It’s no secret that CPA exam prep is grueling, emotional, and exhausting. Every moment is precious and strategy is key. Few people are more familiar with the stresses of exam prep than Jeff Elliot, licensed CPA and the face behind Another71.com. Jeff has been helping people pass the CPA Exam since 2010, and in his years on the job, he’s identified a number of detrimental mistakes made all too often by candidates. We’re excited to feature Jeff and his words of wisdom on our blog today!
1) Picking the wrong CPA Review package for their learning style
In the 8 or so years that I’ve been running the CPA Exam Forum at Another71 I’ve seen a lot of people complain about their CPA Review Course and not being able to learn from it based on the instruction style.
Here’s the deal: you wouldn’t buy a $2,000 used car without test driving it first – so why is your CPA Exam prep any different? It’s not.
Some things to consider before buying:
a) Which study package best fits your learning style? If you know that video instruction isn’t for you and you’re someone who likes self-study, then you’ll want to look at an option like the Wiley CPAexcel Self-Study pack , which is barebones, but has books, notes, and multiple choice questions.
If you know that you need all the help that you can get – and are looking for something like a CPA Exam Tutor, then you should look at the full Wiley CPAexcel Course .
b) Do you actually like the instructors? Keep in mind that you’re going to be spending a ton of time with these people. If the course instructors and their mannerisms drive you nuts – you should know that ahead of time! Whenever I hear about someone complaining about an instructor speaking too fast and acting crazy or too slow and putting them to sleep, I don’t have a lot of sympathy because it’s up to the candidate to try before they buy .
Do your homework: Demos, Demos, Demos! Make sure you check out course demos before you purchase. Most courses have them (or at least, they should ). You can register for a free Wiley CPAexcel trial here .
c) Does the course have all of the supplementary tools you need? If you’re a visual learner – then make sure the course has video lectures (and test drive this first as well). Do you have a short attention span? If so – make sure the course offers flashcards.
2) Believing that college success translates to CPA Exam success
Through the years – usually after a CPA Exam score release , I’ve received emails from distraught CPA candidates who just failed their first exam ever . They were 4.0 students in college, with honors, yada yada…and then BOOM: 68 on FAR.
“Maybe accounting isn’t for me after all!!!”
No – you just need to study. This isn’t college and being smart isn’t going to carry you through the CPA Exam (it certainly helps, though).
People with crazy-high grades in college who think that they can just show up and blast the CPA Exam end up on the business end of that blasting.
Don’t let past successes in college (or even on other sections of the CPA Exam…that 90 on AUD has nothing to do with your upcoming BEC exam, so don’t take your foot off of the gas) go to your head. The pass rate for any given section of the CPA Exam is around 50%, and the south side of that 50% includes a lot of smart people.
3) Spending too much time on videos/books and not enough time on multiple choice questions
If I were stranded on an island and the only way I could be rescued is to pass the CPA Exam (feel free to steal this concept as a reality show if any tv execs are reading this fine article…) and I had to choose between review videos, books, or multiple choice question software, I would choose the software (since it’s a reality show – they have electricity and WIFI for my software, of course ).
CPA Review videos are great – they teach you the important concepts and everything, but multiple choice questions take those concepts and put them into the language of the CPA Exam – which is ultimately what matters .
It’s one thing to understand Bond amortizations. It’s another to understand how the CPA Exam tests bond amortizations. The questions aren’t just testing to see if you know the material…the questions are trying to trick you into picking bad answers that seem so correct and so enticing at first glance…yet so wrong .
The answer is obviously “B” … but wait a minute … there’s that one nuance that makes the answer “C”.
4) Not setting an exam date early and then sticking with it
CPA Candidates have commitment issues. When they say that they’re studying for FAR, what they really mean is that they’re going to take FAR sometime between now and the next Star Wars movie.
“Hey, but FAR has a lot of material!”
Yes it does – and it also has a lot of boring material and you’ll always find better things to do than study for it (like clean out the refrigerator…wash the windows…work on the baby’s scrapbook (who is now 8 years old)…etc.
I talk to people all of the time who have this general goal of studying for some exam and a possible timetable because they’re just getting started, etc. etc. and my answer is always the same:
Schedule your exam. Now.
Schedule your exam and book non-refundable plane tickets to go on vacation the next day. Now.
CPA candidates love their reschedules. It’s only like $95, give or take.
When you’re up against it – it feels like $95 to stave-off your own execution.
When I was taking the exam (back in the olden days…2008) I lovvveeddd me some reschedules – including the night before my exam, causing a bit of panic and some phone calls to Prometric the millisecond that they opened for business the next day to confirm my stay of execution.
Scheduling your CPA Exam is like training for a marathon (ignore the visual of a bunch of accountants running… and of course, I just offended a contingent of the CPA candidate population who “runs 5 miles every day, thank you very much, you jerk.” ).
Runners know that there are no reschedules. The marathon is happening with or without them , so they need to get their butt out of bed and put some road work in.
CPA candidates need similar pressure because the $95 exam “snooze button” is always there off in the distance if they need it.
Non-refundable plane tickets for vacation and friends/family expecting to go on vacation with you will get your butt out of bed to put in some FAR road work.
Set your exam date now – or it may never happen.
5) Not visiting the practice exams at aicpa.org
Study software is great. Study software is wonderful. Study software is your friend ! However –no study software replicates the actual CPA Exam interface exactly . This is particularly true with the research component.
Time is precious on exam day – especially once you get to the simulations. You have to move, move, move . You don’t want to be slowed down because of the research tab learning curve.
Granted, it takes less than 5 minutes to figure it out. Ask any candidate who ran out of time on their exam (they didn’t even get to click the “Exit Exam” button) if they would like just five more minutes .
Spending a small amount of time looking over the sample tests on AICPA.org can pay big dividends on exam day.
About Jeff Elliott
Jeff Elliott is a licensed CPA (KS) who has been helping people pass the CPA Exam full time since 2010. When he’s not running Another71.com he’s hanging out with his wife, 10 chickens, 8 cats, 7 kids, and 3 dogs.