Take the Exam ASAP!
Moore Colson CPAs and Advisors
I graduated in 2005 from Reinhardt College, a small liberal arts school in GA. After graduation, I got married, moved to Raleigh, NC, and got a job shortly thereafter working as a payroll/benefits accountant. Since I wasn’t working for a public accounting firm, there weren’t as many pressures to pursue my CPA license, so I let four years go by before pursuing my CPA. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have waited so long. It’s amazing to me how many opportunities have opened up for me as a result of pursuing my CPA.
How I Got Here
In college there was one accounting professor who other students said was extremely hard. One day, I ran into him in the elevator and told him I was taking his course the following semester. His only response was, “Haven’t you heard about me?”
Over the next few years, the professor, Dr. Reese, became more than an instructor, he became a mentor. It was his foundation that prepared me for taking the CPA exams. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a mentor like this to get through the process.
After graduating, starting a family, and four years of experience in general accounting and financial reporting, I told my boss I was interested in pursuing my CPA license. I was planning to finish up my 150 hour education requirement first, then start taking exam review courses, and then sit for the exam. After meeting with her, she encouraged me to go for the exams first, get the hardest part out of the way, and then get the last ten credit hours out of the way (especially since they were electives). I took the advice and immediately called Becker to register for my classes.
Once I was registered, I was locked in. It was at that point that I applied for my notice to schedule (NTS) (make sure you check and double check your exam eligibility if you decide to register for review courses before receiving a NTS). Once I received my NTS and scheduled my exams, I started to get anxious and excited, because now it was really going to happen.
Planning for the Exam
I applied for my NTS in November 2009 and received it back right before Christmas. My first review class was set for January 5, 2010, so getting the NTS back was a big relief. When I signed up for Becker (September 2009), I decided to take REG, then BEC, followed by FAR, and then AUD. The hardest part was the first month of review since I was in the middle of a year-end audit at work and, trust me, it was a killer schedule.
It was important to me to schedule my exams with sufficient time after the last review course, but with as little overlap with the next course as possible (for the first two exams, I only had one week after the class before my exam, but for the last two exams, I had 2+ weeks). I found this to be important because it allowed me to do two things—first, it kept me from getting overloaded because I didn’t have to worry about studying for one course while reviewing for an exam; secondly, it kept me from dragging out the tests so that if I needed to retake any of them, I had ample time to do that within the 18 month window (from when the first test is passed).
The review course I chose came with interactive software for each exam, which included features that helped make sure I stayed on track. Whether or not you use a review course that has this feature, set goals that are obtainable and allow you to prepare appropriately while allowing enough time to perform an overall review before finally taking the exam. Develop a timeline for when you want to sit for the exams, and when you will have any other requirements complete (educational, work, etc.).
How I Studied
I tried my best in the early part of each review section to read through the chapter before attending the in-class lecture. This made the in-class sessions more beneficial. Invariably, as I got closer to the end of each review course, I had more difficulty staying ahead or even keeping up. But, by staying ahead early on, I kept from falling too far behind at the end. In short, I read each chapter, attended each class, worked as many flash cards as I could (I struggled the most here, but I used them to work on the areas that I had the most difficulty), and after reading/watching the lectures, I worked all the homework problems. Everyone retains information differently, but I studied each night for about 4 hours (starting around 8), then about 6 hours on Saturday. After all this, I took Sundays off (it’s important to give yourself a break).
The next thing that I did that was a big help was that I listened to the lectures on the ride to and from work every day. When doing this, I didn’t frustrate myself by trying to catch every word, but by inundating myself with the material, I was able to reinforce what I was learning in class and study time. In the last week before each exam, I went back through and listened to the lectures for the areas that I had the most difficulty comprehending. This technique paid off on a number of questions when I was able to remember answers to areas that had been especially tricky.
This was one of the biggest challenges of preparing for and passing the exams. I am a firm believer that there is a direct relationship between the level of sacrifice and the likelihood of passing the exams. If you’re early in your career, I recommend taking the exams as close to graduation as possible, because the more “life” that happens, the bigger the sacrifice. For those like me (family, full-time job), talk to all those who will be impacted and discuss the sacrifice that will be required. Even though the sacrifice might turn out to be more than you expected, you don’t want your all important support network to be surprised by the sacrifice—don’t forget, they’re in this with you.
