CPA exam strategies

FYI – This Is the Last CPA Exam Window To Blow Off Research Tabs

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know that as is, research isn’t very important and if you’re running out of time on a simulation you should completely ignore it. It might be worth a point and let’s be real about it, no one uses it unless they need words for a written communication. Shame on you guys.

Starting January 1, 2011, however, you’re going to have to start giving a shit about the research. I know, lame. They want you to know how to search the code because that’s what you have to look forward to once you get those three letters after your name. Awesome, right? Figure it out.


Research problems will make up one simlet tab in REG, AUD and FAR. FAR and REG are fairly easy in that you only have three databases to search through; in REG, you’ll have to look through the Internal Revenue Code and Tax Services code while in FAR you only have the ASCs to worry about. AUD, however, is littered with 10 different sets of code so you better get familiar with research by A) using the research problems you already have in CPA review textbooks and software and B) playing with the actual functionality of the 2011 CPA exam format if you are sitting for the first time after January 1.

For those sitting for the first time in this coming window, you’ll still have the old research format (unless the AICPA Board of Examiners is trying out their new simlets one last time as pretest questions before the CBT-e beast goes live next year) so you can always feel welcome to ignore it if you are halfway through your simulation with only a quarter of it bubbled in. You can still find that tutorial on the AICPA’s website as well and it is advised that you try it out before you show up at Prometric and waste a bunch of time figuring out how to work the controls. It’s fairly straight-forward but you might as well give it a test drive as you can’t waste 5 minutes to pee let alone try to puzzle your way through an unfamiliar exam format.

I hope to hear that all of you blow research off all the way up until November 30, 2010 (you know, to show your solidarity and commitment to the collective experience of taking this damn exam)… Yes, November 30th, the day most of you are sitting for one last part. Any update on Prometric blackouts in your area? So far I’ve heard the Bay Area is getting completely booked up for the last week of November (shock) but not much else. Any of you having trouble getting in at the last possible minute or more?

This is why we always tell you to schedule early but why listen to us?

If you’d like to know something about the exam (don’t ask where the tutorial is, I just gave it to you), get in touch.

Family Planning and the CPA Exam: Part 2

Last Friday, I tried to talk a soon-to-be-Mom out of trying to squeeze in at least one exam section this year before her baby is born but she refused to listen (I like that) and is asking how to do it “against medical advice” – or my advice, anyway. Since I admire that kind of dedication (even if I don’t necessarily agree with it), let’s see if we can come up with a plan.

Here’s her response to my comments last week:

I really appreciate and understand your response. At this time in my life it makes the most sense to get this done now. I am basically sitting around while my husband spends this year on internship. I am at a point where I will not be working this year and felt I might as well take the CPA now. Once my husband gets a job we will settle down and I will get a job. I heard it is much harder to take the CPA while one is working and that is why I figured it would make sense to do it now. I know there is some risk with trying to pass all 4 parts in an 18 month window, but after reading a lot of your articles and blogs on studying tips I feel I can realistically make this happen. Hopefully that will be the case.

Man, a new baby and Dad is working on an internship? Ouch.

Well let’s start with your plan: a good study plan pencils in at least 3 hours a day, no more than 3 hours at a time, over a consistent period of time. Your study plan will have to include time for rest so be sure to take lots of breaks and don’t try to do marathon study sessions of 5 or 6 hours at a time as you’ll stop retaining information after about 3. Ideally you need to figure out how to get in 150 hours of studying for FAR between now and your due date as you will have forgotten everything by the time the baby is born and you actually get back to being able to form complete sentences once you’re getting more than 3 hours of sleep a night.

Do NOT schedule your exam too close to your due date as I haven’t heard of getting your fees refunded because you ended up having a baby on exam day. If you have any control over this (planned C-section or something along those lines), obviously it will be easier to figure out how to schedule but otherwise just try to sit as many weeks before you’re due as you can. This may mean having to study 7 – 12 hours a day (in 3 hour chunks, of course) leading up to your exam date but if you need more breaks (like an hour of studying at a time), that’s fine too. Find a rhythm that works for you, I can’t tell you what formula is going to be best for your needs. When I was pregnant I found that I tended to stay up late because that’s when my son was most active, which would have been a perfect chance to study had I been so inclined at the time. I commend you for wanting to pass FAR more than I wanted to stuff my face with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Other than the above suggestions, your job now is no different from other CPA exam candidates’: study, practice MCQ, get familiar with simulations and go into the exam with confidence knowing you prepared as best you could.

