Your career is important to us, and we understand that preparing for the CPA exam is a big part of your success. Our MSA students select from a variety of graduate accounting and tax courses designed to prepare them for the advanced topics covered on the CPA exam. They’ll also be equipped to meet the educational requirements for public accounting licensure in most states.
Because of our excellent relationship with Becker Professional Education, maker of CPA exam materials, we are well positioned to support our students and offer insight into the structure and format of the exam, as well as any registration nuances.
But beyond the support we offer, it’s often best to hear from a recent test-taker. MSA Graduate Assistant Gian Alvarez, who began taking the exam last month, offers his top tips for preparing for the CPA exam.
- Register in a timely manner. Contact the Board of Accountancy for the state in which you are looking to be certified. Start the application process sooner rather than later. It can take up to five weeks and if an issue happens to arise, it can really delay your exam plans. Make sure you have the appropriate courses needed to sit for the exam and understand the requirements in the state you have chosen. Educate yourself on the exam’s costs and the fees associated with the application process.
- Plan a study schedule. Preparing for the CPA exam can be a stressful and intimidating process, but sitting down and focusing on it will help you get organized. If you need to take the exam before starting a job, look at a calendar and see when your start day is and schedule as many sections of the exam (without overwhelming yourself) before you start work. I was advised to take the exam before I started my job because studying becomes harder once you start working full time.
- Understand the exam format. The exam is broken down into four “testlets.” In order to move on to the next testlet, you must submit the one you are currently working on (and you cannot come back to it). The strategy that I employed was to go through all of the questions and answer the ones that I knew first. When I finished I was able to put more time and effort into the questions I did not know well. The exam software lets you flag questions that you are not sure about or have no idea how to answer so that you may come back to them.
- Study efficiently and smartly. Figure out how much time you can devote to studying during the week, but also carve out some time to step away from the material and decompress. When studying, keep a notebook nearby to write down any questions or the answers to questions you got wrong while completing homework. Make flashcards as you study and take comprehensive practice tests as you go. The AICPA or the review company of your choice offers practice tests.
- Take advantage of Kogod’s resources. Kogod has a partnership with Becker, which is one of the top CPA review programs. The company is often on campus talking about their products and giving students the opportunity to “test-drive” the software to see if it fits their study needs.
Kogod also offers courses on all topics covered by the CPA exam. Some courses that students should take to supplement their CPA studies include:
- Government & Not-for-Profit Accounting (heavily tested on the FAR section of the CPA exam)
- Financial Statement Analysis (covered in both the FAR and BEC sections)
- Advanced Financial Reporting
- Federal Income Taxation (covered in the REG section)
- Audit and Assurance Services
- Advanced Audit
- Talk to other students who have taken the exam. Another invaluable tool for students taking the exam is their personal network. Many students in the MSA program are taking the exam at the same time, so it is extremely helpful to gain insight into how others study and what strategies work best for them. Most importantly, your network can provide the motivation you need to help you stay focused.
- Prepare for the day of the exam. My advice for the exam day is to eat a healthy breakfast, dress comfortably, arrive 30 minutes early and be sure to bring your Notice to Sit (NTS) and two forms of ID. Arriving early gives you time to check-in without rushing and get settled.
- Avoid exam-day pitfalls. Perhaps the biggest pitfall is poor pacing. Often, test-takers lose track of time because they are so focused on making sure every question is answered. Then, when they reach the Task-Based Simulation section of the exam, they’re rushed.
During the exam, take your time to read all the questions carefully, but be mindful of the clock. The test is four hours long, and you set your own pace. You can spend as much or as little time as you want per section. Nothing helps with pacing better than practice exams. Proper pacing will afford you time to take much-needed breaks between testlets so that you can get up, get a drink of water or just decompress.