Business Process Improvement Manager, Boston Beer CompanySee all diaries
I learned that obtaining a CPA was a requirement to move up the ranks within the public accounting firms.
I decided to major in accounting my second semester of sophomore year in college. Through the sophomore leadership programs that I attended, held by some of the large firms, I learned that obtaining a CPA was a requirement to move up the ranks within the public accounting firms. I also learned that it is a very respected and valued certification not just in public accounting, but throughout business in general.
Although I knew I would eventually take the CPA exam, I didn’t think about when to take it until senior year. I attended a few panels of young alumni, spoke with professors, and asked questions from friends I knew who were planning to take or had already taken the exam. The advice that was given by all was to take the CPA exam as soon as you can. Their reasoning was that as the years go by, more and more responsibility is given to associates, which tends to mean they work more hours so there’s less time to study. Additionally, an advantage of taking the exam right after school is that early associates are usually still in study mode.
A representative from one of the CPA exam review courses spoke to a group at my university. A sample schedule was given to us showing how we could take all four parts of the exam in six months. After seeing a schedule laid out for me, I decided to try the six-month plan right after I became eligible to sit for the exam.
In Massachusetts, CPA exam applicants are required to have 120 credit hours (along with specific course requirements) before being able to sit for the exam. I achieved my 120 credit hours upon graduating from my undergraduate degree. Immediately after graduation, I sent in my materials to apply for my NTS (Notice to Schedule).
I knew that in order to study an adequate amount for each exam and to stay on schedule, I would need to set out a timeline. I received advice from professors to take the hardest exams first. The advantages to this is to get the most difficult exams out of the way and then the rest will get easier as you become worn out from the exams. Additionally, having passed the hardest exam serves as encouragement to finish all of the exams within 18 months. I had been told that the two most difficult exams were Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (Reg). I decided to take Regulation first as this exam covered tax and business law, two subjects that were not my strongest during college. The order of my next exams were FAR, Auditing and Attestation (Audit), and ending with Business Environment and Concepts (BEC).
I ordered study materials from a CPA exam review course. There were a few options to choose from: live classes, online classes, or self-study CDs. I decided on the self-study materials so that I could work on my own schedule, repeat the areas that I struggled in and go quickly through areas that came easily to me. The materials that I ordered came in about one week; these consisted of one book and multiple DVDs for each test.
In planning my schedule and timeline, I started with a blank calendar. I included important events that I wanted to save on it, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to study during these times. I estimated the date I thought that I would receive my NTS and left about two weeks after that to estimate when to take Reg. I estimated that each chapter of the book would take me approximately 10-15 hours to study for. Additionally, I planned to leave one week before the exam to go over each chapter, review my notes, repeat questions, re-do the simulations, and take the final test. As I was in graduate school when studying for the exam, I planned my studying around my classes. I aimed to study for approximately 30 hours each week leaving enough time to complete 2 chapters, go back and review the chapters, practice the simulations, and study my note cards. I filled in my calendar, planning when to watch each lecture, answer practice questions, etc; this was a great tool to keep me on track.
I made sure to only use the calculator on my computer, in order to practice using it efficiently as this was a similar calculator to the one I would be using at the testing center.
I started studying four days after my undergraduate graduation. The instructors on the DVDs encouraged me to circle, underline, and highlight important topics. They shared helpful hints and entertaining stories which kept me engaged, and used mnemonics to help me remember information. I found that the instructors covered a good deal of information in a short amount of time—some topics that I had seen before, others that I knew nothing about (I replayed those). After the lecture was completed, I reviewed the notes I had made, read the examples, and took notes on topics and the mnemonics to help me absorb the information.
Answering the sample questions could be difficult and took time. My estimate of 4 hours for each set of questions pertaining to one chapter was about right; depending on the complexity of the topic it could take me longer or shorter. For all questions that I got wrong, I made sure to read through the explanation for the right answer, took notes on the reason for the answer, and flagged the question as one to go back to. I found that I learned the most from going through the questions. It was very valuable to go through every question and understand the basis behind the answers. I made sure to only use the calculator on my computer, in order to practice using it efficiently as this was a similar calculator to the one I would be using at the testing center. If there was a simulation for the chapter, I would read through the questions, draft my answers, and read through the correct answers.
