Do what you love… after you study
I finished school (at Brigham Young University) in April and started work at EY that fall. I only had a couple of months in between to fit in a vacation and hopefully all four parts of the CPA Exam. Right after graduation, I decided to enjoy life a little and go to Hawaii. I’m so happy I went because it energized me for what was to come. I had a blast and I knew that once I started studying for the exam, vacation time was going to be put on the back burner. So, with my new found vitality, I came up with a plan to fit it all in during one summer.
During my last semester, I was on top of the CPA process and whatever documentation I needed to send out to NASBA and my state board. I asked for the help of my professors, friends — anyone I knew that could guide me through the process.
First, I wanted to find the study material that would suit my learning style. In my classes, if a professor was not passionate about what he or she was teaching, I became bored. When I previewed the Rogers CPA material videos, I sensed an excitement and energy from those presenting the topics. It was exactly what I needed to be engaged in the CPA lectures for months. I talked to the recruiters from EY and found out how to go about ordering it.
Second, I talked to people that had gone through the same exam process in Illinois (where I planned to start my career). Each state does things differently, and I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly the first time.
Planning for the Exam
A friend told me that the state board takes about eight weeks to make sure you’re qualified to sit for the tests. It doesn’t matter that you’re not done with school — you have to apply for the NTS (notice to schedule) a specific number of days before you take your first test. I made sure that when the time came, I had everything they needed (like transcripts), and I sent it to the board a month and a half before graduation.
The day I was walking in my cap and gown, I scheduled all four of my tests so I could plan the study time I needed. I trusted what friends who had already taken the tests told me about how long it had taken them to prepare as well as what my exam study guides suggested. The day after graduation, I flew to Hawaii. Two weeks later, I began the most intense summer of my life.
Once I signed up for my first test, I knew I wanted to take all four sections in one summer. Your strategy might be different.
I was a tax graduate student, I had taken a two week vacation, and when I came back I had only two weeks before my first test. I checked the suggested amount of hours and divided the amount of hours I needed to study by the amount of days I had left. I took a calendar from my wall and marked every day with the amount of hours I needed to study. As days went by, I’d crossed out the hours I had studied and if for some reason I hadn’t made the day’s goal, I’d add more hours to another day. Overall, I always ended up studying the suggested amount of hours or more. I took REG after two weeks of studying at least seven hours a day (taking Sundays off).
I decided I wanted to study hardcore during the first couple of months so I took REG at the end of May, Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) on July 1, Audit and Attestation (AUD) on Aug. 1 and Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) Aug. 27. I had heard REG and FAR were the toughest, so I wanted to get them out of the way first.
How I Studied
I reviewed each lesson and then worked on the homework problems to reinforce the information I had just learned. I also took a break in the middle of the day to go work out. After I was done with all of the lessons, I’d go back and work on the sections I had struggled with the most. I never went over a lesson twice; I only reworked problems. However, I did take my time with each lesson to ensure I understood the concepts well.
Hint: Rogers will answer your questions and explain difficult concepts to you via email, which I took advantage of a couple times.
The First Section
The first section is definitely the toughest because you don’t know what to expect. You never feel completely ready and confident, regardless of how many hours you put into studying. I scheduled my first test for the late morning, because I’m not a morning person but wanted it to be early enough to be alert.
Hint: Select the test time when you’re the most awake and energized.
I decided that studying or reviewing the day of the test wouldn’t do much for me. You won’t learn anything in an hour that you hadn’t already learned in previous weeks of studying. My preference was to go feeling relaxed and rested. I woke up, ate breakfast and just read a few quick things to refresh my memory with some concepts that I had struggled with.
If you are a slow test taker, I suggest not eating or drinking too much before the test. You may not have time to take breaks. For most parts, my timing was tight.
After the test, I took two days off to have some fun. Believe me, you’ll be mentally drained and exhausted so treat yourself. But once those days were over, I went back to my calendar and the routine.
Taking the Rest
There are definitely some simulations and questions that no matter how much you studied you are just going to have to take a guess and hope for the best. Sometimes though, those are the ones that aren’t graded. Keep in mind that there are always a couple of questions and one simulation that do not count against your score and are just new questions the exam writers are testing out before they become an official part of the test.
The CPA exam is not an IQ test. Anyone can pass this test if they have the discipline, perseverance, and willingness to put in the hours and effort.
Take the exam ASAP. It is already hard to put in the hours, but it is definitely harder when work gets challenging or life gets in the way.
Keep yourself sane and healthy. A healthy person is able to study for longer and maintain focus.
Balance your study time with some fun. Find something to keep you entertained during your free time; something that helps you unwind and take breaks.
Never study for more than four hours straight. Nobody can study more than that without losing energy and focus.