Original Exam Goal: To Pass
Director of Accounting
RLJ Lodging Trust
I went to college at the University of Texas at Dallas. Back then, I really didn't know what I wanted to do for a career. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in business administration. I finished with a 3.9 GPA and did very well in the accounting classes, but I had not chosen accounting as a career yet. I continued straight into graduate school at UT Dallas to earn my MBA, and while working on that, I took some more accounting classes and became interested in focusing on accounting. I decided to also complete a master’s degree in Accounting in addition to the MBA.
I've now been in the hospitality industry for ten years. After obtaining my CPA, I started at FelCor Lodging Trust, a publicly traded hotel REIT located in Irving, TX, as a Staff Accountant. Because it was a wonderful company, I stayed. I worked my way up through a series of promotions, ending as Director of Accounting. In August 2017, FelCor Lodging Trust was acquired by RLJ Lodging Trust, a company based in Bethesda, Maryland. RLJ Lodging Trust is a self-advised, publicly traded real estate investment trust focused on acquiring premium-branded, focused-service and compact full-service hotels. RLJ Lodging Trust has a portfolio that consists of 151 properties with approximately 29,180 rooms located in 25 states and the District of Columbia. I was lucky enough to be retained as Director of Accounting for RLJ's Irving Office. A large portion of my job consists of preparing SEC filings (10Qs and 10Ks).
In my personal life, I have a wonderful wife named Cara and four children (Caylee age 9; Charlie age 7; Maddie age 7; Gillian age 4). So when I'm not working, I'm usually spending time with my kids or relaxing and watching Netflix with my wife!
Planning for the Exam
As I learned about accounting as a career, it quickly became clear that in order to achieve the level of success I desired, I would need my CPA designation. I learned all I could about the classes I should take and requirements needed to receive my CPA license. I was a little intimidated as I learned about the renowned difficulty of the exam, but I was making straight A's in graduate school, which helped increase my confidence level. However, I knew that even straight-A students failed the CPA exam regularly, so I’d have to study rigorously. After finishing my Masters in Accounting in December 2005 with a 4.0 GPA, I took at an entry-level job as Staff Accountant at a real estate company in Dallas, Texas. As I gained real-world accounting experience, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I planned to take the first section in Fall 2007.
My Exam Strategy
I decided that I would need a very structured studying plan, so I chose the Becker CPA review course. I knew the professor teaching the review courses because she’d been a professor of mine in college. Knowing she was an excellent teacher made me feel good about using her courses. I decided that the live in-class version was best suited for me. That was how I usually learned in college and grad school, as opposed to online. The review course helped me focus on the most important material to review, and it presented sample problems in a very similar format to the actual CPA exam.
How I Studied
My days usually consisted of going to work, coming home, eating a quick dinner, and then studying for a few hours, or attending a review class. I did every practice problem and read every page of the textbook. If I got a problem wrong, I re-read that section of the book and did the problem again and again until I understood it completely. I knew that timing was very important during the CPA exam, so I worked on my pacing, learning how to carefully complete each problem but not to spend too much time on any one section. With the practice exams, I could sit down for a few hours and pretend I was taking the real CPA exam. This allowed me to practice completing each section on a predetermined schedule and then move on to the next section. During these months, I often went to bed very late and lost sleep, but I knew it was temporary and the end goal would be well worth it.
The First Section
I scheduled the first section, Financial Accounting & Reporting, on October 10th, 2007. My goal was to pass. I felt no need to ace it. However, because I was very worried about failing, I studied incredibly hard. I used my vacation days from work to take a few days off before the exam so that I could completely immerse myself in my studying. I reworked practice problems over and over again. I read important sections of the textbook repeatedly. I tried to prepare myself mentally and calm my fears and tell myself that even if I failed, it was okay because I still had a good job, but the truth was that I desperately wanted to pass. I prepared a one-page sheet of paper with the most important concepts written on it. I reviewed this in the car in the parking lot of the testing center right before going in so it would be as fresh as possible in my mind. As I took the exam, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt. I kept close watch on my time remaining and plowed through each section, and I was very happy to finish the exam without running out of time.
Over the next few weeks, I went ahead and scheduled the next section (Audit & Attestation) for November 29, 2007. I began attending the review classes for that section and studying just as hard as I had for the first section, following the exact same strategy. I checked on my exam results online every day. It was a frustrating wait, but when I finally saw "97" appear on the screen, I was in a state of shock. However, my instructor had said that students will get in the high-90s on the FAR section every now and then, so although I was thrilled, I had no idea what was in store with the rest of the sections.
Taking the Rest
I followed an identical strategy with the remaining three sections. I sat for Audit & Attestation in November 2007, Regulation in January 2008, and Business Environment & Concepts in February 2008. I received another shock when I found that I had made a 99 in Audit & Attestation. I was told by my instructor that in general, this simply does not happen, and that I had accomplished something extraordinary. She urged me to continue studying as hard if not harder and see what I accomplish. I received a 99 in Regulation as well. By this point, it all seemed surreal and too good to be true, and it was hard to believe it was happening to me. I received a 94 in Business Environment & Concepts. My instructor was incredibly proud and thrilled for me, and she told me I was almost certainly in the top 10 in the state of Texas, and possibly the nation. My family and friends were amazed and happy for me. It seemed that all the late nights and lost time with all my loved ones had paid off.
After acing the CPA exam, I knew I had to accomplish a few other things in order to receive my CPA license. I took the ethics exam that the State of Texas requires and passed that with no problem. I had a CPA at work sign the form proving that I had the necessary work experience. When I finally received my CPA license in the mail, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. My wife had told me she had no doubt I would pass each section on the first attempt. As I studied all the difficult concepts, I often had my doubts that this would happen. But as it turned out, my worrying caused me to overshoot my goal considerably! My wife's confidence in my, as well as the support I received from all of my family and friends, helped me to achieve something incredible.
In November 2008, I attended my CPA swearing-in ceremony. Due to my scores, I was asked by the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy to deliver the commencement address. I felt very honored sitting on stage with the ten other highest-scoring CPAs in the State of Texas. Delivering this speech to a room full of bright new CPAs was an amazing experience.
Then in May 2009, I received yet another shock. I was a winner of the 2008 Elijah Watt Sells awards. This meant that out of all the CPA candidates in the nation taking the exam in 2008, my scores were among the ten highest! I was beyond happy. All of the hard work had been more than worth it.
After receiving my CPA designation, I took a new job with more responsibility. I've working at FelCor Lodging Trust, Inc. in Irving, Texas. I'm now Senior Accountant, having been promoted once in that time. I am happy with how my career is going, and I am very glad that I completed the CPA exam.