I was able to stay on track for the most part with my calendar, however there were times when projects and papers were due that prevented me from studying the amount of time that I wanted for specific days. I made sure to make up for the time over the next few days in order to not fall behind. There were times when friends were going out at nights and on the weekends. I knew if I wasn’t able to get my study time accomplished in order to spend this time with my friends and family, I would have to put in extra time other days to make up for it. I liked that my schedule was fairly flexible, but it was certainly a lot of work. I had to give up plenty of time with friends and family, couldn’t watch all of the shows that I used to, or take the time to just relax as I could before. It seemed as though I was constantly studying for school or the CPA. I made sure to set things in my schedule as rewards. As I completed one chapter, or ever other chapter, I would make sure to do something fun. It was a good balance of hard work and rewards.
On test day, I made sure to get an adequate amount of sleep and eat a good breakfast. I took a ride to the testing center a few days prior to ensure I wouldn’t get lost on the day of the test. I printed out my NTS, took my license, and brought some notes with me to the testing center. I showed up to the testing center a half an hour early. I reviewed my last minute notes as a refresher. I checked in at the front desk 15 minutes before the test, signed the necessary information, and got my fingerprint taken as was required. I was brought to my cubicle with a desk and a desktop computer. I was able to bring a few sheets of paper and pencils that were given to me at the check-in desk. As the clock works as a countdown from the time you log in, I wrote down on the paper when I wanted to be done with each section (each test was broken down into a certain sets of questions and simulations). I read each question carefully, worked out the answer in my head and on the paper if necessary. I first answered the questions that came easily to me. I made sure to mark the difficult questions that I was unsure of. I returned to each question I was unsure of, making sure to give it attention but stay within the time I had allotted for that section. After completing each section of the exam, test takers are not allowed to go back to the completed section to change any answers.
There were difficult parts of the exam, some that I had not studied before, others that I had studied, but was unsure on the answer. The simulations could be challenging depending on the topic, however I found it was helpful to have practice on the same format prior to entering the exam.
After walking out of the test, I had mixed feelings. It felt great to have it completed, but then I questioned myself on some answers. I felt that I had been prepared after studying the amount that I did, and although there were some things I had wished I had gone over a bit more, I had enough of a knowledge of each topic in order to at least narrow the answers down. Overall, I felt accomplished, that I really had the chance at passing the exam.
I left a couple of days to relax after my first exam. I continued studying for the remaining exams, following the same process as I had for the first. It became habitual studying for the exam, and I really enjoyed being able to learn so much each day. Although it was difficult to continually study for long hours and make sacrifices without having much of a break, I continued working toward my goal knowing that I was working towards something worthwhile. As I took the first exam early in the testing window, I didn’t receive my scores for my first test until about 2 months later. I had actually taken my second test prior to receiving the scores of my first. I continually checked my scores multiple times a day until I finally saw a score pop up in the bottom corner window. I was extremely excited when a 93 popped up on the screen! I knew that all of the studying and hard work had paid off. It was reassuring and energizing to see that I had successfully completed one exam. It appeared that my study routine had worked and that at that point I most likely had the two hardest sections of the exam out of the way. I continued studying for the remaining tests, making sure to maintain my study routine and to not become lax from getting this high score. My second score came in and I passed with an even higher score of 94! I finished all of the other tests and received my scores within the time I had planned. I received my third score which was an 89 and then finally my last score of an 86! It was one of the greatest senses of relief I had ever experienced before. The exam was completed and all I needed to do was complete my hours requirements and then I could apply for my CPA!
I completed my graduate classes soon after and obtained the 150 hours to apply for the CPA. After checking Human Resources at my firm, I obtained a letter from my office certifying that I had obtained the audit hours required to apply for the CPA. I asked three of my colleagues at my firm for recommendations, obtained my final transcript from my school, got passport pictures taken, completed my Academic Certification Evaluation, and completed the remaining procedures and sent in my application for my CPA. I received my official notice of certification in a few weeks after applying.
Proof that sacrificing your social life will pay off.
- REG - 93
- FAR - 94
- AUD - 89
- BEC - 86