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What I Learned on my CPA Exam Journey

What I Learned on my CPA Exam Journey
By Donna Edge
March 2010

Background: I graduated with my Accounting Degree in 1995. I took the paper exam twice. Used a live review and did not study much outside of it=failed both times. Said I would NEVER go through that again! Worked in public accounting for 6 years then became a stay at home Mom for 10 years-had two kids along with raising my step son. Started my own Bookkeeping business (with no intention of becoming a CPA) and a year later the Lord put in my heart the desire to go for the exam again (never say never!). I researched numerous review courses and went with CPAExcel. Have been very happy with it.

I started studying for REG (my first section) the first of March 2009 and took the exam on 4/16/2009. I would say I studied around 150 hours for it. Since it was my first one, I pretty much had to learn how to study all over again….so I watched all the videos, read the text, worked all the problems (proficiency questions and mcq), did several practice exams and passed with an 83.

On BEC, I didn’t watch many of the videos, but read all the slides (because I learned the teachers in the videos pretty much just read from the slides), did all the proficiency questions (pq’s are T/F on the reading material) and mcq’s (previous exam test questions). I also did all the Wiley mcq because BEC can be tricky. Keep in mind, It took me two tries to pass BEC (69/79) because I was not able to complete all of that by the first time I took it. I probably studied around 150 hours for it too (between the two attempts). I took it the first time at the end of May. I retook it in the middle of August.

I was planning on taking FAR the beginning of October (and AUD end of Nov), but life got in the way….so I ended up starting to prepare for it the beginning of October. With the holidays I wasn’t able to spend as much time each day studying, so I did not take the exam until Jan 21, 2010 (originally planned to take it Jan 8, then moved it to Jan 15, then to Jan 21 ). I spent over 250 hours preparing for it because its sooooo much information. But, keep in mind, that since it covers so much, they can’t get toooo detailed with it. Also, it can get a bit overwhelming-you have to focus on that particular day and take it one day at a time. And make sure you give yourself plenty of time at the end to review. At this point, I learned my study method is more visual, so I’d read the text for the section, read the slides on the section, take notes on the section, answer the pq and mcq and take notes (or cut and paste to word) on the ones I missed (all the questions are NOT covered in the review material, so you need to take notes on the ones that are not covered-don’t get upset because you miss them-it’s part of the learning process and builds on your notes). I would do this for every section. Then, I read ALL the text again, marking things with a red pen that I think are important. I would do the mcq again for each section and take more notes. I was not able to do any practice exams. I reread all my notes (around 200+ pages) before I took the exam. I passed with an 83 on my first try (got my score the day before I took AUD!)

For AUD, I was planning on starting to prepare for it the end of Jan., but again, life got in the way, so I didn’t start studying for it until Feb 4. I was pretty much studying for it full time. This time, I tracked the actual time each day that I studied and I spent 140 hours. I did pretty much the same thing as I did for FAR, except I ended up taking notes 3 times (did pq’s once, mcq’s twice) and I did about 70% of the sims (not the communication parts). I did not do a practice exam. After I took it, I felt like I really couldn’t of done anything more to prepare for it. I got a 78. (The BEC one I failed, I knew I’d probably failed it). You just have to figure out the point where you think you know enough (and have the confidence) to pass, and it may take some trial and error. You will never feel 100% ready.

How you feel coming out of the exam is not always indicative of how you do on the exam. One person (who recently passed all four parts) brought up a good point-how you feel going into the exam is more indicative of how you do. I found this true with all of my exams as well. If you’re not ready for the exam, postpone it…..I took BEC even though I knew I wasn’t ready, and look where it got me…..

A good strategy as far as timing your exams-try to take two per a testing window. Schedule one at the beginning of the window and one at the end. I would also recommend taking Aud after Far, as there seems to be a consensus that some Far stuff shows up on AUD-I’ve heard this from numerous people and experienced it myself.

Do not underestimate BEC!!! Most people do because there are no SIMS and it is the “shortest”. However, it can be tricky because you’re applying what you learn to different situations. You have to understand the concepts (as you do with ALL parts of the exam).

