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My background includes a B.S. in Business Administration and an A.A.S. in Accounting. I worked at two private manufacturing companies in roles ranging from laser programmer to staff accountant. Like most people, it took time and experience to guide me on a path to “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” After several years of work experience in non-accounting functions, I realized I could use my technical and analytical personality to become a successful CPA. My non-traditional background has given me an understanding of the client perspective and an appreciation for the opportunities available to CPAs to make a difference and provide value to clients.
Initially, I did not have any CPAs in my business or personal network. I used social media to search for contacts and approach acquaintances for advice and support. An old college accounting professor encouraged me to take accounting courses at the local community college and suggested I go on my state board’s website to learn about the requirements for licensure and the resources available to me. I joined my state society and the membership became increasingly more valuable to me. At first, I joined because I thought it would be a great place to network and potentially find a job. Later, I was able to ask my state society connections my questions about licensure requirements and Exam concerns. The best part about my membership was the huge discount I received on my CPA Exam review materials just for being a member.
Never underestimate the power of networking and building relationships with people in your profession.
Planning for the Exam
I set up a schedule based on my original plan to complete all four sections in nine months (it took 12), but I allowed myself flexibility by only scheduling two exams at a time. I used the suggested study planner provided by my review course, Roger CPA Review, because it links the chapter topics and the amount of time suggested for each session. I adapted it around personal and work obligations to come up with reasonable exam dates as well as my plan to be ready by those dates. My realistic schedule helped me stay on target, because I planned for busy times at work and allowed myself time between exams to rest.
When I was behind on my schedule, I found ways to catch up. One of the best ways I found to stay on schedule was to set weekly goals for myself and to give myself a small reward (like going out to eat or to see a movie) once I reached those goals.
I researched how others plan for the CPA exam and found two strategies that seemed to work very well for me. I started with my most difficult section to get it out of the way. This allowed me to approach the most challenging material with my highest level of motivation, which gave me the confidence I needed to complete rest. With that in mind, I took FAR first to conquer what I believed to be the most information intensive exam. Once I gained confidence from passing FAR, I sat for the rest of the exams in order of decreasing exam length: AUD, REG, and finally BEC.
My second strategy was a mindset. Believe that the exam is not a test of intelligence, but rather a test of discipline. Approach your studying with this in mind and plan your schedule accordingly. Most people who pass will tell you that making a commitment to provide yourself with enough focused study time is key.
How I Studied
First and foremost, find a CPA Review course that works for you. I needed a great instructor with a proven record of success at a reasonable fee. I found Roger CPA Review and could not have been happier with the results.
I studied by setting aside a few hours of uninterrupted time in a quiet space. I watched the video lecture, then reviewed the notes and finally completed the multiple choice practice homework. I made time to cover a few simulations throughout the material as well, but mainly focused on the multiple choice so I could gain more understanding of the material.
The weekend before each exam, I spent between 20 to 30 hours completing the condensed cram course offered by my review course from beginning to end. I followed the same strategy of lecture video, notes and practice. I took short breaks to go for a walk or eat, but I reminded myself that giving up a weekend now was much better than giving up several weeks later to study for a section I had not passed.
Dedication and sacrifice are two common words to those taking the CPA exam. Just remember, it is only for the short-term, it’s worth it!
The First Section
Taking my first exam was a very stressful time, so I did everything I could to alleviate my concerns. I reviewed FAR lightly the night before. I put my Notice to Schedule, ID, and earplugs together to bring to the exam as well as laid out comfortable clothes to wear. I went to bed early to get as much sleep as I possibly could. I woke up and ate eggs because I knew they would keep me full through my four-and-a-half-hour exam. I had already made sure I knew how to get to the Prometric testing center, so that was one less worry. I made sure to use the restroom before entering the testing room, because I knew I didn’t want to lose any time during the exam. I wrote my target times for each testlet on the paper provided, put in my earplugs, and did not get up until the test was over. I made a point of recognizing those questions which I knew, those which I did not know, and those to which I would come back to. It’s important to move on when you don’t know something. It allows you to give attention to those you have a better chance of getting right. I drove home kind of numb, hoping for the best. It took about four weeks to get that first score. Once I had credit for the first exam, I knew I had a good formula to continue taking the rest.
Taking the Rest
I took one to two weeks of time to sleep and catch up on life between CPA exam sections. Studying while working full time takes a toll on your health if you don’t allow yourself rest periods. These breaks helped me build up the energy to devote to each section. Once my scheduled rest period was over, it was full-steam ahead into the next section. I approached each with the same plan as the first. I received my first passing score two weeks after beginning my second section of review. That was the best motivation ever. I figured if it worked once, it will work again. I was sure that I had the right combination of planning and resources. It all came down to execution. Staying on task was the roughest part, but I managed to persevere through the remaining eight months and pass each section of the CPA exam on the first attempt!
Clear your calendar and make the exam a priority. Let your friends and family know what you are going through so they can lend support. Once you pass, you never have to do it again!
Take breaks to exercise, eat right, and remind yourself why you want to be a CPA.
Use social networks to connect with others. Through LinkedIn, Twitter, and CPA blogs, I gained support and learned a lot of tips that helped me succeed.