I dunno about you but I’ve been in a real funk since at least October. Maybe it’s just a seasonal thing, maybe I need professional help idk, but either way, summer really surprised me. It was like one day temperatures were cooling and leaves were falling, the next I woke up from yet another nap […]
I’ve been writing about the CPA exam for, yeesh, it’ll be 12 years this summer. TWELVE YEARS. I wish I could say that’s like half my life, but I’m old now so it’s more like a third of it, which is still a pretty sizable chunk of it, all things considered. In that time, I’ve […]
Well lookie here, we have a mailbag question! Boy it’s been a long time since I’ve had the joy of answering one of these. Let’s jump right into it. Hi, I failed audit with a 63. I have Bec and far passed which doesn’t expire until 3/31/2020. I cannot take audit until April-June testing window. […]
With the end of the year fast approaching and only two months left to knock this puppy out before January, getting a failing score this late in the game probably has you writing overly dramatic tweets about throwing yourself off a bridge (not funny) or giving up and becoming a dairy farmer. STOP. It’s really […]
You may have heard but NASBA managed to release scores a day early despite day long website issues and lots of candidate bitching. Lots and lots of candidate bitching. Granted, the scores came out just before the stroke of midnight but hey, at least they came out. The news was undoubtedly good for many of […]
As we have told you since the dawn of time, those of you with a tendency to procrastinate need a solid CPA exam study schedule to stay on track. Simply leaving your FAR book on the coffee table while you binge watch Orange Is the New Black isn't going to work. A basic study schedule […]
Ambition is great. Maybe you're really into Intermediate and thinking "WOW, I just can't wait to be a CPA, I'm going to plunk down a bunch of cheddar and start studying NOW so I'm totally ready for the exam later!" Case in point: Even though I'll be taking the CPA exam in a year […]
It's pretty much the longest, most painful 400 hours of your life (unless you are a woman and decide to have children some day and spend two days in natural labor, that's definitely more painful than the CPA exam but not by much). pic via @jackielwiggins Jeebus, isn't there an app for that? Wouldn't it […]
Ed. note: today, Amber tackles a question we've gotten no less than 1000 times. Our answer is always the same: we can't tell you which review course is "best" (both due to my obvious conflict of interest having earned my shill stripes in CPA review and to the fact that only you know what will […]
Holy crap, it's almost October already. OCTOBER. I don't know about where you are, but over here in Richmond it's as swampy as ever and that makes me feel like we're still lingering in the longest, most obnoxious summer ever. But that's beside the point. According to the calendar, it's still almost October. What that […]
Swiped from This Way to CPA: You may be a CPA candidate if… You finally decide to take a day off from studying and everyone comments saying, “shouldn't you be studying?” A successful night out on the town is heading to the library and acing multiple choice tests. You have cleared a store’s shelves of highlighters. […]
Kaplan via @carduser As stupid as this tip is, there is actually some science-y stuff at work here. Psychologists have long known that changing your preferred study location can improve retention. So get up and take those books into the can; not only can you squeeze in a little multi-tasking, you could potentially gain at […]
One CPA candidate has clearly studied to the point that only basic instincts remain: @going_concern What dirty mind behind this CPA study guide got away with Willie "The Back Door Guy" Dixon?yfrog.com/es81rrlj — AJ (@Sturndago) February 21, 2013 No problem, Going Concern is here to help.
I'm sure we all have a piece or twenty of cheap-ass IKEA furniture in our homes so I'm not going to judge this CPA exam candidate's choice of home furnishings, though I do question using the logic of "it had flowers and butterflies" as a qualifier when purchasing any good other than body glitter when […]
As you may or may not know, today marks the day that the IRS will start accepting tax returns for individuals. With any luck, most of your December 31 year-end clients have closed their books for the year and are dropping a metric asston of documents on you. Generally speaking, it's about as good as […]
We've got another winner for you guys from CPA Practice Advisor, though this one at least suggests something very reasonable: should undergrad programs better prepare future CPA candidates for the CPA exam? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the field of accounting will continue to grow throughout the decade. As a […]
Assuming you still have a roof, get your lazy ass back to those books!
I came across this very cute engagement announcement in D Magazine out of Dallas the other day and call me bitter, but this doesn't sound like a good idea to me. It seems to have worked out for the couple in question but just wondering how all of you feel about having an escort to […]
In a recent blog post, NASBA's Ryan Hirsch offers five tips to know before taking the CPA exam that might seem a bit obvious so instead of regurgitating them here, let's give them a good old fashioned Going Concern spin. 1. Utilize a CPA exam Review CourseDUH. We don't have official figures on this but Becker […]
I don't know about you guys but I'm sick of writing advice articles so because it's Friday and I've pretty much given up on there being anything worth talking about except Romney's tax returns and Obama's socialist tendencies for the next month, let's look at some easy ways to completely blow the CPA exam. Learn […]
Oh dear. I've seen some pretty whacked out CPA review materials floating around for sale out there in the big scary Internets but this one takes the cake. At least the 100% photocopied and amateurly-bound Becker books I've seen cover current exam info. Ladies and bros, don't all line up at once to score on […]
A little birdie told me (OK fine, it was Facebook) that today is Peter Olinto's birthday. My stalking skills aren't what they used to be and the guy obviously has to hide out for a reason (namely CPA exam candidates showing up at his house looking for a little personal tutoring) but we think he's […]
When doodling in your CPA review books isn't distracting you like it used to, why don't you hit pause on your online course videos and reach out for a little good old fashioned Going Concern wisdom? Operators are standing by now. Hi GC, Thanks again for all of your advice, especially for us lost, […]
After a few weeks of FAR, the studying can start to get to you. If your brain is a tad warped and you're starting to have crazy thoughts, why don't you reach out to us and talk about it? Or, you know, ask a question related to the CPA exam for a good distraction. So […]
First, thanks to everyone who stepped up and not only provided me great answers but a laugh or two within their surveys. It's awesome to know you guys do, in fact, have a sense of humor. A few things: I included the average rankings with each course, after asking each respondent to rank their course from […]
I am still in the process of soliciting and collecting CPA review surveys from you guys – if you haven't gotten in touch yet and want to participate in my little unofficial poll, please do so by Wednesday as I'm looking to get all the intel slapped up on the site by Friday. I haven't […]
Hey folks, a concerned reader reached out the other day to vent about their current CPA review program and it got me thinking… instead of calling out one CPA review course, perhaps it's time to refresh our last guide to CPA review programs based on the insights of current students. Here's what I need: feedback! […]
Put down the Fruit Ninja, folks, the AICPA has a new app for you to play with. Yesterday, the AICPA announced the launch of two new mobile apps: an iPad app for Journal of Accountancy and an interactive CPA exam aid that works on Apple and Android devices. "One of the most exciting developments in […]
Back in the day, I used to get people who claimed to be former Becker students calling my CPA review company for the 35% discount we offered to past students of an equivalent CPA review program. Because we weren't interested in offering several hundred dollars in savings to just anyone, we needed to see a […]
If you have a CPA exam question for me, get in touch and I'll try to put down the IPA long enough to give you a somewhat coherent answer. Hey Adrienne, From what I've read, Becker seems to be the way to go for CPA review… if you don't have to pay for it. Since […]
This may come as a shock to the youngsters out there but a long, long time ago, you had to study for all 4 CPA exam parts at once, sit for them in a weekend (you could only go twice a year) and hope that you got at least a 50 or you'd fail miserably. […]
Sometimes, the answers come easy:
Hello. I am taking the REG and AUD sections of the CPA exam during the latter part of the Oct/Nov testing window. In your opinion, how much “rote memorization” is required to successfully pass the two sections referenced above.
Thank you for your assistance.
For every hour of CPA review lecture video you watch, you should do 2 – 3 hours of homework for that section. If you rewatch a lecture, I would still do an additional 2 – 3 hours homework (MCQ or practice simulations) for each subsequent viewing. There is no such thing as practicing too much but don’t tell that to people who have scored in the mid to upper 90s.
Rote memorization? I wouldn’t call the effort you put into studying for these sections “rote memorization,” though you will be engaging in repetition (to the point of nausea) to really indoctrinate the concepts into your head.
In order to actually learn the concepts you need to pass, you will need to know why the answers are right and wrong, not just what the answers are. That’s why you don’t hear about people smuggling answers out of Prometric (they could if they really wanted to), it wouldn’t do anyone any good.
You will need to memorize certain concepts (don’t bother remembering every single tax form and SAS) but generally speaking, your most effective strategy is going to be to get in as much practice as you can. That means plowing through questions but thinking about the answers as you do so. Use the guide above to figure out just how many hours you need to put into each section but the “magic number” varies wildly for each candidate, you may need more or you may need less.
I’m one of those old-fashioned types (yeah right) who believes you should go to college, take and pass the CPA exam, then get married and have kids. Not for tradition’s sake but because it’s generally the easiest way to go. When you’re young and single, you have only yourself to piss off, and focusing is much easier when you don’t have a new wife/husband or – worse – a few cranky kids at home. I’m not talking about my (questionable) life choices, I’m talking about what is the least painful path for someone considering a career in public accounting, so let’s make sure we’re getting that part.
But what happens if you didn’t take that path and find yourself struggling to appease your s struggling through the CPA exam? I’m going to slap a few links on this sucker and call it a post but I am really counting on you all who have been in this situation to speak up and offer some sage words of advice to a fellow CPA exam candidate whose significant other is about ready to walk if he doesn’t hurry up and pass the exam.
