A 5 Step Plan to Passing the CPA Exam for Total Idiots

Disclaimer: I was going to use “for Dummies” in that headline but John Wiley & Sons owns that term. Since they’re also Going Concern advertisers, I figured it would be best not to tick them off. So don’t take my headline personally, call it creative license.

So, you want to pass the CPA exam eh? Here is your 5 step plan to get it done. Pay attention, kids, we’re only goince.

1. Apply early As soon as you are eligible to sit for the CPA exam (or even before if you are trying to bypass some state boards’ long application processing times), get your application, fees and fingerprint cards in. Assuming your accounting program did not prepare you for the exam, check with NASBA’s Accounting Licensing Library or your state board to find out everything you need to know about requirements to sit in your state. Remember the CPA exam is uniform meaning you can sit for any state’s exam in any other state as long as you meet their requirements so if you don’t qualify at home, check out other states to see if you can sit there. Point being, you don’t want to have to juggle the exam, work AND a family so get this thing out of the way before you get engaged, promoted and/or knocked up. Trust us on that one.


2. Study OK, I shouldn’t even have to list this as a step but, uh, I’ve had the fortune of working with some of you for years so I feel it necessary to point out that unless you are some freak with a photographic memory, you are going to have to do some studying to pass. The entire exam can take anywhere between 200 and 1000 hours to study for (based on your familiarity with exam topics going into it) so be prepared to put in plenty of hours with your nose buried in your review books. We’re not suggesting you should develop a sick fascination for Peter Olinto but get comfortable with your CPA review instructor(s), you’re going to get awfully cozy for the next couple months.

3. Make some temporary sacrifices Sure there are the odd cases of CPA exam candidates who managed to pass with just a few hours of studying but for most of you, you’re going to have to accept that your life must change to accommodate the CPA exam process. If this means cutting off your needy girlfriend for a few months, grow a pair and tell her to stop bugging you when you’re focused on the exam. Your friends will be there when you’re done and if they aren’t, maybe you should stick to hanging out with other accountants (oh come on, it’s not so bad). Keep in mind the CPA exam torture is temporary and once you pass, you can drink all you want. In fact, you’re probably going to want to once you start nailing those promotions and putting in 80 hour workweeks. Deal.

4. Learn to plan but learn to accept that sometimes things do not go according to plan Shit happens. If you’re studying for the CPA exam, lots of shit happens. Some things are out of your control (busy season, for one) but plenty of things are completely under your control so worry about those and try not to get too upset about the rest. Learn to create a study plan that includes sufficient study time without sacrificing your own sanity (3 hours a day is plenty). Plan your exams well in advance and schedule in some kind of final review 2 – 3 weeks before exam day to be sure you are ready.

5. If you fall off the horse, get back up and kick the horse in the shins A 74 could be the most devastating CPA exam result of all but the reality is that this exam isn’t a cakewalk and you aren’t a failure just because you’ve failed. You’re only a failure if you allow it to keep you from pursuing your goal of CPA licensure. Get up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes (your score report is a huge clue into where you need more work) and schedule a retake as soon as possible. It’s entirely reasonable to feel defeated but no reason to pout so knock it off and suck it up. There’s a reason only 40%+/- of candidates pass on the first attempt, this thing isn’t easy on purpose. If it were easy, any idiot with half a brain would be a CPA.

But you aren’t just any idiot, are you? Go get ’em, killer!

Disclaimer: I was going to use “for Dummies” in that headline but John Wiley & Sons owns that term. Since they’re also Going Concern advertisers, I figured it would be best not to tick them off. So don’t take my headline personally, call it creative license.

So, you want to pass the CPA exam eh? Here is your 5 step plan to get it done. Pay attention, kids, we’re only going to go over this once.

1. Apply early As soon as you are eligible to sit for the CPA exam (or even before if you are trying to bypass some state boards’ long application processing times), get your application, fees and fingerprint cards in. Assuming your accounting program did not prepare you for the exam, check with NASBA’s Accounting Licensing Library or your state board to find out everything you need to know about requirements to sit in your state. Remember the CPA exam is uniform meaning you can sit for any state’s exam in any other state as long as you meet their requirements so if you don’t qualify at home, check out other states to see if you can sit there. Point being, you don’t want to have to juggle the exam, work AND a family so get this thing out of the way before you get engaged, promoted and/or knocked up. Trust us on that one.


2. Study OK, I shouldn’t even have to list this as a step but, uh, I’ve had the fortune of working with some of you for years so I feel it necessary to point out that unless you are some freak with a photographic memory, you are going to have to do some studying to pass. The entire exam can take anywhere between 200 and 1000 hours to study for (based on your familiarity with exam topics going into it) so be prepared to put in plenty of hours with your nose buried in your review books. We’re not suggesting you should develop a sick fascination for Peter Olinto but get comfortable with your CPA review instructor(s), you’re going to get awfully cozy for the next couple months.

3. Make some temporary sacrifices Sure there are the odd cases of CPA exam candidates who managed to pass with just a few hours of studying but for most of you, you’re going to have to accept that your life must change to accommodate the CPA exam process. If this means cutting off your needy girlfriend for a few months, grow a pair and tell her to stop bugging you when you’re focused on the exam. Your friends will be there when you’re done and if they aren’t, maybe you should stick to hanging out with other accountants (oh come on, it’s not so bad). Keep in mind the CPA exam torture is temporary and once you pass, you can drink all you want. In fact, you’re probably going to want to once you start nailing those promotions and putting in 80 hour workweeks. Deal.

4. Learn to plan but learn to accept that sometimes things do not go according to plan Shit happens. If you’re studying for the CPA exam, lots of shit happens. Some things are out of your control (busy season, for one) but plenty of things are completely under your control so worry about those and try not to get too upset about the rest. Learn to create a study plan that includes sufficient study time without sacrificing your own sanity (3 hours a day is plenty). Plan your exams well in advance and schedule in some kind of final review 2 – 3 weeks before exam day to be sure you are ready.

5. If you fall off the horse, get back up and kick the horse in the shins A 74 could be the most devastating CPA exam result of all but the reality is that this exam isn’t a cakewalk and you aren’t a failure just because you’ve failed. You’re only a failure if you allow it to keep you from pursuing your goal of CPA licensure. Get up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes (your score report is a huge clue into where you need more work) and schedule a retake as soon as possible. It’s entirely reasonable to feel defeated but no reason to pout so knock it off and suck it up. There’s a reason only 40%+/- of candidates pass on the first attempt, this thing isn’t easy on purpose. If it were easy, any idiot with half a brain would be a CPA.

But you aren’t just any idiot, are you? Go get ’em, killer!

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