5 Tips and Tricks to Prepare for the CPA Exam

If you’re on the path to becoming a certified public accountant, you must meet the education, examination, and experience requirements to ensure you meet state licensing requirements. One major piece of that is passing the all-encompassing CPA exam.

While passing the four-part CPA exam is a major undertaking, it is achievable for those dedicated to accelerating their career. As you prepare to master the four sections of the CPA exam, consider these helpful tips and tricks:

1. Evaluate Your Strengths … and Weaknesses

There are four sections to the CPA exam: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Each section covers specific areas of public accounting that are integral to the accounting profession, such as federal tax laws, corporate governance, and financial reporting.

Before you attempt to sketch a strategy for success, you must evaluate your strengths and weaknesses in these areas. Spend time understanding what material is covered in each section of the exam. Additionally, consider taking online practice exams to determine your strengths and weaknesses, so you can best prioritize your study time.

2. Determine Your Timeline 

Each section of the exam is four hours long, making for a total of 16 hours. Due to the intensity of each section, it’s suggested that you stagger each one several months apart to ensure you’ve provided yourself ample study time.

According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), the CPA exam must be fully completed within 18 months of taking the first test. Determine which dates you will take for each section and define your study plan around that timeline.

Now, there’s no set order for taking the four sections within the 18-month timeframe. However, it’s common to take one of the two following approaches:

  1. Easiest to Hardest: Based on the results of your practice test, conquer the four sections one at a time, starting with the easiest section and ending with the most challenging. This method can boost your confidence early on and give you encouragement to tackle difficult concepts as they come up.
  2. Hardest to Easiest: Of course, some prefer to get the most difficult section(s) out of the way first. This method may be preferred by individuals seeking to quickly conquer their greatest obstacles in passing the CPA exam. It also allows you to study as much as necessary for those difficult sections before the 18-month period begins, instead of cramming it in toward the end.

3. Earn Your MBA in Accounting 

Most states require CPA candidates to obtain 150 credit hours and a bachelor’s degree to qualify for CPA licensure. However, educational requirements vary by state. To that end, make sure you fully comprehend and fulfill the educational requirements pertinent to your state.

You can also equip yourself for the CPA exam — and enhance your job qualifications simultaneously — by pursuing an MBA in accounting. As part of your studies, you’ll learn the advanced knowledge you need to become a CPA, while laying a foundation for career growth in related accounting fields.

4. Develop a Daily Study Habit

Avoid losing momentum — and your overall knowledge of the field and industry — by studying for the CPA exam every day leading up to taking different sections. By creating a set schedule, you’ll gain the expertise and know-how to pass each one. For example, make it a point to set aside a few hours each day for studying.

Creating such a routine can instill discipline, reduce stress, and motivate you to keep learning until you’ve completed and passed all four sections of the CPA exam. Consider adding a CPA review course to your study plan for professional support and guidance.

5. Celebrate the Small Successes

Depending on your goals, it may take up to 18 months to complete the CPA exam. While the end result is a great achievement, it may seem like a long haul to reach it. Keep yourself motivated by celebrating the smaller successes, such as passing each section or even scoring well on a practice test. This can help you realize that your hard work is paying off.

Putting It All Into Practice

By putting these tips and tricks into practice, you can more easily work toward passing the comprehensive CPA exam and starting your career as a certified public accountant. Invest in good study material — whether that’s a comprehensive study book, a review class, and/or an MBA — and commit to a study schedule. Armed with knowledge and a drive for success, you can pass the CPA exam in no time!