We won’t share the dirty details of this particular OP as we don’t want to reveal his identity (his wife might REALLY leave if she knows he’s knocking on my dirty door looking for some guidance and I wouldn’t blame her, I live in the most disgusting part of DC) but here’s the gist: he’s been studying for the exam for… let’s just say “awhile.” All of you who have been studying for “awhile” know exactly how long “awhile” is, no need to elaborate.
The family has been through lots of ups and downs, including her medical issues and, obviously, his CPA exam “issues.” I’m not sure which is worse, but am sure that both are probably bad for this couple. They do have a couple of kids in the mix, no need to go into more detail on the extra level of drama that adds.
The wife gets that hubby needs to study, but she’s (understandably) sick of her husband being locked in quarantine with his CPA review textbooks and not her. That can take the thrill out quickly as anyone who has been in this situation knows. This is why I date someone who works in the same area as I do; we can talk endlessly about the tedium of work (I mean really, would you listen to your girlfriend blabbering about how shitty anonymous comments on a hack tabloid blog made her feel?) and still want to tear each other up at the end of the day because even though we’re on opposite sides of the spectrum, we sort of get what the other is suffering through. But when you’re talking about 3 – 8 hours a day spent studying, you can see how a spouse might get jealous. It’s like cheating, except the filthy mistress is Peter Olinto. The wife can hear him on the other side of the wall “Don’t confuse DDB with ODB. Do you remember ODB? He was a member of the Wu Tang Clan and he’s dead now actually. Don’t confuse DDB depreciation and ODB from the Wu Tang Clan.” That would turn me off too.
So what do couples have to do? Support each other. I don’t expect my partner to go defend me in the Going Concern comment section when strangers are calling me names but I do expect him to listen to me bitch about it every now and then. What do you do when your partner has no idea what you are going through and is fed up with hearing about it?
There is a line. A recent series of University of Iowa studies shows that unqualified support may actually do more harm than good.
Researchers studying heterosexual couples in their first few years of marriage found that too much support is actually harder on a marriage than not enough. Meaning, your wife shouldn’t have to accept you being locked in a room all day for three years trying to pass the CPA exam.
The study also discovered that when it comes to marital satisfaction, both partners are happier if husbands receive the right type of support, and if wives ask for support when they need it. I hope I don’t offend our four female readers by implying all women want the same level of “support” from their man, and imagine women attracted to public accounting are a bit stronger and tougher-skinned than needing tons of support from their partners. More Susan S. Coffey, less sniveling little girl.
But at what point does wifey have a right to walk on this guy? What is it going to take for him to get through the exam and get back to being a husband and father?
Personally (and I say this having had to deal with being in a relationship with another human being, not knowing anything about what it’s like to balance that and the CPA exam except what those going through it have shared with me), I’d say these two need to have a talk and soon. He needs to commit to a date to be passed by (to show he is dedicated to resolving the very obvious issue in their relationship) and follow through on that plan.
Or he can walk. Whatever. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.
Any tales from the frontlines, people? This guy needs your help.
If you have a CPA exam question for me or (even better), our audience as a whole using me as a pawn in your game to get better information, please get in touch. I’ll try to Google any answers I don’t know and will not berate you for your choices. Unless your choices are stupid.
I appreciate you offering to give CPA advice to readers of GC.
I am starting with GT next week, but due to summer school, summer work, and an awesome trip to Europe I opted to not even look at CPA exam material until now. I went against better advice saying I should study with the free time I had, and instead opted to genuinely enjoy my last Summer before life officially ends.
I’m assuming not all of you are going to have great news as CPA exam scores trickle out, so maybe the following reader question can help you, too.
Hi I’m looking for some advice regarding the Audit section. I have passed FAR, BEC, and Regulation thus far. However, I can’t wrap my brain around auditing.
The first time I took audit I got a 73 and I felt like I did not know any of the material. This was with three weeks of studying with Becker.
The second time I took audit, I got a 71 and I felt like I knew everything. This was with one month of studying with Becker and the computer Becker Final Review.
I just started working and I’m trying to determine the correct approach for studying audit again. I feel that it would be a waste to watch all of the Becker videos again unless I’m just absolutely confused on a section.
I plan on purchasing another study tool for more problems, etc, but I’m not sure which one to buy. I’m torn between the Gleim, Wiley, and Yaeger CRAM. The reasoning I have to purchase another tool is that I have a familiarity with the Becker questions already since I have tried them all twice.
Do you have any advice?
I absolutely have some advice, having seen a good chunk of our CPA review students go through this for a variety of reasons, none of which was related to the quality of the material or even the material itself.
Audit, of all the sections, can sometimes be the one that requires your brain to be the most bulimic (meaning learn it and barf it out at Prometric), mostly if you have no educational experience in that area and no affinity for the material covered. Auditors are – as we all know – unique, so it requires a different sort of thinking to truly thrive in that area.
You have the right idea. If you score between 70 – 74 (especially twice), you already have an excellent command of the information, so watching lectures you’ve already watched is a waste of time and won’t help you understand the concepts any better unless, as you said, you’re really lost on a particular part. You’re also doing the right thing by considering a supplement that will provide you with new problems, as memorization is not only a waste of time but also a detriment on exam day.
I have heard good things about Gleim’s MCQ, and some have had success using those alone. Since you already have the foundation of a full review, a cram is also a good option. But keep in mind crams involve videos and I don’t think it’s the basics you’re struggling with, it’s the tedious details. Crams usually cover the most heavily-tested material, which is probably not your issue at all.
Your best bet at this point will probably be to do as many practice questions as you can leading up to your exam retake. You have hopefully scheduled it soon while the information is still fresh in your mind.
I leave it to our readers who have undoubtedly been in a situation similar to yours to take it from here and tell you which they used to get over the hump as it were. Good luck!
The number one complaint I would hear back in my CPA review days (besides moans and groans about me being a hard ass) was, without a doubt, “I don’t have time.” Not “I’m too busy,” but “I don’t have time.” Think about the difference between those two statements for a moment. One implies that you have too much going on to make time, while the other more clearly states that you simply cannot jam 25 hours into a 24 hour day.
What many people don’t realize is that you can make time, it’s just a matter of figuring out where it’s hiding in your life.
Cruising Facebook can easily turn into a three-hour stalk-fest if you’re not careful but what about the several, quick check-ins you might make in a single day? That time adds up. Do yourself a favor and shut down TweetDeck, close out your Facebook tab and keep your phone charging in the other room so you aren’t tempted with texts and social media. Don’t worry, you aren’t going to miss anything.
Are you making the most of every break you get during the work day? You might look at me like I just licked a frog and am tripping my non-existent balls off for saying that but you do get breaks, even if you’re getting worked like a dog. They allow you to go to the bathroom, right? Bring your phone in there and do a few MCQ on your favorite app while you’re sitting there. Trust me, no one is going to bring it up if you start spending 10 extra minutes in the restroom a day, no one wants to have that conversation.
What about mornings? I know, it’s horrible to even consider but you could potentially have hours to study that you are wasting with sleep. Start setting your alarm an hour early to get some studying in and do it every day; after 3 weeks, your internal clock will be used to it and it’ll hurt less.
Are there things you’re doing around your house that your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/kids/cat could just as easily do? Try asking them. Maybe you don’t need to make dinner every night or do as much laundry as you do. Hand off a few chores to other people (unless you don’t have any other people to hand them off to, in which case you might consider paying for a little help around the house if you can afford it) and you’ll free up enough hours over the course of a week to get through at least two modules.
To figure out where you can make time in your life for studying, sit down and account for every single hour of every single day for a week, from the time you get up until the time you get to sleep. I bet if you actually add up those 35 minute showers, time spent folding other peoples’ laundry and the 75 different 3 minute Facebook peeks you make, you’ll realize you have more time to study than you thought.
Wiley CPA Review has been cranking out mobile-friendly versions of its print titles, priced pretty close to their tree-killing counterparts.
Like these AUD Focus Notes On-the-Go for Android, which run $34.99. The actual bound version of the new AUD Focus Notes (not due out until December of 2011 according to Wiley’s website) is $40.
Wiley has an entire series of “candidate-friendly” (read: SFW) options for CPA review, including the online test bank and above mentioned Android (and iPhone) apps of their Focus Notes but making the Test Bank (some of you know this as the CD-ROM or software) available to Androids and iPhones opens up all new possibilities. Studying on the train or with a privacy screen in your own cube or in the bathroom (if they ask why you are in the bathroom so much, tell them sorry, must have been those hours I ate).
Per FCC regulations (I think), we have to say if we have been compensated to write a blog post about a product, service or company. We haven’t been paid to write about Wiley’s new offering but we were asked if we’d like to test one of their CPA review apps for free to write this post. I own a BlackBerry so that’s useless to me, plus I’m not (now nor ever) studying for the CPA exam. Therefore, Wiley has entrusted me to figure out which one of you gets a new FAR Test Bank app (presumably you need to have an iPhone or Android device to qualify).
We could have run some lame ass caption contest but instead, tell us in the comments how you best utilize the extra 30 – 120 minutes a day of review you can gain by studying from your mobile device. Creativity counts.
The answer with the most likes wins (unless Caleb and I reserve executive authority and declare it rigged and/or not funny, so don’t cheat by clicking 100 times from the client’s IP). Contest ends… uh… Friday 7/29/11 at 12:00 AM Eastern.
Be sure to use a real email address so we can contact you to let you know you’ve won, so trolls are disqualified.
All we ask is that you check in at some point and let us know what did and didn’t work (if applicable) for you. Get crackin’
During my summer internship at an accounting firm I noticed each night as I was heading out the door with my managers that two of our team members stayed behind and continued working.