With each section of the exam, you will find parts that you just can’t grasp. You will get frustrated and you will want to keep trying to get it. I would do a little extra research on the internet on that particular topic. If I still couldn’t get it, I’d cut my losses and move on. You have to weigh the time you’re spending on it with the chances of it showing up. On each part, I had to do this. You can’t sacrifice all the other material for that little bit. You have to force yourself to move on. If you have time at the end, you can go back to it.

In planning my schedule, I counted how many sections were in each part of the exam. Then, I figured out how much time I had to prepare. I’d take the number of days I had and divide it by the number of sections to determine how many sections I needed to complete each day. Of course, adjust for the weekends…..

I mentioned above that I would go back through the text with a red pen….I would circle the words “not/except/unless/if/and/must/but etc….” because they usually meant there was “something different” or an “exception” that I needed to be aware of. It keeps you from just reading it to read it. You HAVE to understand the concepts!!!! You cannot just try to memorize the questions. A lot of people mention going over MCQ 3, 4, 5 times and then say they found themselves memorizing them. I only did the MCQ 2 times and read my notes on the ones I missed so I would grasp the concept and not just memorize it.

Most people say you “only need to aim for a 75”. My philosophy was always that you should aim for a 100, that way you have a 25 point cushion-if you only aim for a 75, you have NO cushion! 

Knowing your learning style is a big part of this exam. Also, most review programs give you a free sample, so try a few out. One thing about CPAExcel is that it’s interface is just like the real exam, so when you take the actual exam, your already comfortable with that aspect.

Budget your time on the exam!!!! Many people get hung up on problems and end up running out of time. Here’s how I budgeted mine:
BEC-2.5 hours-3 testlets=50 minutes per a testlet. Only give yourself 50 minutes –answer all you can and if the 50 minutes are up and your not done, guess-always put an answer!
FAR-4 hours-3 mcq testlests and 2 sims. You want to always give yourself at least 45 minutes for each simulation. That leaves 150 minutes for the 3 mcq testlets-handle same way as BEC
REG-3 hours-3 mcq testlets and 2 sims. This only gives you 30 minutes per a mcq testlet, allowing the 45 minutes per a sim. You can maybe adjust to 33 minutes per mcq testlet and 40 minutes per sim.
AUD-4.5 hours-this one is kinda crazy since you basically have no calculations and are given the most amount of time. I allowed myself 2.5 hours to complete the 3 mcq testlets and 2 hours to complete the sims. I finished the first mcq testelet in 22 minutes. Going into the sims I had 3 hours! I used it to my advantage by taking my time. You CAN use the research data to help you find answers (but you cannot cut and paste-you have to jot the notes on your scratch paper), so if you’re unsure of something, you should have enough time to look it up. For the other sections of the exam, this applies as well, but watch your time b/c you don’t have nearly as much of it in those sections.

On the Sims, always answer the research tab and communication tab before the rest of the tabs. DON’T forget to run spell check!!!!! Only one of the communication tabs are graded, but you have no idea which one. It is worth 10% of your grade.

I may have mentioned this before, but if you don’t feel ready for the exam, reschedule it. Having confidence when you walk into the exam is half the battle……I think one of the reasons the pass rate is so low is because people set a test date and then feel like they “have” to take it since it’s scheduled, whether they are ready or not. People will tell you, oh, just take it and get it over with, but it’s NOT like any other test. You will fail if you take it just to get it over with. I doubted myself both times I rescheduled FAR (I was worried about what everyone would think) but in the end, I’m glad I did because I passed it on my first time. My husband (who was one of the ones that said to just get it over with, because to him, it seemed like I’d studied plenty of time) said after I got my passing score, “I guess it was a good thing you rescheduled it!” Don’t EVER worry about what anyone else thinks-only YOU know what is best for you in that particular situation, or any other situation regarding this exam.

When you go in to take the exam, DON’T stress/psyche yourself out! Find some way to relax before you go in.

If you have a bad day of studying, ie you don’t study as much as you’d hope to, don’t beat yourself up, always remember , tomorrow is a NEW day.

As for waiting for your final passing grade…..no one warned me how it makes you feel-You get real excited about it at first, then you get kinda blah because everything is on hold till you find out….and the waiting is torture, but it is what it is…….you will experience quite a range of emotions.

Even though the pass rate is approximately 50/50, YOU CAN be the 50% that passes!  Go gettem!

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Tags: CPA Success, CPA Success Guide

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