Free CPA Exam Study Tips

When Should I Begin Studying for the Exam?

You want to be well prepared before taking a strenuous exam such as the CPA. Allow yourself at least 3 months or more study time. Do not procrastinate, time management is crucial. Preparing sufficiently for each aspect of the exam will enhance your odds greatly. See our study tips and exam-taking tips page for more guidance.

When and where is the exam given?

CPA examination sections are offered on a continual basis two out of every three months throughout the year (the “testing windows”). The test is not available one month each quarter to maintain and refresh the databank. For complete updates on the CPA exam please visit the AICPA’s website.

IFRS has me worried – what do I need to know about it to PASS the CPA Exam?

CPA Exam candidates will need to be proficient in the differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS, but they need to remember that this hasn’t all of a sudden become the “Uniform IFRS Exam”. It’s the CPA Exam, with some IFRS mixed into it. In your 2011 Financial Accounting and Reporting CPA Review course, your instructors should be explaining the differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS on each topic where it is relevant. U.S. GAAP is very detailed and specific, whereas IFRS is more general and conceptual. For instance, Revenue Recognition for U.S. GAAP is voluminous and industry-specific. IFRS, however, has only two basic revenue standards and four interpretations as of this writing. IFRS is not industry-specific. Know how IFRS treats each topic differently from U.S. GAAP and know it with a decent level of proficiency. You don’t need to be an IFRS expert – you just need to have a working knowledge of it for exam purposes. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

How long should the average person study for Financial Accounting and Reporting?

Some people can study for FAR in 3-4 weeks and be done with it. Others will take more than 2 months. Both of these are outliers and are not really the norm. My suggestion is that you plan on 6-8 weeks of intense, focused studying at 20 hours per week. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

How many FAR questions are pre-test?

Up to 18 of the 90 multiple-choice questions across the three testlets could be pre-test on Financial Accounting and Reporting in 2011. These questions do not count toward your exam score. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

The IT section of BEC is giving me problems. I donʼt work in IT. I donʼt ever want to work in IT. I just want to pass this exam. What is the best way to learn this information?

IT is a bear on Business Environment and Concepts. My #1 piece of advice and it is what I would personally do (and personally did) is to work every multiple choice I.T. question in the Wiley book the afternoon before your exam. Start after lunch and just start cranking on MCQs and donʼt stop until youʼre done. Read every single answer explanation to every problem – not only the correct answer but also why the other three are incorrect. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

ARGH! I didnʼt click “Done” before my exam time lapsed and my session shut down. Did my answers get saved?

This happens to a lot of people! It happened to me on more than one occasion – including my REG exam where I scored a 92. Donʼt worry – if you didnʼt click “Done” your exam should have still been saved. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

My 18-month window is coming to a close and Iʼm about to lose credit for one of my passed sections. What if I take my exam, but donʼt get my score back for several weeks? Will I lose my credit?

This could quite possibly be the #1 question that I get asked on a monthly basis. If your 18-month window expires April 30th, you need to walk into your testing center and sit for your exam before that date. It doesnʼt matter when you get your score. What matters is when you physically took your exam. Oh, and you need to have passed it too. Bottom line: sit for your exam prior to your 18-month window expiring. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

I feel somewhat uneasy about writing. How can I write a solid memo for the BEC written communication requirement?

Some people flat-out fear the written communication requirement of the CPA Exam. Some people just donʼt think they write well enough. International and ESL candidates also worry about this requirement. The written communication section for BEC is 15% of a candidateʼs overall score, so letʼs go over some pointers on how to maximize your score potential for this area. 1. Your written communication starts with a thesis statement. A thesis statement is the main point of the entire memo. Price elasticity of demand is a confusing topic that causes many CPA Exam candidates trouble on exam day. There is your thesis. I spelled out exactly what the memo is about. I follow the thesis with a few supporting statements. Candidates often fail to remember the correlation between total revenue and demand elastic goods. Similarly, the correlation between total revenue and demand inelastic goods is also easily mistaken. 2. The second part of memo is the body. This is where you support your thesis statement. It is often very difficult to remember that when demand for a good is inelastic and the price is raised, total revenue goes down. Conversely, when demand for a good is elastic and the price is raised, total revenue goes up. CPA Exam candidates have trouble keeping these relationships in check and not getting them confused. 3. Finally, you recap your thesis point with a conclusion. In closing, CPA Exam candidates often struggle with price elasticity of demand, but if they can remember the relationship between total price and elasticity of demand, they will have success on exam day. 4. This is optional, but I always ended my CPA Exam written communications with: Sincerely, Jeff Elliott, CPA. I wanted the graders to picture me as a future CPA, so I tried to look the part. 5. If you found yourself confused or shaking your head at what I wrote in #2, you are correct. I intentionally switched around the relationships between elasticity, price increases, and total revenue. My statements were wrong, but it doesnʼt matter – the exam doesnʼt grade for technical accuracy. I wrote a solid memo, used good key words, and didnʼt have any misspellings or grammatical errors. A+. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

What is a dead-giveaway that the exam questions are getting harder testlet-by-testlet?

Candidates are always wondering how they can tell if their exam is getting “harder”. The default exam difficulty for REG, FAR, and AUD is “moderate” and if you do well on the first testlet, it will transition to “difficult”. Letʼs say that youʼre on testlet one and you canʼt believe how basic the questions are – 2-3 sentence questions that donʼt seem like they are a big deal. Then, it happens. Ted Corp, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ace Corp… The question is so long that you read it three times to digest it all. Congrats – you likely did well on testlet #1 and these “difficult” questions are much wordier. Relax. The best thing you can do is read the last sentence in the question first because it shapes the context of the entire question. The question is asking for “X”, so you read the question in light of your pursuit of X”. Remember: Difficult questions are worth more points than moderate questions. Also be sure to remember that if it didnʼt seem like any of the testlets got more “wordy”, that doesnʼt necessarily mean anything – just do your best and donʼt look back. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

The computer at the testing center was buggy and then just completely shut down. It cost me valuable time while the testing center personnel got it back up and running. What should I do?

