Motivation Is Key to CPA Exam Success

When successful candidates look back at their CPA Exam process, their motivation is something that really stands out, and it’s important to know that not all motivation is the same. In general, motivation is simply the degree to which a person wants and actively decides to engage in specific behaviors, such as studying for the CPA Exam.

Most people know that motivation is important, but many people ignore it and even more don’t understand the different levels of motivation, and how important they are to success. Motivation can be broken down to a pretty granular level, but we’re going to stick with a high-level approach for purposes of this article. Motivation can be categorized into two types, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

These types of motivation matter, because unlike intrinsic and extrinsic-autonomous, pure extrinsic motivation can result in unwanted consequences, which we’ll dive into here in a second.

Extrinsic Motivation

There are many candidates who fall in the extrinsic category, which basically says that they want and choose to study for the CPA Exam because they have an outcome in mind that they want to achieve. For example, they might want the CPA license to better help them achieve a promotion and/or attain a raise.

Candidates that fall in this category need to beware, because the unwanted consequence could very well be that they won’t pass the CPA exam timely or even worse, they may not pass at all.

Intrinsic Motivation

There are other candidates out there who are studying for the CPA Exam because they either simply desire to accomplish passing the CPA Exam or they absolutely love accounting and/or business. Intrinsic motivation, as it relates to the CPA Exam and at its core, is when someone wants and chooses to study for the CPA Exam absent any external contingencies (e.g. someone studies for the CPA Exam because it makes them happy). For many people, the CPA Exam makes them feel fulfilled with their academic degree and career. It’s a capstone to what they have devoted their lives to. As a result, many of these people are happy to study for the CPA Exam and they just want to experience the accomplishment of passing.

Where intrinsically motivated people can run into trouble is when they encounter a roadblock such as a part failure. In my experience, as soon as this occurs, people’s extrinsic motivation begins to take over. They begin saying to themselves, “I have to pass because I need ……” When faced with a little adversity, people tend to migrate toward an extrinsic motivation frame of mind, which can be extremely problematic. This doesn’t happen with everybody, but be aware of it to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

If a candidate finds themselves entering into this train of thought, they should take a step back and restore your intrinsic motivation. TIP: Remind yourself on a daily basis that you’re doing the CPA Exam because you do love accounting and/or business and simply passing means the world to you, regardless of what outcome may result from passing. Remind yourself with a sticky note placed on your bathroom mirror so that you see it every morning.

Extrinsic – Autonomous

For candidates who, from the beginning, lacked intrinsic motivation, rest easy, because there is hope. This might be somebody who started out studying only because of desired external outcomes (e.g. desired raise or promotion). The good news for them is that they can attain a level of extrinsic-autonomous motivation. As it relates to the CPA Exam, extrinsic-autonomous is the degree that a person who originally lacked interest now wants and chooses to study for the CPA Exam based on an internalized attitude. Basically, without the presence of an external contingency, they decided that studying for the CPA Exam is something they’re happy to do because of the pure accomplishment, regardless of any outcome that may come as a result.

Final Thoughts

Many people ignore the importance of motivation, and even more don’t understand the different types. Candidates will experience different outcomes depending on what type of motivation category they fall within. The good news is that candidates can attain the beneficial extrinsic-autonomous motivation category even if they began their CPA Exam process being extrinsically motivated.

You now have the knowledge about the different types of motivation. In addition, you need to be self-aware of what category you fall within. Understanding these types of motivation and being self-aware is an extremely important aspect of your CPA Exam success. If you struggle with motivation and are in need of an engaged, safe, and secure community to help keep you motivated, be sure to check out the CPA Exam Success Mastermind Group.

About The Author
Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & former KPMG Manager is the founder of CPA Exam Success and Test Prep Store.