Editor's Note: This post was originally published December 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Taking the CPA Exam can be intimidating; after all, it’s a very difficult process to go through. According to the AICPA, the 2017 CPA Exam Pass rate statistics so far tells us that on average, the pass rate is just under 50%.
But that also means that there are 50% of people who are passing the Exam. In order to help candidates along that process, we have created some key tips and tricks to help you successfully pass the CPA Exam.
10 little-known facts about how to pass the CPA Exam:
1. When to Take the Exam
Sit now! There's still time to study for and pass at least one section of the current CPA Exam. We recommend taking FAR because the FAR Exam covers more topics than any other Exam part, and can be very overwhelming. Because it is so time intensive, choosing to focus on this Exam part early on is a great tactic, allowing you to take the time you need to study without worrying about your 18-month testing window. The good news is that FAR tests many of the basic concepts you’ll need in the other parts of the Exam. Therefore, studying for FAR helps you build your body of knowledge, giving you a foundation as you move forward in the Exam process.
2. Write Out an Exam Timing Schedule and Follow It
This is probably one of the most helpful pieces of advice you can use during your Exam process. Write out a schedule of how long each Testlet should take you, from the moment you start the Exam to the end. Figure out exactly how far along you should be and make sure you keep on track.
Here is an example of scheduling your time during the AUD Exam: AUD (4 Hours – 5 Testlets)
Time (in hours counting down)
4:00 – 3:15 Testlet #1
3:15 – 2:30 Testlet #2
2:30 – 2:00 Testlet #3
-- Halfway Point: 15 Minute Break--
2:00 – 0:60 Testlet #4
0:60 - 0:00 Testlet #5
By listing out your time, you are able to get an idea of where you are during each point of the Exam. For example, if you’re at 1:45 and you haven’t finished Testlet #2, you know that you need to start picking up the pace.
WATCH TIME STRATEGIES VIDEO
3. Getting a Review Course is 100% Required
As you probably have heard, taking on the CPA Exam alone, without any study materials, is pretty much like putting on a blindfold, being turned around a couple of times, and then handed a dart to attempt to throw onto the board. Chances are, you’re going to miss the mark. Therefore, you want to make sure you do ample research on which CPA Review course you would like to use. Pick one that will help you retain information and provide the necessary study support materials that help you learn best.
4. Keep it on the Down Low
Unfortunately, when you begin to tell others you are taking the CPA Exam, your friends and family may want to become “involved”. Find out when you’re taking the Exam, what part, how many sections you have passed, etc. Therefore, if you are up to explaining why you canceled your CPA Exam section or why a 74 is not considered a passing grade, go ahead and let everyone know. But, if you would prefer not to add the additional pressure of everyone wanting to know if you passed or failed the Exam, you do not need to divulge this information. Keep it to yourself. That way, if you decide you’re not ready to take on AUD next week, its okay, you're allowed to change your mind. If you failed FAR twice, nobody needs to know this and you can continue on preparing to pass the Exam.
5. Don’t Study Using Only Multiple Choice Questions
Once you start studying with a CPA Review course, you'll mostly likely be sifting through tons of multiple choice questions, finding yourself just guessing at 60-70% of them. This tactic will NOT help you properly prepare for the CPA Exam. Instead, focus on trying to learn the actual material and topics presented.
Each CPA Exam section has Tasked-based Simulations. Task-based simulations are case studies that allow candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by generating responses to questions rather than simply selecting the correct answer. In other words, TBSs simulate real-life situations you would face as a CPA. Therefore, in your review course, make sure to tackle all the TBSs as well as the multiple choice questions.
6. Figure Out If You Are a Morning, Day, or Night Person
This advice will be extremely helpful when you are planning the times to take your CPA Exam. For those who are morning people, they can take the test at 8:00am, right after a fresh cup of coffee. Others may prefer to take the Exam around 5:30pm to ease their nerves. Whatever time is best for you is when you need to schedule your Exam.
7. It’s Okay to Schedule Your Test…Last Minute
Most people think the best thing to do is schedule their CPA Exam as far out as possible. This way it forces them to study because they know they are limited on time before they sit for the Exam. But, as always, things happen, and most people just go into the Exam, having not finished the material, and come out with a 74 or less. Instead of going down this path, have an overall goal of when you plan to take the Exam in your head first. Then schedule the Exam when you are actually ready to take it.
Note: This tip will only work if you live in an area that has multiple Prometric testing centers. If you only have one testing center near you, then it’s more likely that your time slots will fill pretty quickly. However, if they do get filled, most of the time people end up canceling their Exam 5 days out and slots will reopen. Just keep checking the availability in your area to make sure you get your desired time and date.
8. Reward Yourself for the Little Triumphs
The more time you spend studying for the CPA Exam, the less time you have for everything and everyone else in your life. Therefore, squeeze in some time to actually breath and have a little fun. Use this time as a reward for when you complete milestones in your study material or even pass a part of the CPA Exam.
If you are planning on knocking out 3 sections of the study material for BEC this week and by Saturday you are finished with the material, take Sunday off. Don’t look or even think about your study material and go out and enjoy your day. This will help you stay motivated to take on the next chapter or the next Exam. You can even plan bigger rewards for when you pass a section of the Exam, like take a short weekend trip to the beach, etc. It’s completely up to you, but make sure you celebrate the small victories to stay motivated.
9. Just Because You Don't Feel Confident During the Exam, Doesn't Mean You're Going to Fail!
Think positively! One way to ease your mind during the Exam is to remember that the AICPA includes pretest questions on the CPA Exam. So, if you're really struggling with one of the questions, it could possibly be a pretest question that won't count against your score. Also, always keep in mind that the better you are doing on the Exam, the more difficult the material becomes. If the material seems more challenging, then you're answering the questions correctly.
10. And Finally, Remember the Clock is Ticking
Once you passed your first Exam section, remember that the clock has started to count down. You have 18 more months from the time you pass your first Exam to finish the remaining 3 parts. 18 months sounds like a long time, but it will come sooner than you think. So, be sure to plan your CPA Exam strategy accordingly.
We continue to wish everyone the best of luck on their CPA Exam journeys! Be sure to let us know when you pass, so we can celebrate your success!