Top 7 Not-So-Obvious CPA Exam Tips

Top 7 Not-So-Obvious CPA Exam Tips

You hear a lot of information being given out about the CPA Exam - mostly the basic facts, such as scoring and format. But what aren't they telling you? Watch this 15-minute video, presented by Senior Business Alliance Manager, Mitra Wilson, to learn some less commonly addressed CPA Exam tips to make sure you are well informed before Exam Day!


Hi, my name is Mitra Wilson, I'm the National Business Alliance manager for Roger CPA Review. I've been doing this for seven years now, and I've provided a lot of guidance about the CPA exam, and throughout the years I've gotten many questions, there's many confusions and misconceptions.

So I've decided to give you some tips that you don't hear about everyday about the CPA exam that you will find very useful.

Now, there's a lot of information out there about the basics, you know, the exam content, formats for example, even on our website, so check it out.

But for today I'm going to focus on seven not-so obvious things you should know about the CPA exam.

So number one, passing the CPA exam is just as much about time management as it is about knowing the material. Time management is key, not only in the prep before taking the exam, all your study time, but during the actual test taking process.

We all know a lot of smart people out there who know the accounting concepts very well, but they're still having trouble with the CPA exam. And that's because they didn't come up with a plan before hand. They don't have a realistic idea of just how many hours, days, weeks, and maybe even months it'll take to pass a section.

So this lack of projection, along with taking breaks because of busy season, or your personal life or whatever, that's what gets in the way of CPA exam success.

Now this is why through our course we provide you with study planners. We give you a 3, 6, 9 and 12 month plan that you can choose from, it's a suggested guide, it's fully customizable, it's really nice because it'll just break down day by day, exactly what lectures you need to watch, which homework you need to do, and it'll give you a nice snapshot of what your getting yourself into. So before you do anything else, create a study plan, very important.

Now during the actual exam process, you're sitting at the Prometrics Testing Center, you're taking the exam, time management is key here too.

You want to not spend more than about a minute to a minute and a half per multiple choice question, for example. You don't want to spend more than 15 minutes per task-based simlet, or the written communications. So you'll have three essays, you don't want to spend more than 15 minutes per essay.

So let me show you a break down time wise of what the exam looks like.

You'll have a countdown clock, okay? So if you look at the audit example here, you'll start at four hours and it'll count down to zero. So you'll have your first testlet of multiple choice questions, it's made up of 30 multiple choice questions.

You'll want to do that within 45 minutes. Again, about a minute and a half per question. So if you find yourself at that 3:15 mark, you know it's time to move on to the next testlet of multiple choice. And then you'll move on to the task based simlets.

So you can see here a nice little break down of exactly how much time you want to spend on each section.

Now a tip that our lead instructor, Roger Philipp, gives his students is that when you go and sit for the CPA exam, you'll have about 10 minutes of introductory screen time. This is when you go through instructions, and usually people have a few extra minutes before they actually press start, start the exam.

Now you don't want to time out during this period. Once the 10 minutes is up, the exam automatically starts. But take a couple of those minutes to write down on your scratch paper. The Prometrics Testing Center provides you these laminated sheets that you can write on with marker. Write down time markers, very important.

So go ahead and write down, "3:15, I need to move on "to the second testlet of multiple choice questions "in the audit section," for example. This way you have a nice reference, you can look down at your scratch piece of paper and know exactly where you need to be. And you won't get frazzled with that lovely countdown clock. So there's a tip for you.

Tip number two, don't leave any questions blank. You start at zero with the CPA exam, and you work your way up to the highest possible score of a 99. Okay, what do you need to pass? A 75, that's all you need to pass the exam. So don't leave anything blank, it can only help you if you answer the question.

So hopefully if you don't know the answer, you're using your best educated guess, through the process of elimination, but just start marking.

So let's say you're taking the audit exam and you're getting close to that 3:15 mark, and you're only halfway through the first testlet of multiple choice. What do you do? You start marking questions.

Now, a lot of people have this misconception that the exam is graded on a curve. That is absolutely not true. This is an advanced computerized exam that uses a multi-stage adaptive testing model.

So let me show you an example here, okay? So for the audit and FAR section, as you can see, there are three testlets of multiple choice. Each testlet contains 30 multiple choice questions. So you start on the first testlet on a medium level. If you do really well, great.

The next testlet you're on a difficult level, if you do not so well, then you move on to the next section back at medium. You can stay at difficult, go back to medium, it really depends on how you do.

Now it's all very fair, don't worry. If you're on the difficult level, that just means you have to get less questions right, because they're weighed more, okay? So it's a very smart exam, it's gauging you as you go, so very interesting.

Now another interesting thing to know is that a portion of the exam is made up of what's called, "pre-tested questions." These are questions that do not count, okay? So 20% of each multiple choice testlet, for example, is made up of these pre-tested questions.

Now when the AICPA is introducing new topics to the CPA exam, they'll often make them pre-tested. They want to see how people will do on these new topics on a national level. If the majority of test takers did not do well on a question, they'll deem it unfair and they'll throw it out, okay?

Now you don't know which questions are pre-tested or not, so treat them all equally and do your best on all of them, okay? And there's pre-tested questions in a simulation and essay portion as well, okay?

Now, tip number three. When beginning your CPA exam journey, start with the section you think would be the most challenging. The reason for this is your time, your 18 months doesn't start ticking until you've passed your very first part.

So strategy wise, it may help to start with a difficult part, that way if you don't pass, at least you're not running out of time, okay?