I admired but internally questioned their dedication. After the pattern ensued for several days, I asked one of the individuals why she felt the need to stay behind every day when we had already reached our daily milestones. She explained that she was preparing to take portions of the CPA exam, and that there was no other available time besides weekends to study. I wished her well (she did eventually pass).
Her actions/dedication left an indelible impression on me, and as I entered my senior year in college I rearranged my class and personal schedules to allow myself time to study for the CPA exam so that I could take the test prior to beginning full-time employment.
Pursuing this and other certifications has made a positive impact on my career. I thus offer three tips for how to effectively study for professional accounting certifications while working:
Tip 1: Get Certified Prior to Starting Your Job
If I could pass along one piece of advice to young professionals considering an employer-required certification it would be this: If you have time between graduating college and beginning work, put 100 percent of your efforts into completing that certification prior to starting your job. Yes, it makes for a miserable summer wherein your best friends are exam prep instructors (Peter Olinto, anyone?), but in the end this method is the much preferred alternative to studying after a long day of work for months on end.
What should you do, however, if you have no such break between college and full-time work, or you are studying for an additional certification later in your career while working full-time? I fell into this latter category while working toward the CMA, which I had known since college that I wanted to take as soon as things settled down after beginning work at an accounting firm.
Tip 2: Gain Buy-in from Your Employer
After examining my schedule, I determined the most favorable times to study for and schedule the various sections of the CMA exam. Then, I spoke with my teams at work to gain their buy-in (my managers were fully supportive), and I scheduled my exams well in advance while keeping in mind client demands and team requirements. Saturdays always fill up first at testing centers, so schedule as far in advance as you can.
Tip 3: Build Studying Time Into Your Daily Schedule
Additionally, I took a day off from work prior to each exam date to have adequate time to study – though I didn’t plan on studying everything on that one day or just on Saturdays. I knew that I needed to study – at least a little bit – every day to most thoroughly prepare for the exam.
After considering my daily schedule, it was clear that the time I had the most control over was early in the morning. I decided to wake up an hour earlier each day for the three to four weeks prior to the exam to review material and churn through practice questions (which I believe is one of the most effective methods to prepare for these exams). Then on Saturdays I studied longer and more in-depth.
I took Sundays off from studying to allow things to settle in my mind while spending a day with my family. In the end, my efforts paid off. I passed each section and after finishing the experience requirement, I was a CMA.
Last week, Caleb respectfully requested you all participate in a TPTB-sponsored poll to tell us which review course you are using. As expected, a comment was made along the lines of “it doesn’t matter which review course you use,” which we hear just about every time we dare to bring up the subject of CPA review.
We’ve talked about picking a review course, getting the most out of yours and even got bold enough to name names but have thus far (mostly) avoided getting into the dirty details due to my perceived bias as a former CPA review hack. But for those of you who are new to this whole CPA review thing, I figured it might be useful to revisit the topic and offer some tips for finding a review course and making it work for you since I’m far enough away from the industry as this point not to have an interest either way.
As always, picking a review course comes down to a few simple questions you have to ask yourself.
First, is someone paying for it so you don’t have to? If so, take it but let me give you a small piece of advice based on what I saw working in CPA review for four years: treat it like you paid for it. Too often I would see people who took their good fortune for granted and blew off studying only to discover a year or year and a half later that their “free” course expired, leaving them with outdated books and a set of flashcards they never opened. Don’t be that guy, use what you’ve been given or trust me, you’ll regret it later when you really need it and don’t have it or, worse, end up having to pay for Round 2 yourself. Most firms will only pay once so make it count.
Second, as many many people have pointed out here and elsewhere, which review course you take doesn’t really matter as everyone teaches based on the same bank of information made available to them by the AICPA. What does differ is the way the material is presented, therefore it’s up to you to figure out what you need. Some courses teach straight from the book while others don’t necessarily “teach” at all; if you’re the type of person who needs to be guided (and/or hand held) through huge amounts of information, you will want to go with something that breaks down concepts.
For an idea of which courses do what, the CPAnet forums are still one of the best resources as responses are written (mostly) by actual candidates without being as spammy as some of the CPA exam marketing blogs put out to steer customers into certain products. It’s also worth checking out blogs written by actual CPA exam candidates for nearly real-time comments on what’s working (or what isn’t) for them. If you’re on Twitter, check #twudygroup for candid tweets about studying, which will inevitably include comments about the review courses the kids on Twitter are using (and love tweets to Peter Olinto, natch).
It’s true that any review course (or even a set of CPA exam textbooks) can get you through this, but it doesn’t happen just because you gave a company your credit card details. Hate to break this to those of you hoping a $3000 course plus flashcards will automatically make you pass but regardless of which course you choose, you’ve got to study and sit for the exam just like every other candidate.
Now stop playing around on the Internet and get back to those books, you’ve got an exam to pass.
The Most Expensive Journal recently came out with a top 10 list of most expensive iPad apps and – surprise, surprise – it looks like Becker’s mobile flashcards made the list.
The mobile flashcard set includes over 950 cards with questions on the front and brief answers on the back, which will look familiar to any of you who have used Becker’s regular flashcards.
The app works on iPhone or iPad but you don’t have the option to use it on both if you happen to own both devices; you’ll have to buy two copies of the app if that’s what you’re trying to do.
Curious to hear what your most expensive app is and whether or not you’d buy these.
TPTB, in their never-ending quest for world domination, respectfully request a moment of your time to answer the following question. Simply comply (if applicable) and we’ll never have to speak of it again.
I’ve been instructed to ask those of you answering “Other/Self Study” to kindly share which review course you are using. Thanks.
There’s a new mobile CPA exam study tool out there, and for once it isn’t direct from one of the major CPA review players. In fact, it’s designed by a former CPA exam candidate:
Studying for the CPA (Certified Public Accountancy) Exam just got a little easier as company CPAGoMobile recently released an app for the iPhone. The app allows users to build customizable practice tests drawing from a pool of over 1,000 multiple choice questions. Candidates have the options to target specific topics, choose question types, and analyze their progress reports to decide what to study next.
CPAGoMobile joins the ever widening landscape of educational apps geared towards professional licensure and examinations. Apps for the SAT, GMAT, Bar, and MCAT exams have given an injection of flexibility into candidates’ study routines by allowing them to study anytime and anywhere.
“When I was studying for the exam and working full time, commuting back and forth with a backpack full of textbooks was not fun. After finishing the exam, I looked at the stack of books and thought: there must be a better way,“ said Chris Armstrong, founder of CPAGoMobile. “Passing the CPA Exam is a difficult undertaking on its own, so any opportunity to make studying more manageable and efficient should be grabbed with both hands. Sure, there will always be a place for more traditional study methods, like books and notes, but I think these types of apps represent the next logical evolution on how we study and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Download the new app for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad via iTunes here. Questions will run you about 8 cents a piece (the app itself is free to try) if you average out the $19.99 cost for each section.
Please note that the app does not contain IFRS material yet, but the developers have promised they will integrate new material in their next update.
The app is not intended to replace a full, comprehensive review but meant to serve as a useful supplement to your regular study routine that is accessible anywhere you might find yourself.
A fellow candidate puts this out to you to see if anyone else is psychologically affected by the process of studying for the CPA exam:
Ever since I started studying for the CPA exam, I’ve been consistently having these weird dreams where I am trying to memorize random nonsensical rules. Then I generally wake up feeling pretty stressed, having not been able to get them all down. Last night’s was something about boy scouts selling popcorn door-to-door being illegal in certain situations. I’m studying for FAR right now, but I just took REG last week.
Jesus, it sounds like you’re studying FAR. Present value tables can drive anyone a bit nuts after too long, so might I start by suggesting you avoid studying before bed? I had that problem once reading “In Fed We Trust” right up until I went to sleep and trust me, it was a nightmare that followed.
As for you? Boy Scouts actually carry some significance, according to the Dream Moods dream dictionary (take it or leave it, depending on what you believe):
Your own experience as a boy scout will definitely affect this dream symbol. If you were never a boy scout and dream that you are, then it signifies your commitment and discipline toward some task. The dream may emphasize a sense of community, belonging, and helpfulness.
To see a boy scout in your dream, denotes that you or someone else has displayed exemplary behavior. You will gain the ranks necessary to achieve your goals and success.
I don’t think the interpretation could be much clearer.
There’s also an entry for popcorn:
To eat or make popcorn in your dream, suggests positive growth. You are full of ideas. Some important fact or truth is being made aware to you through the dream. If the popcorn is unpopped, then it symbolizes potential.
Sounds to me like the best thing you can do is somehow convince yourself that you know what you are doing, have studied and don’t need to write down every single nonsensical rule, dreaming or not. Politely decline the popcorn from the dreamy Boy Scouts anyway just in case it is illegal and snooze for another 10 minutes.
We swear we don’t mind answering the same question over and over and over, so if you have a question for us, please don’t hesitate to pound it out and get it to us.
Here’s our latest CPA exam quandary from the mailbag:
I am just beginning to study for the CPA exams. I am in an MBA program and I will graduate in December. I was not an accounting major (poli sci) so I have also been taking the necessary required accounting classes in order to sit for the CPA exams, hopefully in January. I am taking an MBA-level auditing class in the Fall. I just finished a corporate income tax class this Spring, so I am a little confused as to which exam I should focus on now and take first, in January: REG as a lot of tax info is still fresh in my head or Auditing, as it will be most fresh by January?
