- What are the top 3 things someone should do to prepare for the exam?
- Review the National Association of State Board of Accountancy’s (NASBA) website to ensure that you have met the requirements to sit for the CPA exam since each state has different educational requirements. NASBA is also where you apply for the CPA exam. When you apply, you will need to choose at least one section of the CPA exam that you want to take. You will receive a notice to schedule (NTS) from NASBA to register for the sections of the CPA exam. Once you have received your NTS, you will have 6 months to take that section(s).
- Familiarize yourself with the 4 sections of the CPA exam: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). There are many different strategies and approaches to the order of taking the exams, as you can take the exams in any sequence. I personally took the exam that I thought would be easiest first to give me the confidence to pass a section. Some people choose to take the part they think will be the hardest first, as once you pass one exam, you need to complete the remaining sections within a 30-month window (this rule changed in February 2023 from the previous 18-month window).
- Decide on the study materials that you will use. There are many different study materials for each section of the CPA exam, and they can be very expensive. I utilized the Becker product, using the self-study option. I relied on the prepared videos and books. In addition to Becker, I also used Yaegar CPA review and Wiley to study for the Regulation part of the CPA exam since I needed to study more for taxation as my professional experience was in Audit and Financial Reporting. Do research and find the materials that will work best for you. However, at the end of the day, the materials are only as good as how hard you study them. Intensive studying is the key to successfully passing the CPA exam.
- How do you find a work/life/exam prep balance?
- Finding a balance can be very challenging as you are preparing to take the various sections of the CPA exam. When I was taking the exams, I was working full-time in public accounting and had a busy personal life. It was important for me to map out a general plan of when I was going to take each of the sections, especially because I knew I would not be able to study during my firm’s busy season. Having this plan in place also allowed me to communicate with my family when I would be taking the exams. I studied approximately 2 months for each section. This required me to study most nights after work and at least ½ the day on both Saturday and Sunday. Generally, 2 weeks before each exam, I was in full review mode, and my family knew that this was a time that I wouldn’t be able to do things on the weekends, etc. Thankfully, I worked for a great firm that allowed me to use PTO to take time off to study, and I would usually take the full week off from work the week before the exam. This plan worked for me, but I tell people you need to find a plan that works best for you!
- When will you know you're ready to take the exam?
I’m not sure if anyone ever feels like they are 100% ready to sit for any section of the CPA exam. However, by sticking to a solid plan of study, you can pass all 4 sections of the CPA exam. There is a very high correlation between studying for and passing the CPA exam. I always had the mindset that I needed to “out study” the person next to me. I felt the most prepared and ready to take the CPA exam when I knew I had studied all the materials and given myself enough time to review all of my notes the week before the exam. After I took a section of the exam, I would take a week off and then start studying for the next part of the exam.
Like obtaining a master’s degree in accounting, becoming a CPA is highly sought after by employers, not only in the fields of public accounting but in all areas of accounting. The journey for me to become a CPA was not without struggle and sacrifice, but I can unequivocally say that over the course of my career, it has, without a doubt, been worth it.