So a lot of people ask me, "Which section do you think "will be the most difficult?" It really depends. A lot of people say FAR, just because it's the heftiest section. It's all your intermediate accounting classes rolled into one, so leases, bonds, pensions, all that good stuff is in the FAR section. So a lot of people like to start with that.

But you know, if you're an auditor and you hate tax, you might want to start with regulation. Think about the classes that you maybe had trouble in, in school. Maybe you hated cost accounting. Well, then you'll want to start with BEC. So it's really up to you.

But again, strategy wise, start with the section you'll find most challenging, that way when you pass it, you'll build up your confidence, you'll feel really good, and you'll be able to tackle the three other parts really well, okay?

And here is an example of how the testing windows work, okay? So if you were to breakdown the calender year into quarters, every third month is considered a black out month. This is a time where you cannot sit for the CPA exam at all. So keep the testing windows in mind when you plan on which sections you want to sit for in what timeframe.

Tip number four, when completing the written communication portion of the CPA exam, which is in the BEC section, assume that it'll be graded by a computer, not a human, okay? So the majority of these essays are graded by a computer. It's kind of rare for a human to take a look, although a random sample of about five percent of these essays will be handed to a human to be graded.

Now if your score is close to passing, but not exactly 75, so if you're at a 73, 74, maybe a 76, one point above passing, then a human will most likely take a look at the essay portion to see if they could maybe bump you up or see if they can help out in some way.

Regardless, just always assume it's a computer. And what that means is treat it like a computer. Computers don't understand abbreviations, they don't understand bullet points, slang. Keep it very simple. You're not only being graded on answering the question to the best of your knowledge, but you're also being graded on spelling, grammar, use the spell check function.

We want to know if you can write a professional memo as you would out in the real world. So that's what they're looking for. So have professional structure, an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Stay on topic, repeat key words. These are things that will give you points, and ultimately give you CPA exam success.

Tip number five. Take the AICPA's tutorial and sample test online. Now I'm always surprised about how many people don't do this. Now through our course, we provide you with thousands of previously released AICPA questions, multiple choice, simulations to practice on, through our interactive practice questions.

So you will be fully prepared for the type of questions you'll be seeing when you sit for the CPA exam. This is more just to see exactly what it's going to look like.

Our interactive practice questions mimic the CPA exam, but the AICPA still recommends that you take a quick tutorial and a sample test on their website. So you'll go to and check it out there. It's literally straight from the CPA exam.

Now some Mac users have complained that they weren't able to access this. Honestly, borrow a friend's computer. Whatever you have to do. It takes 15 minutes of your time, and you'll see exactly what the CPA exam looks like because on this website, you have to have a US version of Microsoft Word. So you may have some issue with Mac, but again, find a computer that has Microsoft Word and you'll be good to go.

Tip number six, don't sign up for all sections of the CPA exam right away, okay? Your NTS, which is your notice to schedule, will expire before the 18 month deadline given to pass all four parts of the CPA exam. So people get confused with the different timelines.

Yes, you have 18 month to complete, pass, all four parts of the exam. That's plenty of time. Most of our students do it within half that time, actually.

However, your notice to schedule, which is what you bring to the testing center the day you want to take the exam, and will give you access to the exam, those expire before 18 months.

In most states, they expire within six months. In California and Louisiana they expire in nine months. In North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia they expire in 12 months, and Texas in 90 days. So as you can see, it does vary state by state.

Regardless, only sign up for the sections that you think you can realistically sit for within that timeframe. So maybe sign up for two.

If you... In California, if you finish two sections before nine months, not a big deal, you just re-apply, it's a small fee, you're already in their system.

Now people apply online. And again, state by state it varies. So some people apply through their state board of accountancy, and some people apply through NASBA. Either way, the re-application process is quick and easy, and it's worth not having to pay extra in the long run.

So you'll re-apply, then you can sign up for the other two parts, and you'll have nine months again in California, for example, to get those accomplished. This way, you don't forfeit any fees.

What happens is some people sign up for all four, they're overly confidant or they don't realize the expiration date, and they don't get around to all four before their NTS expires and unfortunately, they lose their money and they have to re-schedule and re-pay for the part they weren't able to take.

Okay, tip number seven. Research the rules of your Prometrics Testing Center before showing up. Check out the Prometric website. Each location has different rules, but there are some general ones that they all follow.

Okay, you'll be fingerprinted, you'll have your picture taken, they have strict rules. You can't wear dangly earrings, or a watch, or a puffy jacket. They have a locker for you to store away these items if you brought them. Okay, so check out the website.

Another nice thing is a lot of the centers, not all of them, but a lot of them will offer a test drive. So for a small fee, you can sign up for a test drive where you show up before your exam day, and the proctor will show you around, you'll see exactly what you're environment is going to be like, they'll take you through the check-in process, and they'll even let you take a quick sample exam.

It's not going to be the CPA exam, but you'll still have an idea of what it'll be like the day you take your exam. So if you can take a test drive, I highly recommend it, and you'll know exactly what you're getting into.

Okay, you'll want to bring your NTS, your "notice to schedule" on the day of your exam and two forms of ID. Make sure you bring the right NTS. I've heard stories where people bring the wrong one for the wrong section, and they're turned away.

So very important is just bring everything that's necessarily so you don't have to do it all over again.

There you have it. Seven not so obvious tips about the CPA exam. I hope you found it helpful, and good luck.