strategic Considerations

The decision of which CPA exam section to tackle first is not arbitrary. Several strategic considerations can influence this choice and impact one’s overall exam experience and chances of success.

1. Personal Strengths and Weaknesses

Assessing your personal strengths and weaknesses in relation to the exam sections is a logical starting point. Do you excel in auditing-related concepts, business theories, financial reporting, or tax regulations? By identifying your areas of expertise and comfort, you can opt to start with a section that aligns with your strong suits. This can provide an early confidence boost and set a positive tone for your CPA exam journey.

2. Overcoming the Hardest Section First

On the flip side, some argue that tackling the most challenging section first can be a strategic move. This approach aligns with the idea of facing the toughest hurdles head-on. By conquering the most difficult material at the beginning, you set a high bar for yourself and can then transition to relatively easier sections with a sense of accomplishment and reduced stress.

3. Time and Resource Allocation

The time and resources you can allocate to your CPA exam preparation can also guide your decision. If you have a limited time window before your target exam date, it might make sense to start with a section that requires less preparation time based on your existing knowledge and experience. Conversely, if you have ample time to study, you might opt to begin with a more challenging section, knowing that you have the time to thoroughly cover the material.

4. Synergy Between Sections

Another factor to consider is the potential synergy between the exam sections. Some candidates believe that starting with a section that shares content with their academic background or professional experience can provide a solid foundation. For instance, if you have a strong understanding of auditing practices due to prior work experience, beginning with the AUD section might offer a smoother transition into the CPA exam journey.

5. Motivation and Momentum

Motivation plays a crucial role in exam preparation. Choosing a section that interests you or aligns with your career goals can boost your motivation to study and excel. Moreover, successfully completing one section can create a sense of momentum, propelling you forward as you tackle the remaining sections.

6. Flexibility and Adaptability

Flexibility is an essential trait for any CPA candidate. As circumstances might change during your exam preparation journey, consider which section allows for more adaptability. For example, if your job demands fluctuate, a section with more flexible study hours might be the ideal starting point.

Navigating the Decision-Making Process

Given the multifaceted nature of the strategic considerations, how can aspiring CPAs navigate the decision-making process and determine the best section to write first? Here’s a step-by-step approach:

1. Self-Assessment:

Begin by evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Take into account your academic background, work experience, and any prior exposure to the exam topics. Make a list of the sections in order of your comfort level.

2. Goal Alignment:

Consider your long-term career goals. Which section aligns most closely with your aspirations? Starting with a section that has direct relevance to your desired career path can provide added motivation.

3. Resource Evaluation:

Assess the time and resources you can dedicate to your CPA exam preparation. If your schedule is tight, a section that requires less intensive preparation might be a suitable starting point.

4. Challenging Yourself:

Reflect on your attitude toward challenges. Are you someone who thrives under pressure and enjoys tackling the hardest tasks first? If so, starting with the most challenging section might be a confidence-building strategy.

5. Seek Advice:

Consult with current CPAs or colleagues who have already passed the exam. Their insights and experiences can offer valuable perspectives on which section to tackle first.

6. Mock Testing:

Before making your final decision, consider taking mock tests or practice questions for each section. This can provide a tangible sense of the difficulty level and content of each section, helping you make an informed choice.

In Conclusion

Deciding which section of the CPA exam to write first is a decision that requires careful consideration of various factors. Your personal strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and time constraints all play a role in determining the best approach for you. Whether you choose to build confidence by starting with familiar content or challenge yourself by tackling the hardest section first, the strategic considerations outlined in this article can guide your decision-making process. Remember that each candidate’s journey is unique, so take the time to assess your own circumstances and align your approach with your long-term goals. Ultimately, by approaching the CPA exam strategically, you set yourself up for success on this path to becoming a Certified Public Accountant.