The most important thing is balance
Financial Controller ANZ
Henkel Australia Pty Ltd.
I earned my CPA license from Washington state in 2012 after nearly a decade as an accounting professional. I am now a financial controller with over 18 years of extensive experience in multinational companies. In addition to my US CPA, I am also a Chartered Accountant Australia New Zealand (ANZ) with a wide-ranged background in financial accounting and reporting, management accounting and business planning with knowledge of IFRS, US/Japan GAAP and Sarbanes-Oxley/Internal Control.
How I Got Here
I first started studying for the CPA Exam back in 1997 when the exams were only given twice a year in the United States. I couldn’t strike the right balance between studying and working, so I gave up on it after a year. I spent the next decade or so gaining experience as an accounting professional including a two-year assignment in Sydney, Australia. In 2010, I decided to give studying another shot after being released from a big project at my company. From start to finish, it took me just over two years to pass all four sections of the exam. It was especially tough for me since I was working a full time job, but the effort was worth it and in the long run, the time spent was only a small sacrifice in the context of my entire life.
Planning for the Exam
My original goal was to pass two exam sections per year, starting with FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting) and BEC (Business Environment & Concepts), and then AUD (Audit and Attestation) & REG (Regulation) the following year. This way, I had a six-month buffer period in case I didn’t pass a section or two (since the exam credit expires in 18 months).
I suggest studying for FAR first and then BEC because FAR contains the basic materials for the other sections, and BEC is also largely related to the material covered in FAR. Then I chose to take REG, as I wanted to pass it first, rather than AUD—which I thought would contain more familiar materials for me. Looking back, my decision was the best for me.
How I Studied
I watched lectures on DVD first and then did related practice questions as many times as I could. The important thing when going through the multiple choice questions is not only to know the answers, but also to make sure to understand why the other answers are not correct, which helped me a lot when I struggled to pass AUD. I usually got up several hours before work on weekdays to set aside enough time to study. By securing time in the morning, I still had plenty of time for work and I had my evenings free to spend with my wife.
The First Section
I took my first two sections (FAR and BEC) in December 2010 in Hawaii. I recommend arriving at the testing center as early as possible to avoid stressful situations like traffic jams on the way. Before I even looked at the first question, I wrote down a time allocation on scrap paper to make sure I would maximize my time for each section. Once you go on to the next section, you can’t go back to the previous ones even if you have time left over, so you want to make sure you’re budgeting your time appropriately. Also, don’t get caught up in how well you think you’re doing — it doesn’t matter during the exam. Some of the questions are not graded, and there are also questions that are completely new. You’ll just have to wait until your score is released by NASBA to know if you passed or not. Don’t get discouraged; concentrate on the questions during the exam.
Taking the Rest
After passing the first two sections, I started studying for REG and AUD with the plan to take the exams in Guam in November 2011. Fortunately, I passed REG on my first try, but AUD was a different story. When I didn’t get a 75 the first time, I immediately scheduled another AUD exam for February 2012, but I couldn’t make it. So it wasn’t until May 2012 that I finally passed AUD—just a few days shy of my FAR and BEC exam credits expiring. My advice is that when you plan your exam schedule, be aware of the fact that the seat availability at your testing center does not always match with your desired schedule and that you can’t take a test during the last month of each quarter (i.e., March, June, September, December). And of course, don’t forget that there are expiration dates for the exam credits.
The most important thing is balance. Do not put too much pressure on yourself. If you feel like you need to rest, take your time off, relax and spend time with your friends or family. I prepared all of the detailed schedules including how many multiple choice questions to go through each day with sufficient buffer period, which made me feel that I was always ahead of the schedule.