Let’s all keep in mind that the CPA exam is not a test of your ability to be a good accountant, nor is it at all representative of the depth of your knowledge but the breadth. In other words, it’s a huge inch-tall puddle as opposed to a small, 9-ft deep pool. Your job is to jump across the puddle without getting your ankles wet, ya with me?
If it’s going to help your confidence, you can start with the section that will be easiest for you – in your case, that may be whatever you studied last. Keep in mind, however, that what you study in college and what you see on the CPA exam may not necessarily align. The CPA exam changes twice a year and with CBT-e changes, the AICPA Board of Examiners is now testing material that you are expected to know as a new CPA but may not have covered in school. Professors tend to favor the same material year after year, so unless your school is incredibly progressive and you’ve been learning IFRS (unlikely), it may not matter what you studied most recently.
That being said, I always tell candidates to start with the part that will be hardest for them simply because your 18 month timeframe starts from the time you sit for and pass your first part.
Here’s the deal: any review course will give you what you need to fill in the blanks in your education, even if you go the self-study route and pick up a set of CPA review textbooks from Amazon. In my professional experience, those who don’t have as rigorous an accounting background actually do better on the CPA exam as they come into it fresh instead of relying on what they were just taught in their accounting program that is no longer relevant for CPA exam purposes.
You’ll be fine either way, just pick one, study, and pass. It really is that simple. Or so I hear.
The gmailmen have delivered the following reader question:
I have already passed BEC back in November 2010, and am sitting for AUD next week. I know with IFRS now being included in the curriculum, I can expect to see a few questions related to IFRS topics. I only have 2009 study materials, so they do not include IFRS.
I know with FAR and REG I will most likely need to either A) Buy new materials or B) borrow another coworker’s, but as far as the AUD test, how much emphasis should I put on studying the IFRS material at this point a week before my exam. I figure a day or 2 to skim through the IFRS stuff should suffice?
Thanks in advance for the advice!
Let’s once again for the 10,000th time consult the CSOs (Content Specification Outlines) for the information we need. When in doubt, this is your go-to for what will be covered on the exam and in what concentrations. While the AICPA doesn’t give exact figures (such as “you’ll get 15 bonds questions per FAR exam”), it is a great tool for figuring out what you can blow off and what you’re going to see a lot of. Hint: no matter what the CSOs say, your particular exam will probably contain an unusually large number of questions on whichever topic you chose not to study.
That being said, the good news is that IFRS has very little relevance in Audit at all (in comparison to FAR, as you pointed out). However, international auditing standards will be tested in AUD, and that part you are going to need to know.
Can you study from outdated AUD materials and still pass? It’s certainly possible. New material only makes up 5 – 10% of the 2011 exam by my estimation (based on the CSOs, my gut feeling and feedback from candidates who have sat for the exam this year), so it’s not all that crazy to suggest that you could do really, really well on old material and still pass. Keep in mind, however, that most people do not do really, really well on any material, new or old.
I would suggest, at a minimum, picking up a used 2011 textbook from Amazon and flipping through the new material. Entire sections have been moved in and out of Audit, meaning you’re going to be missing a huge chunk of it if you’re studying from such outdated material.
Think about it: the exam changes twice a year. So if you have materials from 2009, the exam has changed 4 or 5 times since then, once significantly. Normally this might mean missing a handful of questions but in the case of CBT-e, I suspect the AICPA will be testing larger numbers of new questions going forward as they get more comfortable with the new format.
From the mailbag:
Hi Adrienne – I have been “attempting” to pass the CPA exam for a few years now – and I must say I’ve never taken the exam or the goal to pass the exam seriously…up until now.
Hold it. Before we get to the second half of this question, we need to address the quotation marks. Obviously OP is trying to make it clear that studying has not been high on the priority list and we recognize this tactic as a CPA exam candidate trying to repent for non-studying sins. This isn’t the confessional but we’ll accept the confession nonetheless; it shows a desire on the candidate’s part to acknowledge what they have done wrong up until this point, which is halfway toward fixing it.
I took BEC on 4/4/2011 and REG on 5/14/2011 (today). I am registered to take FAR on 7/9/2011. My question is: Should I start studying for FAR now and try to take in July, or should I wait until I get my BEC/REG scores and if I score below a passing grade, try to take those in the July/Aug testing window? What should be the plan of attack – retake a recent exam, or jump to the next section? Considering I wont be getting my BEC/REG scores until the end of June, I feel like precious study time will get wasted if I just wait around for those scores…
In a follow-up with OP, we discussed how he felt when he was done. “I can’t say I felt on top of the world when I left prometric – I had more of a numb feeling than anything else. The sims were ‘interesting,’ and the MCQs were pretty challenging too…I put a solid six/seven weeks for this exam following Bisk’s recommended study plan.”
With scoring a little jacked up through the end of this year, you should probably move on to the next section as if you passed. If you did, you made the right decision. If you didn’t, you’ll just have to go back and study it over. You don’t necessarily have to start from scratch but let’s not think about that, let’s assume you passed.
You don’t mention Audit so I don’t know what your 18 month timeline is but if you have the flexibility, you should usually try to plan for the strategy that costs you the least amount of time so you actually have the time if you need it.
You’re right not to wait and just go on to the next section.
This particular question is a bit beyond my expertise in this uncertain economic environment, so let’s try to plot out the various ways this decision could go after the question from the mailbag:
I chose to study abroad for my last semester of university. As a result of this, an unfortunate set of hiring/interview timing differences (and I’ll admit, a temporary lack of motivation) I am essentially unemployed when I return to the US this weekend. I’ve had phone interviews with a couple of companies, but they never progressed because I was out of the country. My double majors (Accounting & Economics) have allowed me to accumulate more than enough credits to be eligible for the CP tting in July for BEC, August for AUD, October for REG, and November for FAR. Mainly because I currently don’t have job offer to look forward to and because I want to finish the exam as soon as possible. I already have the financing for my exam materials and the entire exam and plan on starting my studies next week.
My question to you is how much time should I dedicate to studying versus looking for a job that fits my intended career path? I know there is no magic number of hours for studying, but I don’t want to burnout/distract myself being too focused on one area. I’d like to start in public accounting in advisory or auditing in most major cities, but don’t care where. My main concern is getting preoccupied with a job that doesn’t fit my interests/skill set. Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse with my plans, but I’d appreciate your advice.
An April 2008 CNN article (we know their track record for rock solid, completely realistic reporting on how kick ass the accounting profession is) cited the following good news for new finance and accounting grads:
Offer amounts are up 1.9 percent for finance and accounting graduates, to $48,795 and $47,413, respectively. Salary offers for business administration and management graduates rose by less than 1 percent to $43,823
If accounting didn’t offer you any desirable opportunities in 2008 (I expect you’ll get better, more specific feedback on that in the comments), you might expect a starting salary of $52,926 to show off your econ degree. Sounds decent right?
Fast-forward to 2011, which we assume is more relevant to you than ancient fluff pieces. In some markets, you will find no shortage of jobs given the correct useful skills (in some jurisdictions, useful skills are defined as SOX 404 experience or desire to screw LLP partners for bonuses), but you’re definitely missing the point here by worrying about whether or not you will get obsessed with whatever career path you take. I doubt you’re beating recruiters off with a stick, mostly because it sounds like someone missed recruiting season.
This is why people intern. You either fall in love with it (unlikely), hate it (somewhat likely) or don’t not like it enough not to do it for the next few years while you finish the CPA exam (note: finish is not the same as perpetually sit for) and get the hell out. Unless you are overachieving, drinking the Kool-aid or end up becoming one of those guys defending PwC on the Internet, chances are you’ll be lucky to find something you mildly enjoy early on.
The likeliest scenario is that you will end up like this guy, who is itching to make his break from public for something but hoping it won’t be mind-numbing. Does that sound like the career you’re looking for?
Have you fantasized about burning out in public accounting altogether? It isn’t pretty. You’ll have to ask yourself “if you’re a top-ranked staff member with your CPA and on track to be a lead senior in the fall” or a “middle-of-the-road-and-I’m-studying-for-BEC type” before you take that route. You probably don’t want to be the latter, so you’d be wise to get the CPA exam over with when you have the chance.
You admit to “lack of motivation,” code to me for “fuck, I didn’t think I’d actually have to plan any of this” so get on figuring out what’s going to make you want to get out of bed in the morning. The usual suggestion applies here: 3 hours of studying at a time for as many weeks or months as you feel you need to feel somewhat prepared (you’ll never feel completely prepared so don’t expect that). If you need 400 hours per section, you may want to consider using your econ degree instead.
If it is required in your jurisdiction, check with the state board of accountancy you’ll be sitting in to see if interning counts as experience toward your CPA license (or try your state society or association of CPAs, they usually have all this information specifically for graduates and exam candidates). It’s an option.
The short answer is: neither delude nor pigeonhole yourself into a situation you’ll struggle to get out of later. The best way to avoid this is to a) get your CPA out of the way as early as you can and b) keep your expectations very, very low.
In the best case scenario, you end up partner and have lots of free time to extort your ex-mistress with an alleged sex tape while the minions do the paperwork for you. Actually, I’m not sure that’s the best case scenario.
Today’s CPA exam question from the mailbag has to do with a familiar topic to many of you: failure.
I slaved for an HOA audit firm and our busy season just officially ended. I found out last week that the very last day I can schedule to sit for REG is on 5/27 so that give me approximately 3 weeks to cram for the materials. I sat for that section in January and failed at 71. I am planning to spend 4 hours studying during the week and 8 hours to cram on Saturday and Sunday so I can study at most 36 hours per week. Should I go try for 5/27 or postpone the exam until July when I am more prepared?
