“What I Learned on my CPA Exam Journey”

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 the 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 (now ages 7 & 11) along with raising my step son (now age 18). In spring of 2008 I started my own Bookkeeping business (with no intention of becoming a CPA) and 8 months 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. I was 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’s), 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 that 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 at the beginning of October (and AUD at the end of Nov), but life got in the way…so I ended up starting to prepare for it at 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 back to Jan 15 and 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 again at 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 one single 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. As far as the order to take the exams, you really just have to figure that out for yourself. Some think you should take FAR first b/c it’s so big and is a stumbling block for a lot of people. The theory for this is that you’re not losing any of your precious 18 months while attempting to pass it (once you pass a section, you have 18 months to pass the other 3 sections before you start losing credits). The flip side of that is, that you may get discouraged b/c it is so much information. My theory is to take one you think you feel pretty comfortable with (ie, people in audit take audit first, people in tax take REG first) and hopefully pass on your first time and gain some confidence. Just remember, don’t slack off on the other sections because of the confidence.

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.

(To be continued…)

Donna Edge
New Braunfels, Texas
AUD – 83, BEC – 79,
FAR – 83, REG – 83