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Practical tips to prepare for the CPA exam

CPA exam, CPA, accounting, careersSince the CPA Exam is notoriously difficult, it is essential for CPA candidates to implement effective study habits as they prepare. As someone who has completed the exam recently, I would like to pass along some advice for those taking or planning to take the exam.

Carefully choose your study materials

Becker is the most popular CPA review course, but there are many other good options. Many CPA review courses offer free content and trials, which may be useful in making a decision. Also, check with your employer or university to see if they offer discounts towards study materials.

Understand the usefulness of various study tools

With video lectures, textbooks, multiple choice questions, practice exams and numerous other tools at your disposal, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Generally, I think it’s helpful to categorize the various tools as primary (textbooks, lectures) and secondary (multiple choice questions, practice exams, etc.) content. The primary content is where the bulk of a candidate’s time ought to be spent, as this is where the contents of the exam are learned; secondary materials ought to be used to measure a candidate’s proficiency and identify topics which may need revisiting.

Thoughtfully schedule your time

The CPA Exam doesn’t require exhaustive knowledge of any particular subject, but it does require some knowledge of many subjects. In other words, don’t skip any topics when studying for the exam, but allocate more time to areas which are less familiar and more complex.

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Additionally, I advise sitting for whichever section is most intimidating first. For most, this means beginning with Regulation (REG) or Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR). Since studying becomes difficult to commit to as the months drag on, consider scheduling Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) last. Historically, BEC has had the highest pass rates and has covered the smallest amount of content.

Navigate exam day

Navigating exam day (and perhaps the day before) is tremendously important. Starting with the day before, it is helpful to review all the exam material at a high level. The night before taking FAR, I spent a couple of hours flipping through the entire textbook cover to cover. Glancing at key formulas, definitions and notable passages helped refresh the content in my mind.

Additionally, it may be helpful to walk through a few simple problems in complex areas. For example, performing a simple consolidation the night before FAR would be wise. Once this is done, kick back, relax and get a decent night of rest before the exam.
As all the tests are four-hours long, it’s wise to bring something to eat during breaks. Studying on exam day is generally not effective, but it may be wise to glance at a few key pages or notes before entering the testing center.

The CPA Exam is rigorous, but it is not an IQ test. With ample time, a decent review course and effective study habits, the exam can (and will!) be passed.

Michael Veldhuizen