Also, I am using both Becker & Gleim to review. In the past, I watched the Becker lectures, completed MCs and simluations on both Becker & Gleim and using Becker book to review. Due to not having enough time, should I just work on MCs and simluations and forgo re-watch the lectures?
Your advice is greatly appreciated.
Our candidate has also sent in her score report, included below:
We should point out here that our candidate admitted in a follow-up e-mail after very little badgering that she had, in fact, done poorly on the simulations as she suspected, telling us “I went into Regulation knowing that I was weak on simulations and as you can see on my score report, not making an effort reviewing and re-doing the simulations led to my failure.” And yes, it’s pretty clear to us that’s exactly what happened here.
With only three weeks to study before the new test date, it wouldn’t make sense to spend much time reviewing lectures or even entire chapters as a 71 shows an excellent command of the information and her score report confirms that suspicion. Unfortunately, the days of “kind of blowing the simulation part of the exam” are over with the advent of CBT-e, meaning you’re obviously going to have to do better in that area if you want to pass.
The good news is you get it, overall, except maybe for that federal tax process area. Check the CSOs (page 25 of the PDF) for more detailed info on what is tested in that area (naturally it has a lot to do with federal taxation) and practice problems in those areas. If you feel particularly lost in any one area, go ahead and read the chapter or watch a lecture over again but since time is of the essence, try not to use the lectures at all. Don’t get too focused on your one weak area, though, since you presumably haven’t studied any of this stuff for months. You’ll need a good once over (that means all your MCQ at a minimum) before exam day, so try to set aside at least three hours a day, more if you can fit it in. If you have more than three hours a day to study, try not to study for more than three hours at a time, break it up to some in the morning and some in the evening if you can.
As for the simulations, practice working through simulation problems while timing yourself. Set your cell phone alarm or an old school kitchen timer to work out 10 – 15 minutes per problem and start blasting through them on whatever software you still have access to in hour-long intervals. Work towards finishing each simulation in no more than 10 minutes as that will allow you time on exam day to review your sims once you have finished.
I’ve never had an issue studying, I guess it’s mainly because I always had a logical way of figuring stuff out and completing it extremely quick (which is why REG and AUD were so easy). However, BEC is making a fool of me. I can’t seem to figure out how to attack it, and am severely lacking motivation to study it.
I’ve used adderall a few times, and man d , I’ve had a recent serotonin problem .. and now if I take it, it actually triggers panic attacks which I try to avoid like the plague.
Do you guys have any other suggestions?
If you grew up in the 90s, chances are you knew at least a handful of kids diagnosed with ADD and prescribed Ritalin or other amphetamine-based prescription drugs to treat this “condition.” I graduated high school in 1998 and at that point, several enterprising young men and women in my class were funding their car payments by selling their prescriptions to classmates.
Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are central nervous system stimulants that artificially force dopamine (the natural “happy drug” in your brain usually released when you are doing something you enjoy like reading Going Concern, writing your resignation letter or sleeping with randoms in your office) to the synapses in your brain. This creates the thrill, so you, in turn, look at studying as something enjoyable. Under the influence of these drugs, you could, in theory, also equally enjoy a root canal, colonoscopy, or your 12th straight hour of busy season gruntwork. Perhaps not ironically, this chemical reaction is similar to the one created in your brain when you fall in love.
The problem with taking Adderall to study for the CPA exam (as opposed to taking it to study for finals in college) is that your brain retains exam information better in smaller pieces over a longer period of time. You simply cannot “cram” for the CPA exam. Not to mention the fact that it’s illegal if you’re buying someone else’s prescription and you are supposed to represent the profession in an ethical manner but we won’t get into that.
Instead, try some of these tips to grease your brain up for studying. Trust us, you’ll be happier and healthier in the long run, though maybe not as unusually happy in the short-term.
Try Omega-3s: While the research is a bit sketchy, it is believed that Omega-3 fatty acids improve general brain function and can positively impact memory. You can find Omega-3s in salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, flax oil, and walnuts or take a quality fish oil supplement daily.
Avoid simple carbs: Simple carbohydrates like white bread are instantly converted to sugar in your body, filling you with empty calories. Too much sugar at once can actually starve your brain of the glucose it needs to function properly, negatively affecting memory and concentration. Instead, try to eat more complex carbohydrates like peanuts, dried apricots, dried beans and yogurt and stay away from quick fixes like candy.
Eat breakfast: If you are working and studying for the CPA exam, breakfast is probably something you haven’t seen in months or years but numerous studies prove that breakfast has a positive effect on how your brain performs. And if you’re a girl, you might want to try oatmeal instead of cereal, it could improve your short-term memory.
Caffeine is OK, in moderation: Caffeine works in a similar way to Adderall except much milder, in moderation. If you must get a fix, try to avoid sugary energy drinks and stick to plain coffee. Adding flavored cream or sugar to coffee adds empty calories that you might regret once you’re actually done with the exam and needing to shed the extra 10 or even 20 pounds you packed on during studying.
Note from AG: If you have a CPA exam question for us, get in touch and we’ll do our best to answer without making you feel like we don’t like you or somehow disrespect your career decisions. No judgments, least of all from a girl who grew up to write for an accounting tabloid.
Today’s question is a good one because it addresses a CPA exam candidate concern that has been valid since the exam went computerized in 2004. I always call BEC the junk drawer of the CPA exam since up until 2011 it contained all the crap left over from other sections that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. I have consistently heard the same complaint: it is random and no matter how well you prepare, you’re going to see a bunch of off-the-wall material that you never covered. This is pretty standard regardless of which review course you are using, so for the purposes of answering the following question we’ll speak generally (not being familiar with Becker’s 2011 product):
I am taking BEC in May 2011. I have seen people writing in the forum that Becker’s materials are not representative of the exam. I have passed FAR, and I felt Becker/Wiley is very representative (as in “no surprises”). For REG, Becker/Wiley is quite representative (prepared me well enough), but still I have to make guesses. I actually felt like giving up half way on REG because there are many twists in the questions that I have never seen before.
So, for BEC, how do you think I should prepare so that there are not many surprises? I am using Becker/Wiley. I can’t take any surprises…
With sections like FAR and REG, it’s assumed that you took at least a couple general accounting courses in school, which would have taught you journal entries, revenue recognition, inventory and maybe even pension accounting if you overachieved and went for Advanced Accounting. But with BEC, you’re dealing with variance analysis, cost accounting and corporate governance; areas many of you probably avoided in college if you could. Meaning not only is it random, it feels more so because so much of it can be unfamiliar.
That being said, a little birdie told me that COSO, corporate governance, ERM and the other new areas in BEC for 2011 showed up last window in larger amounts than suspected, so be sure to review those areas thoroughly. Remember too that the review courses all get their information from the same source, the AICPA. You can get that info too by checking out the CSOs in detail.
With BEC, you can expect to be tested on six core areas in the following percentages (current as of January 1, 2011):
I. Corporate Governance (16% – 20%)
II. Economic Concepts and Analysis (16% – 20%)
III. Financial Management (19% – 23%)
IV. Information Systems and Communications (15% – 19%)
V. Strategic Planning (10% – 14%)
VI. Operations Management (12% – 16%)
Now go back to your materials, do you see a similar breakdown in what you’re covering? One complaint I heard from someone who prepared for BEC in the first quarter was that her Wiley materials did not cover nearly enough corp governance compared to what she saw on her exam.
Until we have better information, be prepared for the unpredictability of BEC to continue. Looking at 2011 material compared to past years, it does appear that the AICPA has addressed some of that unpredictability to create a more succinct section but don’t expect it to be as streamlined as, say, FAR any time soon. Just a guess!
Today’s fantastic question comes from loyal reader Chloe who wants to know about research. We addressed this way back in September of 2010 but now that the new CPA exam is in the wild and you guys are actually out there taking it, it’s appropriate to revisit.
Question as follows:
My question is about research tabs. In one of your previous articles, you said that Research tabs are worth a lot more now (something like 8 points if I remember correctly).
In the first quarter 2011, I took REG and passed with 88. I got 2 research tabs, which I think I got both wrong (one may be pre-test). I dont really believe that the research tabs has so much weights now. I mean, how can the weighting go from so unimportant to being so important now? Also, my score suggest to me, the research tab may not be worth so much like the 8 points that you mentioned. I tried to ask this same question to my Becker instructor, but she has no idea.
I am going to take AUD in May 2011. I wanted to know what really is the weightage given to research tabs. If I can’t find the correct research, it can mean a lot of collateral damage. U know I mean?
According to the AICPA, task-based simulation problems (TBS) make up 40% of your score in FAR, AUD and REG. Of your seven simulation problems in AUD and FAR and six in REG, one of these for each section is pretest, meaning it does not count towards your score.
The AICPA does not differentiate research from other simulation problems in the 2011 exam, so it should be assumed that each simlet is worth the same amount of points. Because we are unable to determine just how many points are allocated to each TBS, the best we can say is that with the new exam format, you must do moderately well in the simulation part of your exam to pass. The exam is on a plus-point basis and a passing score is not a percent correct, so it would be difficult to determine the actual number of points each TBS is worth.
But we can guess that if TBS problems make up 40% of your score and, in AUD, there are seven of these problems, each one is worth about 6 1/2% of your score (since one is not counted). Do with that information what you will.
In previous incarnations of the exam, candidates could blow an entire simulation (of two) and still pass fairly easily, as long as they did fairly well on the MCQ portion. For the new exam, however, this is fairly impossible since TBS problems are now smaller but more heavily-weighted.
