Study hard from the start!
I graduated from the American University of Beirut in June 2009 with a business administration degree and a concentration in finance. Sitting for the CPA Exam at that point was not even in my plan. However, soon after I joined EY’s office in Beirut as an associate auditor, I started to notice how important the CPA would be for my career. I must admit that the “CPA spirit” in the office has also played a crucial role in my decision; seeing my colleagues and superiors so excited about passing their first and, even better, their last exam, was beyond encouraging.
At first, it will all feel so overwhelming with all the paper work you need, deciding on the state you want to apply to, checking your eligibility requirements, choosing the best study material, trying to figure out a schedule—but don’t worry! Take a deep breath and just start from the top.
You will find a lot of resources that will help you along the way. Even though your colleagues and people you know who are going through the same process are of great help, I recommend going to a professional source from the beginning so that you are sure you won’t miss out on anything. For me, Morgan International Team was of great help and support throughout the whole process.
Planning for the Exam
After I chose the state to which I was applying to and got all my documents ready, I applied for my Notice to Schedule (NTS) and started to lay out a schedule for studying.
My advice? Book your exam date(s) as soon as you receive your NTS. First of all, not finding available seats on the dates that are best for you is certainly a pressure that you want to avoid while studying for the exam. Furthermore, if you don’t have your exam scheduled, you can keep on postponing because you might feel like you’re not 100% ready yet. Well, guess what? There’s no such thing as 100% ready. The CPA Exam is not a high school math quiz. But you are ready. Just go for it.
At my office, we’re not allowed to take study leaves in the high season, so I only had a couple of months in the summer to study full time and sit for the exams. A trend at the office was to take three exams in the first summer (usually FAR, BEC and AUD) and keep the last exam until the beginning of the next summer (REG), early enough to ensure that you only struggle for one summer in your life. I decided to follow the same lead.
But because I had troubles finding available seats on the dates I wanted, I had to book Financial Accounting and Reporting (or FAR) and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) only one day apart. That was by far one of the most difficult days of my life.
However, if you have enough time to prepare, I recommend taking all four parts in the same summer.
How I Studied
I started by reading the Becker CPA Review material and watching their videos. For each section, I watched the video once, highlighted and took notes on everything the instructor was saying. After that I worked on my multiple choice questions.
Some people feel more comfortable with spending a lot of time on the reading. I always preferred to read the material more than once, because with each reading, I felt like I was grasping a new concept, or there was an idea I’d missed during the first time through the material.
During the first reading, I’d solve the multiple choice questions after every part of every chapter. Later on during the second and third review, I’d read through the entire chapter and then do all of the multiple choice questions.
I also recommend not following the order of the book for your second or third readings. Mix the chapters as you see fit. Start by the chapters that seemed tough and leave the easier concepts for the end.
When you reach your final review stages, mix and match multiple choice questions from different chapters. And even though some people will advise you not to do mock exams, I would recommend to do them a week before your exam, right before you begin your final review. Why? The mock exam should point out your weak areas. During your last review, leave enough time to revisit those areas and cover them again.
The First Section
No matter which exam you choose, the first section is always the toughest. You walk into the testing center not sure about what’s coming. Take a moment before you start, maybe use earplugs to block out any noise in the room, have your scratch paper and pencil with you, make sure you’re comfortable and hit start.
Also: Don’t drink too many fluids before the exam to avoid taking unnecessary breaks during your test.
Taking the Rest
Once you get familiar with the system, things will feel a little more comfortable. Pay attention not to get too comfy though; CPA Exam questions are known to be tricky. Look for small details that might be misleading.
And there will definitely be questions for which you don’t know the answer. Don’t worry! Some questions are only there for testing purposes and aren’t graded. If you studied enough, and you still don’t know the answer, chances are most of the people in that room don’t know it either. Keep your focus, stay calm and move on to the next question.
Flag any questions you weren’t sure about and revisit them if you have enough time.
A few additional things that really helped me:
Get enough sleep—not just before your exam dates, but on a daily basis. Even though I used to dream of multiple choice questions and simulations each and every night, getting eight hours of sleep helped me reduce stress and remember and process the study material better.
Avoid getting sick as much as possible. The last thing you need while you’re studying is to catch a cold. Eat healthy and make sure you’re getting some exercise during your study breaks.
And finally: Remember, pain is temporary, but pride is forever!