Tips to Passing the CPA Exam

by: Smith and Howard

May 23, 2016

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Completion of the CPA exam is one of the toughest steps we take in our early professional careers. It can impact our future and open doors to many opportunities in our professional careers. However, pass rates indicate the CPA exam continues to be challenging.  The AICPA released the 2015 cumulative pass rates of AUD 47.28%, BEC 56.48%, FAR 46.75% and REG 49.43% and for the 2016 first quarter results AUD 44.87%, BEC 55.40%, FAR 44.74% and REG 47.55%.  Passing the exam requires dedication and discipline.  Four of our staff members who most recently passed the exam, provided some insights on their approach. Read below to see what Tyler Disk, Tax Supervisor, Andrea Shanahan, Tax Supervisor, Molly Holland, Audit Senior, and Todd Cone, Audit Staff had to say:

1) At what point in your career did you start working on taking and completing the exam?

Tyler: I started preparing for the exam as a staff with Smith and Howard, but delayed sitting for the exam until I was promoted to senior. 

Andrea: I started preparing for the exam as a senior.

Molly: I started preparing for the exam as a senior.

Todd:  I started in graduate school.

2) What study materials did you use?

Tyler: I used both Becker and Gleim – self-study. 

Andrea: I used the Becker on-line course.

Molly: I used the Becker live course. This was helpful for me because it forced me to be on a set schedule and was in a more formal setting.

Todd:  The graduate school I attended used Becker, and it was part of the graduate school curriculum.  They used the on-line lectures, and a professor was on-site to answer questions.

3)  What were your study habits and schedule?

Tyler: I studied both mornings and nights; however I was more effective at night because it allowed me to get 3 to 4 hours of studying in based on my schedule and productivity. I set expectations during each study session, which may be to get through 3 to 4 chapters or go through 20 to 30 questions at a time. I would often separate lecture/ chapter studying from time spent on questions to ensure I understood each section and so I did not get overwhelmed with information. My main approach was to answer as many questions as possible and track chapters and questions that I was strong and weak on, so I could focus my time on my weaknesses. 

Andrea: I would study nights 2-3 hours, and all day on weekends.  I would find a comfortable location/ atmosphere in order to stay focused.  Studying at the office might be convenient; however there may be work distractions. I would watch each lecture and take notes as directed by the Becker instructors.  I would then review these notes and answer questions on each section.  The practice exams were very helpful, and it gave me a good idea of what to expect on examination day. One tip is to take advantage of the scrap paper provided during testing.  As soon as I sat down I would jot down complicated formulas or acronyms that would help me remember key testing areas that I may have trouble with.

Molly: I study nights 1-2 hours and all day on weekends.  Breaks are important if you are feeling overwhelmed. Taking a step back and coming back to studying with a rested mind can be helpful.  It is important to make studying manageable because you will get more out of it. After attending each live course I would go over the questions repeatedly.  This helped me to retain the information and better understand how each subject matter could be questioned differently.

Todd:  The Becker class was Monday and Thursday, and as part of the class the questions were assigned as homework.  In between these days I would do the simulations.  We then had about a month in between sections to sit for the exam, and during this month I would go over each lecture and go back over the questions and simulations.

4)  What recommendations would you make to those starting out?

Tyler: I recommend starting the process earlier in your career and if you have the capability to start before you begin full time, do so. I strongly recommend scheduling the exams and sticking to your schedule.

Andrea:  I recommend starting the process early in your career.  Life and work get busier and busier with each passing year.  You get really involved in career development and growth, and enjoy the work.  As a staff member, you are delegated more work and take on additional responsibilities and therefore, it becomes more difficult to pass the exam and develop professionally.

Molly:  To those starting the process, knock it out at the staff level position.  Also, it is important not to get discouraged when questions are missed.  Just continue to work through each question and practice simulations. These are good tools to learn from because Becker will provide the guidance on why the answer is right or wrong.  I also strongly recommend performing the practice exams.

Todd:  Knock it out, if possible, while in school.  I never felt overwhelmed because it was a class and part of my normal schedule.  I didn’t have to worry about balancing work.

While all these employees took a different approach and have different recommendations they have one similar theme:  Begin the process and pass the CPA exam early in your career.  With motivation, hard work and dedication this can be accomplished. 

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