Long story short, treat research problems like they are operational and worth just as much as your other simulations since they are. Don’t forget to take advantage of six months free access to the professional literature so you can practice research ahead of your next exam.
In your case, you probably did pretty well on the MCQ and your other simulation problems or fairly well across the board and actually got the research questions you thought you got wrong. Don’t question it, celebrate it and know you’re that much closer to your CPA. Congrats!
Contributor note: with busy season winding down and such awful CPA exam performance the first quarter of this year, we suspect many of you are thrilled to cuddle up with Peter Olinto and dust the cobwebs off your CPA review books. That being the case, though you might still be mad at us from last quarter, we invite you to send in your CPA exam questions so we can do our best to answer in a way that offends the fewest candidates possible.
Being an accountant already isolates you from a large number of non-accountant people, most of whom automatically assume you do taxes for a living and will never understand why it’s funny to claim Ex-lax as “moving expenses.” Taking on the CPA exam naturally isolates you further; from your significant other, who doesn’t get why you never seem to have time for them anymore, from your friends who are still trying to get you to do their taxes and from your higher-ups who seem determined to tell you for the 40th time how much harder the CPA exam was back in their day.
Seeking a CPA exam study buddy doesn’t need to feel like having to find a partner in middle school gym class and it doesn’t matter where you are, you can find one. Here are a few tips:
• Try CPAnet – You can find an entire section of the forum dedicated to study groups, ranging from Phoenix to Seattle to Dubai. Don’t see your city listed? Register for the forum and post your own.
• Get on Twitter – Try the #twudygroup hashtag on Twitter to chat with other CPA exam candidates, bitch about how your review courses have let you down and talk about how messed up it is when asshole bloggers call you out on their websites. Speaking of, we’d like to send a very personal congratulations to former #twudygroup member @CStrunk for passing the CPA exam, proof that alcohol and computer cleaning in lieu of studying can help, if you’re willing to put in the work when you’re sober. Congratulations, Chris, we knew you had it in you otherwise we’d have never called you out in the first place.
• Ask around your office – Unless you are in a two-man office in which one of you is the accountant and the other one the boss, someone in your office is also studying for the CPA exam. You can do a quick cube check to determine who might be studying but if you’re too shy to ask, just look for the sleep-deprived look in their eye, MCQ on their computer screen during lunch or the “kill me now” sign taped on their wall the day scores come out. Just make sure to pick someone you actually like, sharing the next year and a half with someone you can’t stand can only lead to conflict and/or increased diversity training later down the road.
We’ve gone over how to choose a CPA review course in the past but it seems we’ve been getting more emails than usual asking about specific review programs. Due to a potential perceived bias (this author was employed in CPA Review for four years), we have avoided covering this subject in detail until now.
The following list of review courses is by no means comprehensive and we do not endorse any of these courses (unless, of course, they would like to get in touch with our advertising folks and set up a sweet deal to be pimped out). CPA exam candidates are highly encouraged to do their own research by checking blogs and forums. Coworkers can also be a good source of info but keep in mind colleagues are less likely than strangers on the Internet to be honest about their own performance so take any information you glean from them with a grain of salt.
Many have asked if additional supplemental products are necessary when dropping a big chunk of cash on CPA review. I generally tell candidates to save their pennies, get a $2 pack of index cards and make their own flash cards. Not only do you save money, by writing them out yourself you’ll actually see that you’re understanding the concepts better simply due to the mechanical motion of putting pen to paper.
We’ve included links to CPAnet where appropriate so you can check out actual candidate feedback (the positive and negative) which former students of each of these courses have posted on the forums there.
• Kaplan, Gleim and Bisk: Considered self-study or supplemental, check CPAnet for feedback on these courses.
This is where our lovely GC readers come in. We know you all are really proud of how you’ve kicked the CPA exam’s ass, so please let us know in the comments what worked for you. If you all can get extra excited about this, we can put together a GC reader CPA review deathmatch based on your input.
Note: prices current as of 3/29/11 based on available information. If you have a correction, please get in touch.
Back in the day, there was really only one CPA exam blogger and it was Jeff at Another71 who chronicled his adventures (read: failures) while amassing a large audience of loyal followers who shared in his triumphs and defeats. Over time, Jeff transformed his humble little website from just a soap box for him to complain to an actual career, blowing off the idea of a day job for the somewhat lucrative but always entertaining world of blogging. By all appearances this has worked out for him and it may be no small coincidence that a storm of CPA exam bloggers have followed in his footsteps, including his own team of CPA exam bloggers writing for him at Another71.
The only other longstanding CPA exam blog we can think of is the New Jersey Society of CPAs’ Exam Cram, which has featured a revolving cast of characters over the years, all of whom share their individual CPA exam stories with NJSCPA members and the Internet at large. Who says blogs are dead?
One CPA exam blogger we haven’t seen in quite some time:
The Cooking Accountant has been at this for awhile now and appears to have allowed a BEC failure to keep her from her blog since June of 2010. Once active in documenting her journey, her last entry reads “It hurts twice as much to learn you have to re-take two parts because you failed one. This is reminiscent of when a little girl riding her bicycle hits a raised chunk of sidewalk and goes flying off her bike, landing on the hard cement. But this time, not only does she scrape and bruise her knee and elbow so bad she can barely get up, but the doll she had in the bike basket is now sitting in the gutter.”
But many other CPA exam bloggers are alive and well and blogging every dirty detail of their lives as CPA exam candidates, at least when it comes to disappointments and annoying coughing girls at Prometric.
The list goes on and on and if I missed any good ones, do let me know.
Here’s my concern: while it’s certainly healthy to form a community of miserable bastards who can share in the joy and misery of the CPA exam experience together, at what point does blogging become a distraction? If you notice, each one of these blogging candidates commit well thought-out, carefully written, decent length posts, something a lot of “other” bloggers don’t always do. So is there an element of procrastination that blogging about the exam allows?
If that’s the case, it’s probably a healthy sort of procrastination. Candidates might be taking a break from the MCQ but they are still focused on their goal of licensure by writing about, thinking about and reading about the CPA exam.
As long as they don’t start using that #twudygroup to talk about movies and their relationship problems, I don’t see the harm.
I’m sorry but I have to remind people for the 1,000th time that things you do on the Internet are public and any old troll (like AG) can just do a quick search and find you doing it.
Case in point, this guy: @CStrunk follows Going Concern on Twitter so we don’t necessarily want to call him out, we simply want to evaluate his study habits, comments and way of life and then feel some sick superiority because we can judge him. Trust us, we do it out of love.
Check out this February 12th tweet:
So I’m at a bar. Being a horrible CPA exam candidate. 🙁
Listen, you guys don’t need to read my column to know that sitting at the bar is not going to help you figure out variance analysis nor GAAP codification. Duh. Maybe you can tape ASCs to the bottom of your shot glass but we are not going to say that you should be studying empty drinks with accounting regs and if you do, well, good luck with the exam.
A day before he was at the bar, he was cleaning out his computer. If you’re studying for the exam, you know exactly what this is like. Scrubbing baseboards, working as many hours as you can, even squeezing out kids just so you can put off opening up that big-ass FAR book (OK maybe that’s pushing it a bit).
He also admits to staying up until midnight or one in the morning studying (or “studying,” which many of you know means 4 minutes of studying and 96 minutes of status updates, “research,” emailing and texting) but since he was up until 1:23 in the morning tweeting, we know that’s not necessarily what he spends his time doing.
We suspect that we don’t have to alert Chris that he has been sternly warned to improve his study habits or give up on this exam and we hope that we won’t have to say it again.
When this future CPA from South Carolina wrote in asking for our sage advice, he noted that we’d probably answered this exact question before but he thought email might be the best way to get a more specific answer. While we may berate you for not using the fancy search bar in the upper right-hand corner of this website (I’m speaking directly to you, guy who emailed me asking a question I just answered a week ago), that doesn’t mean we don’t want to answer your questions. Really it just means that we’re bitter and the vodka supply is running low at GC HQ. So if you have a CPA exam question, by all means get in touch. If I have written about it already, Caleb’s next trip to Costco for 1. ld fix that right up.
Anyway, enough about our vices, let’s get to the question:
I am currently in the second semester of my masters to fulfill the 150 hour requirement and am starting with my firm in October of this year. My firm also offers to pay for a B—– course for us to help with the studying. What is a simple timetable for when I should start studying, when I should start the tests and such[?] I am looking to earn my companies bonus for completing the exam in a year, but I also know that with school and everything I am most likely behind the 8 ball for that.
First, we have to thank you for bringing the phrase “behind the 8 ball” to our attention. I’ve never used it myself (though I’ve certainly been in that position) and I have to say looking at your situation you’re not exactly there either. By all appearances, you have a good education behind you and a career in front of you. In other economic times that probably wouldn’t be enough but for now, you’re head and shoulders above many of the sad saps who we talk to on a near daily basis that have degrees growing mold and not a single job prospect ahead of them. Be grateful you only have to decide which CPA exam part to take and not which flavor of ramen noodle to spend your rent money on.
My biggest piece of advice to you is to use your review course. My professional experience has been that those who get courses “free” from work almost always blow it off, buy it at the wrong time (hello, don’t sign up in January) or otherwise waste a good opportunity. If you had to shell out $2,000 of your own hard-earned money, you’d be much more likely to get the most out of it, right?
Then there’s your bonus. The fact that you’re acknowledging a bonus of $5,000 if you get this done shows that you might already be using that as a motivator – which is fine! We aren’t suggesting you run out and blow $5,000 on a home entertainment system as if you already have it but you are an accountant and money is your thing so use that to your advantage when you’re feeling unmotivated, lazy or overwhelmed. Which brings us to our next point.
