Favorite Place to Study: On a Boat
New York City, NY
I am currently an Audit Associate at KPMG. I started on my accounting path a little bit later than most. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and went on to pursue an MBA in finance. I mostly worked in corporate finance roles and only within the last few years did I pursue a career in accounting.
After I passed Level I of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam, I figured a combination of my finance background and a CPA would be an excellent credential offering me the flexibility to pursue whatever challenges I choose. Working in industry prior to public accounting has given me a unique perspective on the work that I perform since I went from sitting on the client side of the audit table to sitting at that table as an auditor.
How I Got Here
I dreaded the first accounting class I had to take. In fact, I put it off for as long as possible and chose to take it over a summer session to minimize my exposure to ‘accounting pain’. I was fortunate to have an excellent Professor who changed my entire outlook and attitude toward financial accounting. I would later TA some of his financial and managerial accounting classes (Yes, I liked it that much!) and found that I learned even more through teaching than through being a student. It was bittersweet to be a semester shy of graduating with my MBA and realize that I wanted to pursue accounting instead of finance. My school did not offer an accounting concentration, so I shelved the idea – I had enough of school for the moment. A few years later I decided to take ‘just one’ masters level accounting class. A few semesters later here I am…a school junkie with an MS in Accounting
Planning for the Exam
I’m a deadline person, so I scheduled all of my exams either before I even started studying or at the very early stages of studying. That pressure was my motivator; otherwise I would have tended to put off studying.
The hardest part of studying is not the actual studying part. It’s the part where you have to make yourself sit down and get it done. I studied for FAR and BEC first, planning to sit for both in one day. Starting with FAR, I allocated a certain number of hours each day for a certain number of days per week. Generally, I would map out which chapters had to be completed and by when. I also prioritized where to focus my attention. Using Bisk, which gave me an outline of where the exam concentrated material, I could focus on those sections first, constantly reviewing that material for 10-20 minutes prior to beginning a new section.
Everyone studies differently and everyone learns differently. The best thing you can do when strategizing your approach is understand what works best for you. It took me a while to figure that out. I found that I benefited in later exams having learned what works best for me, as I was better able to focus and get through more material because I better understood how I absorbed it. Bisk afforded me the flexibility to review material at my own pace, in my own way.
There are certain areas of accounting that are interesting to me and others that I find to be tedious. If I felt myself struggling I would proceed on to a chapter that better held my interest and return back to the one difficult one in the next study session when I was refreshed.
The single most common strategy I have heard for effective studying is to answer practice questions - a lot of them. That is the best way to get familiar with not only the exam material, but also with the way the exam approaches the material. I found early on if I just studied the material without reviewing questions, I would get questions wrong, only to realize I did know the answer and fumbled on the question’s approach.
What I Did to Conquer Fear
I recommend taking an exam, even if you did not complete every last study requirement you set for yourself. I was surprised how well I did on FAR, even when I walked out questioning whether I had passed. I asked around if anyone else underestimated their abilities and found that quite a few had the same sentiment.
For each of the exams, I had a fleeting moment of panic the week before thinking maybe I should reschedule because I wasn’t prepared enough. Each time, I remembered that I had put in a good amount of time, and it was worth it to make an attempt rather than spend an additional few weeks studying when it was very possible I already had the ability to pass.
Finally, I always stop studying by around 5:00pm the night before an exam. I think better when I don’t overload the night before. I did, however, take a few flashcards with me in the morning as a quick refresher, but I usually didn’t take my book. At that point, either I knew it or I didn’t, and rather than stress myself out trying to cram a lot in prior to walking in the exam room, I tried to relax.
You will make a lot of sacrifices for this exam. You will make a lot of sacrifices for your career. But if it didn’t take hard work and sacrifice it wouldn’t be very rewarding. My husband and I are avid boaters, so the summer I took two of my CPA exams (and also the summer before my CFA Level I) I decided I couldn’t throw away all of my weekends to books, nor could I afford to give up two days of studying. You would see us out on the water, him with a fishing pole and me with a study guide. Boating wasn’t as carefree and studying wasn’t as productive, but I gave a little on both to make the best of the situation.
The time spent at school, in the library, and locked down at my desk at home adds up to quite a significant chunk of time. More often than not it meant giving up hanging with friends, giving up time with my family, and giving up some of the other activities that I love. I kept reminding myself that even though it is a commitment, it’s a short –term commitment.
Because of the sacrifices you make in studying for the exam, I am very big on rewarding myself for just taking exam (and again when I pass!). It’s a lot of work to study for the exam. A lot of anxiety is produced sitting for the exam and then leaving without getting that immediate feedback. So reward yourself for just sitting for the exam. It’s the first step toward licensure, and it’s a worthy celebration regardless of your score.
I would not recommend taking two exams in one day. I signed up to take BEC in the morning session and return in the afternoon for FAR. I remember getting halfway through FAR and crashing. I was tired, sick of answering questions, and overall just burnt out. Even if you are studying for two sections at once, stagger the exam dates, even if by only a few days.