The First Section
I scheduled my first exam for mid-day on a Saturday. Some people I talked to preferred to take their exams on Monday to have the weekend to study. Not me. I knew that one more weekend of study might just lead to burnout, so I scheduled it early enough on Saturday so that I could plan to get together with friends after the test. This especially helped because it gave me something to look forward to after the test, and it also helped take my mind off the test after I took it (immediately after the test, I started second guessing my answers and would have gone back through my textbook looking for the answers had I not had a distraction). I am not a good test taker, so I even asked my wife to drive me to the testing facility so I didn’t have to worry about traffic stress (the funny thing was we were almost in an accident right before we turned into the parking lot, so I made a joke about how ironic that would be; it was then that I realized she was more stressed than I was).
Getting the first section out of the way was the biggest relief. The first section I took was REG. I began my review courses the first week of January and took the exam February 2010. I was especially concerned about this section since I was studying 25-30 hours per week while also going through a year-end audit. By the time the test rolled around, I was ready to have it over with. The four weeks leading up to the exam had been so intense. I knew I had studied hard and I kept telling myself, pass or fail, I had given it my best shot. This helped take some of the pressure off.
Then the wait began. After a couple weeks, I think I checked every day to see if the scores had been released. When I got my first score and it was an 81, I couldn’t believe it. I was especially pleased since I had run out of time and had to leave several sections of the comprehensive questions blank at the end. Passing the first one though gave me a boost of confidence that motivated me to study just as hard for the next one.
Taking the Rest
I took the rest of the day off after my first test, but on Monday, I had to catch up on the homework from my second review section (I attended two classes for the second section but didn’t start the homework until I had gotten the first test out of the way). For my second test (BEC), I started the review courses the first week of February, with the exam scheduled for February 25, so there wasn’t much time to spare.
Fortunately, my second session ended and I was able to take the second exam before the third review session started. I spent the last week reviewing all the chapters we had covered. In order to get through it all, I had to reinforce areas I knew (flash cards are handy for this) and brush up on areas I had struggled with.
I took the FAR section next, taking the review course in March and sitting for the exam in the middle of April. This was the portion I hoped to be the strongest at since it directly related to my job, but there was a lot of material to cover. I still struggled with the comprehensive questions on this exam, but I was able to score high enough on the rest of the exam to carry me through. One technique I used on this exam, since I knew time would be tight, was to work through the questions in each section that I felt comfortable with. Then I would come back to the questions in that section that needed to be worked out. This kept me from spending too much time on certain questions. This also helped build confidence on the exam, since sometimes a hard first or second question can cause doubt in your mind that will set the tone for the rest of the exam.
Last of all, I took the audit section (AUD). Since this was my last exam, I scheduled it for three weeks after the review course to allow for ample time to review. Of all the sections, I enjoyed the AUD section the best. When I took the exam, I thought I had missed something when I finished the exam with an hour left over (each of the other tests ended before I completed all the questions). In any event, I had finally completed taking all the exams at least once, and I only had to wait to get my final score back.
After passing the exams, I still needed ten hours to get to the 150 hour mark. Having graduated with a minor along with a couple of extra electives in undergrad, I had 140 hours to this point, which included all the required accounting courses. Rather than opting to pursue a graduate degree, I applied to a local college and took ten hours in the fall. I had originally planned to take a few months off and start the courses the next year, but after passing the exams, I wanted to keep going so I made a push to get it over with. In the meantime, I signed up for the required ethics course in my state so that as soon as my transcript was available I could put the application together and submit it. My advice here: read and reread, and then reread the application before submitting it. It seemed like each time I looked over it, I found something I had missed, but I finally got it put together and submitted it the first week of 2011.
1. Work as many multiple choice questions as possible to prepare for the exams. The comprehensive questions on the exams are very unpredictable, so time is the biggest challenge on them. Therefore, getting comfortable with the multiple choice questions can save time that can be used in the comprehensive section.
2. Read any comprehensive sections that are available (Becker provides quite a few with their program) so you can be comfortable with the types of questions and answers that are required, especially in the writing portion.
3. Utilize the support from family, friends, community groups, or others to help relieve the stress of preparing for the exams. In my case, my wife picked up my slack which took a lot of stress off of me and helped me focus on studying.
4. I knew a number of people that planned to spread their exams over 12-18 months. The problem here is that each exam can only be taken once per quarter and the 18 month window before losing credit starts after passing the first exam. I recommend trying to finish reviewing and taking the exams as early as possible so that there is sufficient time to retake exams without worrying about losing credit for exams already passed. It’s stressful enough studying for the exams, but who wants to have to retake an exam they’ve already passed?