It is now February and you start in October, the problem being you won’t actually be able to sit for the CPA exam until after you meet South Carolina’s 150 requirement. You are exactly the sort of future CPA we think should be allowed to sit for the exam at 120 units but we doubt the South Carolina Board of Accountancy reads Going Concern and even if they do, you might be a partner by the time the rule actually changes. Guess this is where your position behind the 8 ball comes in, eh?
UDPATE: Apply to sit now while you are eligible and try to nail as many exam parts as you can while you have some time. With a Masters program going on, that could be just one (or zero) but hey, at least you’ve got a head start before you are working and will leave less work later.
Talk to your firm and see what sort of support they offer for studying. We’re pretty sure they’ll laugh directly in your face but it’s worth a shot.
Assuming they are like just about every other firm out there, you’re going to want to apply for the exam as soon as you are eligible so you can get the paperwork part out of the way and begin to study shortly thereafter so the information is freshest in your mind. Don’t make the mistake of studying now months in advance (even though this appears to be an optimal time to do it) as you’re just going to have to do it all over again later. You’re going to need to be diligent – if not anal – about a study schedule once you start working, which we recommend you use to your advantage. Get up at 5am to study for two hours before work, that way if you’re exhausted at 4 or 5 or 9 pm when you’re still slaving away for the man, it won’t matter because at least you’re still getting paid to do it. You can study for the entire exam in 400 hours. There are about 730 hours in a month. Got it?
It will be excruciating but it can be done. I’m sure any number of the poor slobs who did exactly that before you will be chiming in in the comments any minute now.
CORRECTION: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated South Carolina was a 150 state. It’s actually a 120 state. We realize the error of our ways and will repent all weekend on the NASBA website.
We’ve been through this particular problem before but since this question is sort of unique, we’ll bite. How does an O.G. coming back to accounting after 30 years prepare for the CPA exam?
Doug in Milwaukee asks:
I’m a 50-something MBA and have just completed the extra six (advanced) accounting courses needed to qualify to sit for the Wisconsin CPA exam. Since it’s been 30 years since I’ve taken the basic accounting courses, I’m feeling weak in the areas that may be most heavily stressed on the exam. I’m interested in one of the “higher-quality” reviews that you mentioned, that will give me all the information I need.
Can you recommend a CPA review course for me?
First of all, I have to disclaim for those who don’t know that I came to accounting through the CPA review industry so while I am wholly independent, it doesn’t matter as I may appear biased were I to actually recommend a review course. Perceived bias aside, it is always best for candidate to do their own research and instead of only listening to bitter writers who don’t actually have to take the exam themselves. But we’re sure Doug already knows that and would simply like a professional opinion to supplement his extensive research on the matter.
Besides, everyone is different. Some candidates do well with a self study program while others need the structure of a classroom-style review. So the first thing you should figure out is what you need and how much you are willing (or can afford) to pay for it.
Once you have that part figured out, hit the CPAnet forums and check out their entire section on study materials and review programs. Actual candidates who have used the various review programs are generally more than happy to leave extensive information regarding each program but remember – people are more likely to rant about a negative experience than they are to glow about a positive one. The CPA exam is a difficult process and, unfortunately, my professional experience has been that many candidates are happy to blame everyone (college professor, boss, CPA review course, Father Time, some jerk on Facebook, etc etc) but reluctant to accept their own shortcomings in the event of failure. So keep that in mind.
CPA review is a pretty small industry and there are really only three or four courses that are considered “top of the line” – the others are either supplements or CPA review products offered by companies that also do a variety of other programs.
If you are able to, get as many free resources as you can from your prospective CPA review provider before you actually hand over your credit card. Visit their classroom location or watch samples of their lectures online (if they are reputable, they’ll have these readily available on their website) and call them to ask what is covered in their courses.
Remember too that CPA review is a business and, since I used to be a part of it, I can tell you it’s more cut-throat than this sweet online media gig. At the end of the day, the company exists not to help you pass the exam but to make money (like all companies, duh). So keep your eyes peeled for too good to be true marketing tactics, suspicious blog posts that read like ad copy and always read the fine print.
Follow these few rules and I’m sure you’ll be able to figure out the review that’s right for you in no time. Good luck!
Looks like we’re back in the swing of CPA exam testing as you guys have been loading me up with great questions (thanks, it means Caleb doesn’t have to fire me this week) so let’s get right to it. Today’s question comes via Twitter and if you have one, email me or toss an @ my way and I’ll get to it.
@adrigonzo What is your rec for the night before an exam section. Study till you drop that last night or get some rest? #cpaexam
This is an excellent question because for many of you who are taking the CPA exam fresh out of school, you might be used to slacking off for weeks or months on end and making one last final push at the end of the semester to get through finals. While that may have worked in college (and can also work in life if you play your cards right), it’s important to keep in mind that the CPA exam doesn’t work the same way.
Your brain learns in layers and with the exam, it’s best to digest smaller pieces of information over a longer period of time than it is to try and cram it all in there in a few days. That’s why accelerated or otherwise last-minute CPA review programs aren’t a good idea; your brain needs the layers to dig into come exam day.
Think of it like making oatmeal cookies: you start with the basics; butter, sugar, eggs, flour and oatmeal. In an exam context (we’re using FAR because it’s easiest in this example), this would be the framework of financial accounting and any heavily tested areas like bonds, pensions and inventory. Once that’s mixed up, you add in your flair: raisins, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, whatever you like. Side note: I made white chocolate chip, craisin and pecan oatmeal cookies the other night and they were absolutely fantastic. Anyway, your flair would be the lighter-tested or unfamiliar areas like some of what’s covered in advanced accounting, inflation accounting, dollar-value LIFO, etc. You use a cup and a half of flour but only half a cup of chocolate chips and regardless of how much the recipe calls for, if you sit down and eat the entire bowl of dough in one night you’re going to get sick. Got it?
I always recommend bringing your note cards or textbook to Prometric with you so you can do a last-minute review in the car and it’s absolutely appropriate to do some studying the night before but don’t overdo it. Get to bed at a reasonable hour but try not to upset your routine too much – if you’re an night owl, there’s no reason to go to bed at 8pm unless you have scheduled your exam for first thing in the morning (what were you thinking?!). As we all know, accountants don’t deal well with change so the more you can make taking the exam feel like “normal”, the better you’ll feel on exam day.
Be sure to nourish your hard-working brain with the right foods, avoid alcohol (trust us, you can get absolutely obliterated when you actually pass, first one’s on us) and, if you smoke, try to stop (nicotine withdrawal can impair cognitive performance and you aren’t going to be able to take a break at the exam to go grab a smoke) or at least create an exam-day plan to get your fix (you might want to avoid gum at Prometric).
And remember: you may never actually feel “ready” to take the exam. Focus on preparing and remind yourself that you’ve done everything you can (hopefully…) to get to ready, even if you never actually feel that way.
I can’t believe the year is over and have already gotten my 2010 CPA exam rant out of the way so the following is specifically for those of you excited to get started on the brand-spanking new (not so new) CBT-e CPA exam that launches anew on January 1 or, more specifically, January 3rd, 2011. Or maybe January 4th. Anyway…
Last year, you probably swore up and down you’d be done with all four parts AND the ethics exam (for those of you who actually have to take one) by now but life happens and your plans fell through so instead of making unrealistic resolutions only to be disappointed, let’s tackle this the conservative way.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew One part per window is reasonable unless you are going to end up fired or divorced if you don’t get your CPA in the next two months. If you want to be ambitious and take two in a window that’s fine but the easiest way to get through it is by taking it slowly and carefully. Give each section the time it needs to get embedded in your brain just long enough for you to spit it all out, pass, and move on to the next section. There are always exceptions to the rule (and I’m sure they are going to take this opportunity to remind us how exceptional they are in the comments) but odds are you aren’t the exception so don’t try to overachieve, you don’t get bonus points for most failed attempts or most parts attempted in one testing window.
Plan! I can’t say it enough: if you don’t have a plan, you’re going to bomb miserably unless you’re one of those fantastic freaks who somehow pulls it off despite all your best procrastinating. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, think of your CPA exam plan in the same way you might approach weight loss. If you don’t plan out a specific diet and exercise plan, you’ll be shoveling cookies down your pie hole within a week.
Schedule. As in right now. If you wait until the last minute to schedule your exams (you know who you are, I talk to you all the time and you’re always sort of generally scheduled to take the exam “at the end of the window”), you’re missing an important motivator that can actually encourage you to study. If you schedule early, you’ve got actual dollars invested in an exam part and a big fat carrot to dangle in front of your face when you’re in the mood to blow off studying. Not just that but you have an actual day to circle on the calendar, which will help you when you’re planning how much time to spend studying in the days before.
Hope that helps and Happy New Year to all of you, see you next year!
P.S. – Please get in touch with us after the 4th with any and all (legal) feedback on the new CPA exam format, we’re excited to hear your thoughts on the AICPA’s exam makeover!
Allow me to blast right by the fluff and get straight to the meat: you know who you are and you know exactly what you’re doing so put down the apps and get back to the books, this is the CPA exam you’re studying for!
I humbly present, in no particular order of distractionness, the six biggest time wasters for CPA exam candidates.