Just hope your water doesn’t break.

Good luck!

Family Planning and the CPA Exam

For this particular post, as much as I would love to throw my experience with CPA exam candidates and children (sometimes interchangeable, mind you) around, I’m going to do something a little bit different. Would any of you with experience in the following care to weigh in and help?

Here’s the question via a CPA Exam Club member:

I am having a baby in 2 months and wasn’t planning on taking any parts of the exam until 2011, when I will hopefully have more rested nights and energy to study. However, after starting to do research about the CPA exam I discovered all of the changes taking place in 2011 and decided that it seemed prudent to get FAR out of the way in 201and can basically devote all of my time to studying until I have the baby and after I have the baby in order to take the exam in November. I am a pretty disciplined person with good time management. I am pretty quick at getting things done. I also got a 2nd bachelors in accounting and just completed a masters in accounting as well. Do you think I am being unrealistic in my pursuit of passing FAR in 2010?

If you think I can achieve this goal, what do you advise CPA hopefuls to do in order to pass? I am very determined to try and pass on the first try and would do whatever it takes in order to do so.

First of all, I remember what being 7 months pregnant felt like and while I loved being pregnant with my son, at that point the very last thing I would have been able to do would have been to study. So my first piece of advice not just to our little CPA exam candidate friend above but all of you with family plans on the horizon is to WAIT until you have passed the CPA exam to start cranking out the tax deductions. The exam is hard enough on its own, add a career and kids into the mix (especially for Moms) and you have a recipe for disappointment. Or at least a nervous breakdown, which you probably don’t want either.

I often tell candidates to be prepared for any and every possible thing to go wrong and mess up their perfect plans along the way. For parents, it’s almost a guarantee that even our best-laid plans will somehow be ruined, delayed or otherwise compromised.

Discipline is a requirement to get through the exam but even your best intentions can’t fight the inevitable. I could barely function once my son was born (waking up every 2 hours to feed will do that to you), let alone actually do anything productive.

So my advice to you is to wait. Wait until your child is a little older (or at a minimum sleeping through the night) and hopefully you have a supportive partner who will happily babysit while you head off to live CPA review classes. I can’t tell you how many Moms I have seen in live classes, most of whom refuse to take advantage of the convenience of online, on-demand review simply because they are desperate for a break. You know it’s bad when you’d take 8 hours of government and non-profit accounting over being at home with your brood but let’s face it, this Mom thing is the world’s roughest gig.

It sounds to me like you have a plan and that’s awesome but be sure you are being realistic. It’s already almost September, meaning the last window of 2010 is close upon us and if you haven’t already made an appointment at Prometric, you might run yourself into the ground trying to squeeze FAR in (that’s if you can even get in to schedule). And let’s just say you pass (which I’m confident you will once you get off the ground) and then have the baby. What happens when motherhood takes its toll and you aren’t able to resume studying until your child is a year old and your 18 month window is fast approaching?

Enjoy these last two months, take care of yourself and bask in your baby once he or she arrives. The exam will be here waiting patiently in the meantime and by then maybe the AICPA BoE will have ironed out all the IFRS kinks or thrown out new content altogether. Trust me, the changes next year are not that big of a deal and CBT-e will actually be easier than 2010’s exam if I’m guessing correctly (I usually do). You will put in no more effort in 2011 to pass than you would have in 2010 so better to spend the energy when you actually have it instead of running yourself into the ground at a time when you need to be in fighting shape.

Hope that helps!

If you have a CPA exam question for us, get in touch and we’ll do our best to answer.

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!

Did I Start Studying For the CPA Exam Too Early?

Friendly reminder: Going Concern’s own Adrienne Gonzalez will be chatting with CPA exam candidates over at CPA Exam Club on 8/3. We’ll be talking about the exam process, study strategies and all things CPA exam so if you haven’t already, head over to CPA Exam Club to RSVP for the chat if you have questions that you’re just dying to get answered.

