study tips

CPA Exam Memory Aids, Do You Need Them?

For some, lease accounting comes easy and you don’t need a catchy tune to help you remember title-transfer, bargain purchase and 75% of its useful life. But for most of us, retaining the information critical to getting through a multiple choice question every minute or minute and a half requires either divine intervention or a really excellent collection of memory aids. Since some of you may be atheists, let’s talk memory aids. Pay attention, especially those of you taking FAR who need help getting through such a huge mess of information.


Post its are your friend! Are you having trouble remembering present value tables or the three necessary components of an audit opinion? Not to worry, just grab a pack (or 20) of sticky notes and start writing down mnemonics or calculations and sticking them everywhere you might see them; your fridge, the bathroom mirror, your car’s rearview mirror (don’t forget to take it down before you drive), your desk, and especially on top of the PlayStation. Swap out your old notes for new ones every couple of days as you add new information and be sure to read them every time you pass the note. If you’re one of those folks who has this stuff down but just needs a little encouragement, you can also use this trick to get a much-needed boost of confidence by writing your name, CPA and slapping them all over the house. Talk about motivation!

You have a few minutes and some scratch paper at the exam, so use it! While the Powers That Be may discourage using the 10 minutes before you actually get into the exam as a brain dump, there is no reason you can’t use 2 or 3 of those minutes to scratch out everything you can on the scratch paper you are given at Prometric. Mnemonics, keywords, formulas, FASBs, whatever, just start writing everything down before you actually launch the exam. You can help yourself out by bringing your review book with you to the test center (but not inside!) and reviewing it one last time in the car before you go in. But be careful, if you use the whole 10 minutes and don’t get through the screens, you’ll blow the whole exam and have to reschedule! 5 minutes tops!

Flashcards are your friend! No, I’m not talking about overpriced CPA review materials that your firm is nice enough to pay for, I am talking about a good old pack of 3x5s that you mark up yourself. I once had a student who claimed his homemade flashcards were what helped him through FAR even though his handwriting was so atrocious that even he couldn’t read it. Just the very act of writing down key topics helped him remember those areas when crunch time came and he was struggling at the exam. Of course this works best if you can actually read your own handwriting but don’t let that keep you from using this important tool to help in your retention of key areas. You can use them to quiz your study buddy or simply make a stack of hard-to-remember topics for your own review. Again, slip these in the car the night before you head to Prometric and flip through quickly before you walk in to take your exam.

Here’s the deal, the CPA exam isn’t meant to be easy and you aren’t supposed to be an expert on dozens if not hundreds of topics. You need to know a little bit about a lot so with the help of some simple tricks to train your brain to work in exam mode, you’ll be breezing through exam parts like no one’s business. Good luck!