Donʼt freak out if things go terribly at the testing center. If your exam messed up – you will have the choice of accepting your score as-is or getting a re-take if you file a complaint and the AICPA can verify. If you choose the latter, you will never see your score. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

I scored a 74. I just need to cram, right?

Nope. Well, not necessarily anyway. Keep in mind that you scored that 74 what – 1.5 months ago? Maybe more? Could you roll into the exam center today and score it again? Doubtful. I recommend starting over with your exam prep and not cutting any corners. When I scored my first 74 on REG and lost my FAR credit (which was a miserable experience, btw -perhaps you can relate), I thought I could “cram” and score that extra point. Rejected. Another74. I then proceeded to roll up my sleeves and get medieval on REG and rocked a 92. Take THAT, Like-Kind Exchanges. Learn from my mistake and go through your full course again and if you have time – consider a CRAM course. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

I failed yet again. I’ve been at this for way too long. Is it time to throw in the towel?

Jeff Elliott of CPA Exam blog says: I know that right now is a miserable time and it’s very easy to start believing thoughts that simply are not true. Thoughts like: you’re not smart enough to pass, accounting isnʼt for you, the AICPA has it out for you and doesn’t want you in the profession, etc. I personally felt all those emotions and had those thoughts going through my head as well. A few years removed from the exam process, I can tell you that being on the other side truly is worth it. My problem was always commitment to the exam: I wanted to be a CPA, but I didn’t really want to be a CPA. As soon as I got serious about things, I realized that hey, I am smart enough and the AICPA truly does not hate me. Picture yourself three years from now. Will this momentarily failure – be it a 55, a 71, or a 74, mean anything? No. It will be a distant memory and like most things, you look back at tough times with a fondness that wasnʼt there when you were in the middle of it. This very well could be one of the toughest times you encounter in your career outside of getting downsized or laid off. Stay with it – it will pay off in the end. Just the sheer fact that you got this far tells me you are MORE than smart enough to pass this exam. Youʼll be fine – keep fighting! From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

I just PASSED! Can I call myself a CPA?

No you cannot. Disappointing, right? All of that work and you are still not officially a CPA. This is a very big deal, so donʼt jump the gun on this. You cannot represent yourself to the public, your neighbor, or your favorite barista steaming your celebratory latte, as a CPA until you are so deemed by the state in which you intend to operate as such. You canʼt put it on a business card or put it in your work e-mail signature until your state grants you a license or a permit to practice. In order to get this, you likely have a lot of paperwork to fill out, experience requirement hoops to jump through and need to scratch out a check and send it to them. I know, I know – youʼve already paid a ton of money to be able to call yourself a CPA. Guess what? The expensive part never stops. Always double-check with your state board of accountancy if you have any questions whatsoever as to whether or not you can call yourself a CPA. You donʼt want to incur the wrath of your state disciplinary board! From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

What should I do to expedite the certificate & licensing process once I pass?

This is something that I had to figure out on my own. Once you pass your fourth and final section, simply go to your state board of accountancy website and download all of their PDFs for getting your certificate/license (if applicable). Fill them out, write a check, and mail it in. Donʼt wait for them to take their sweet time in sending some packet to you. Chances are you can send them the forms and get the process rolling before they even slap the postage on your envelope. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

I need to get licensing and reciprocity information quickly about three different states. Where should I go?

There is one place that has all of this info and itʼs run by NASBA. A usage fee will apply, depending on what package you sign up for. The consolidated info will be well-worth it if it saves you from poking around on three different state websites that look like they were designed in 1996. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

I need to buy the AICPA Ethics Exam to get my certificate. Should I get the CD or book format?

CD! Definitely CD. The nice thing about the CD is that you can search for keywords in the text as you hunt down the answers. It is a huge time-saver. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

Does my performance on the MCQs having any impact on simulations I see?

Your performance on the multiple-choice questions has no impact on what types of simulations you get. They are not related and nothing can be gained by analyzing the correlation between the two, because there is no correlation. If you get sims that you think are “easy”, donʼt freak out – it doesnʼt mean that you did poorly on your MCQs. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.

What score should I be averaging on my practice multiple choice questions before I step into the testing center?

Some people think that you need to be scoring in the high-90s on their multiple-choice questions, but this is not the case. My recommendation is that CPA Exam candidates score in the 70-80% range consistently on a topic heading into their exam. Notice that I said heading into their exam. You canʼt score in the 80s on a topic in week two of your exam prep and not look at it again. As you do your final exam review, go down the list of topics and do 20 question “mini-testlets” over the topic and keep doing them until youʼre scoring the 70-80% range. Once this has been accomplished, move on to the next topic. If there is a topic that you absolutely loathe like not-for-profit accounting for FAR or AMT for REG, do those first. Ignoring those pesky sections because itʼs painful to study them will not serve you on Exam day. You at least need to give yourself a fighting chance on the topic once youʼre in the testing center. If youʼre rushed for study time, at least know something useful about the topic. If you ignored AMT for instance, be sure to know what items on Schedule A get added back for the AMT calculation. See? You know something about AMT after all that you could see on the exam. From CPA Exam Survival Guide: 50 Things You Must Know? © 2011 By Jeff Elliot, CPA.