Today’s reader question is probably one that some of you are more than familiar with… you graduate and jump right in to CPA review hoping your state board will process your application quickly and assume you’ll be ready to sit in a matter of weeks, only to discover that state boards aren’t nearly as quick as we wish ’s the sitch:

I recently graduated from Yeshiva University with a BS in Accounting. The week after I graduated, I started a Becker course (started with FAR) and planned to take the test at the end of July. Since then, my NTS has taken forever, so I prob. won’t get it for a couple weeks.

I recently started a full time position (hours are not regular, only staying 2-3 hours late a couple days a week) and am in the middle of moving apartments so my studying habits have been, for lack of better word, shite. [creative edit on our part]

The Becker AUD course starts on Tuesday. Would you say that sitting in on the course, while simultaneously studying for FAR is a bad idea? And also, assuming I’m starting from square 1 with FAR all over again, planning on taking it in the end of August, is this enough time, IYO, to be prepared to pass? (Obv with a structured study schedule of about 3 hours per day).

First of all, for those of you who haven’t already made this mistake, please keep in mind when you are plotting out your exam strategy that just because you are ready to take the exam doesn’t mean the state board is ready to process your application. A general rule is it can take anywhere from 4 – 10 weeks from the time you send in your application, fees and transcripts to the time you are actually ready to schedule your first exam. If you are 100% sure you meet the requirements to apply in your state, it’s safe to start your review a few weeks after you apply.

For our friend here who jumped the gun, however, it’s a little late so let’s see what we can do.

I’m going to say no on starting with Audit simply because I’m somewhat familiar with Becker’s repeat requirements (some of the strictest and most expensive in the exciting world of CPA review) and chances are you are going to need that class later on down the road. Our humble advice is to keep studying FAR and hope you can schedule yourself for that section in the final window of the year. The last window is always the hardest to schedule but we’re anticipating additional scheduling problems this year because of the rush to get exam parts in before the CPA exam changes in 2011 so be prepared to pick an alternate Prometric center or adjust your desired dates/times. As long as you’re open to that, you should be fine.

You can, of course, start studying Audit now and plan to take that one in the last window along with FAR but again, you’re likely to run into some serious scheduling trouble for Q4. Normally we’d tell you to go for it but this year is special and you’ll be lucky to get in one section let alone two before 2011 so worry about cramming in additional sections come January. Simultaneously studying is fine but we’re betting you won’t be able to get in to take both in the last quarter so save yourself the time and trouble by focusing on FAR for now.

Be honest, have you studied for FAR at all? Starting from scratch you can put in anywhere from 80 – 150 hours of studying so even between full-time job and a move it can be done but it sounds like what you need more than my advice on Audit is a study strategy that actually works for you. My biggest piece of advice is to take this process seriously and put off any other unnecessary drama (like an apartment move), if possible until after you have passed.

Three Myths About Simulation Questions on the CPA Exam

6 years after the advent of the computerized CPA exam, candidates are fairly used to simulations by now (just in time for them to change) but they can still be a source of fear and apprehension for candidates just starting out.

Let’s start with debunking some popular myths. Remember, all of this information is current to the 2010 CPA exam and will be changing in 2011. Since it doesn’t make sense to repeat myself, I’m talking about what to expect for the next two windows of 2010.


Only one simulation is graded. Only one written communication is graded but both simulations are definitely graded and there is no progressive difficulty like there is with MCQ. If your second simulation feels harder than the first, it doesn’t mean you’re doing better, it probably means you got screwed on a simulation that covers the one subject you blew off when you were studying. This will get easier next year as more, smaller “simlets” make your knowledge of a broad range of topics more vital to the scoring process than your intimate knowledge of two topics is now.

Research is an important tab. It actually isn’t. It isn’t worth too many points so if you have to save anything for last, it’s research. If you have time left over, by all means, knock yourself out.

Written communications are sometimes hand-graded for correctness. Actually they don’t care at all if you are right, you just have to address the issue you are presented with using keywords and write good English use proper business grammar. It’s easy, you’re supposed to be doing this all the time via e-mail and if you aren’t, maybe you should start practicing. Caleb, this means you with your IDKs.

We will dig into the details onCP 2011’s new “simlets” on Friday.

Adrienne Gonzalez is the founder of Jr. Deputy Accountant, a former CPA wrangler and a Going Concern contributor. You can see more of her posts here and all posts on the CPA Exam here.