Twitter This one is huge and I was reminded of this yesterday when I got an email from someone I know exclusively through Twitter who has been studying (on and off, I presume) for the CPA exam for almost as long as I’ve known him. He made the decision to cut his account with a promise of “I’ll be back”, something you may want to consider if you’re blowing up Twitter with status updates when you shoul ong>Facebook True story: I once got a call from a CPA exam student who gave me a huge sob story about not having enough time to study begging me to give him more time on his course as he promised up and down that he would not let unforeseen events (death in the family, car accident, job loss; you name the excuse) interfere in his studying going forward. That might have worked (oh, who are we kidding, it wouldn’t have worked on me) except for one small problem: he’d forgotten we were also Facebook friends. So while he was updating with pictures of his drunken nights out and “Which Serial Killer Are You?” quizzes, I was watching an entire year of studying (and a few thousand bucks) swirl down the drain. Stay away from Facebook and please, for the love of all that is sacred and holy, enough with the FarmVille when you should be studying.
Email Emails are great. They make us feel loved and needed and important and sometimes contain all kinds of useful information that we can even apply to studying (like a subscription to our newsletter *ahem*) but they can also be a massive time-waster. You aren’t that important and neither is your email, so shut down Outlook when you’re studying if you’re in front of your computer and even go so far as to set an out of office on weekends if you’re in the last couple weeks before exam day.
Instant messenger Oh IM, how we love thee. Gchat is great for catching up and sharing news but it can be a huge time suck if you get stuck chatting with a friend (especially when you’re dying for a distraction). Don’t cheat and change your status to “Studying for the CPA exam REALLY BUSY”, just log off and hide out for awhile. Trust me, you aren’t going to miss anything that you can’t catch up on next time you log in.
Your phone From texts to apps to mobile Twitter, your phone can be the biggest distraction in your house if you don’t count your TV on Sunday. With so many different ways to keep yourself from studying, sometimes it’s best to simply unplug or, rather, plug your device in to charge somewhere out of your reach while you are studying. Turn your phone to silent and hide it under your pillow if you have to. Checking your phone might only take a second but several checks add up to minutes and next thing you know, you’re pounding out an email response with your thumbs and totally off track.
Your girlfriend (or boyfriend) Seriously. You swear (s)he didn’t need this much attention when you first started dating but now you’re a year in and since you started studying for the exam it seems like you can’t shake her (him) off your nuts long enough to do two homework modules. If a nice talking to won’t work, why don’t you try explaining to your sweetheart that this is a professional exam and, if (s)he’ll get off your jock long enough for you to study and pass, you’ll make a whole metric shit ton more money as a result. That should work. If it doesn’t, dump her (him).
Lastly, remember that our site can be a distraction too. Shock and awe, I know! It’s one thing to swing by for CPA exam tips or to get my email address so you can ask me a question (seriously, I’m nice and sort of know what I’m talking about, wtf) but if you end up here trolling comments and whining about the bonus you didn’t get, you can easily waste plenty of good study time that could have been better applied to, oh, actually studying. Subscribe by RSS so you don’t miss your favorite articles when you have some free time and ignore us until you pass.
If you’re like most of us, you’ve been half checked out since Thanksgiving [Ed. note: like you don’t even know] and are most likely spending your December gorging yourself on cookies and getting tipsy at holiday parties. But if you’re also studying for the CPA exam, it’s critical to stick to your schedule or else you’ll end up in February wondering why you haven’t studying at all for the exam you scheduled months ago. Here are five quick and dirty ways to stick to your plan.
Turn people down Yes, we know it sucks to have to say “no” but the big key to getting through the exam is being disciplined, which sometimes means saying you’ve got to stay home and study when friends and family are begging you to come out and play. Keep your commitments to a minimum and only do the holiday activities you’ve absolutely have to without being disowned by your family. If you must attend a wild company party, make sure you don’t turn a day of partying into a week of recovering.
Take your CPA review materials with you If you’re traveling out of state to see family, it’s important to bring your review materials with you so you can keep studying while you’re sitting around hearing about your Uncle John’s aches and pains and/or third wife. Bonus: studying is a great excuse to get out of awkward family interactions and shoveling snow so break out the books and show them just how disciplined and determined you are. We guarantee it will inspire oohs and ahhs at the table and hopefully keep you on track to pass next window.
Stick to your schedule If you’ve taken our advice so far (we swear we’re qualified to dispense said advice), you already have a rock-solid study schedule that accounts for every hour of every day and has studying penciled in between work and sleep whenever you can sneak it. Don’t allow the holidays to invalidate that schedule, simply reschedule some areas accordingly. If you blow off entire chunks of your schedule to sip cider and make gingerbread houses with the nieces and nephews, you’re that much more likely to keep blowing it off come January. Adjust your schedule if you have to but be sure to stick to it!
Turn your social aversion into a study tool If you’re like most people – especially accountants – you can’t stand awkward social interactions. Since you’re studying for a professional examination with a reputation for being all-consuming, you’ve got an out when it comes to lame social activities like tree-trimming, caroling, and/or volunteering down at the homeless shelter. Screw all that, leverage your CPA exam misery to your benefit and use it as an out. It’s either that or recruit the homeless guys to help you blast through flashcard drills while you’re handing out Christmas Day turkey at the shelter.
Use days off to study… MORE! Yes I said it. You might have half days or PTO to cash in or the post holiday-party day after to lay around at home and recover but instead of taking a holiday, try squeezing in a little more study time so you’re that much more ready come next year.
And lastly, though this isn’t exactly a tip, ENJOY YOURSELF. You’ve earned a nice little break so take advantage of it, just don’t blow your entire plan in the process!
From the CPA exam grab bag, this question came in just before 2010 testing ended but since there were other things to write about, it sat collecting dust in my inbox. Fret not, our asker got her answer in time to sit for the exam on the second-to-last day of testing and now you get the answer too. Let’s go!
I’m studying for REG and I am fairly concerned about tax law changes. I’m using the 2009 Becker materials, and I try to use their website to see updates to tax law change, but when I’m taught through the lectures and the homework a certain law, it’s hard to then switch it up based on a little post from Becker’s online database.
An example is the estate tax disappearing. Or unemployment exclusion (2,400 in 2009, but now what? 0[%|] I think, right?). Anyways, I’m not too worried about understanding concepts and rules as much as worrying about not realizing that certain rules have changed.
Here’s the deal: REG can be a little tricky because it’s the one section where the AICPA allows newer pronouncements before the usual 6 month effective date. Usually what happens is the PCAOB comes out with some new audit standards and – assuming the SEC has approved them – they cannot appear on the CPA exam earlier than 6 months after adoption. The AICPA Board of Examiners does have its exceptions – like FASB 141(r) – where they are too excited to wait for it to be on the exam and will make a special announcement but for the most part, you can pretty much assume that there is a 6 month lag between the time rules/numbers/pronouncements come out and the time they appear on the exam.
For the estate tax and other such tricky issues that are still unresolved as yet, be glad they’re unresolved as it means you don’t have to worry about any new rules until decisions are made. And with the AICPA scrambling to load your 2011 exams with international financial reporting and other such awesomeness, it’s unlikely that their priority will be integrating new tax rules into testing once they are finalized.
Remember also that you are not expected to be an expert in any area, let alone the complicated abyss of tax rules. So the numbers are not as important as the fundamentals (read: concepts) in Regulation.
Let’s cut right to the chase and get into five things every CPA exam candidate really must have.
1. A good support system Maybe you’re lucky and your significant other has been supporting you all the way through this adventure to licensure but chances are he/she is pissed that you’d rather spend your evenings cuddling your CPA review book than them. Fine, don’t worry about them, worry about yourself and surround yourself with like-minded candidates who can support and inspire you. It can also be helpful to have someone to sit next to you on the pity potty when your scores come back less stellar than you’d hoped. Whether your support system comes from your social circle, coworkers or online forums, find one and use it.
2. A plan No kidding, you need one if you’re going to pull this off. That means scheduling your exams well in advance, plotting your course by creating a detailed study schedule and figuring out how to balance studying and everything else in your life. The better you plan ahead of time, the better you’ll do. I don’t have any figures supporting this so you’ll just have to trust me.
3. A Notice to Schedule I’m sure you already know you need an NTS if you’re going to get anywhere. What I mean is, if you’re actually going to take the exam you’ve got to start the application process as soon as possible and make sure you’ve met your state board’s requirements. Find out how long it takes well in advance of actually applying by reading up on your jurisdiction’s requirements and understand how long things take in your state. You can get a lot of this information first-hand from the CPAnet forums or by following the #CPAexam on Twitter. First-hand accounts from actual candidates will offer you more value than the official word from your state board, though their estimate may be somewhat realistic too. Schedule 45 days before your exam so you have one less thing to worry about when studying. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to apply or if you qualify, check out NASBA’s Accounting Licensing Library for help.
4. Faith Oh so cheesy but it works. If you believe that you can get through this, one way or another you will. If you doubt yourself every step of the way, you’re going to suffer appropriately. So it’s generally a wise idea to have some faith in yourself otherwise you’ll be needlessly miserable through most of this entire process. Faith is whatever you define it as, only you know what it means for your particular belief system. Adjust accordingly to your personal circumstances.
5. Discipline You don’t need talent, nor a high IQ, nor a good GPA to get through the CPA exam. You can be marginally skilled in your career and only somewhat intelligent to pass but if you do not bring discipline to the table you’ll never get through it.
Optional additions: a good CPA review program, a reliable caffeine connection, a miserable bastard or two to commiserate with, and/or a good distraction to reward yourself with after you’ve put in your study hours.
So we heard that some but not that many of you received your scores from this window, if so congrats (we hope) and do let us know how you did. For those of you stuck in Wave 2, um, sorry about that and here’s to hoping you get your 74 before the final window of 2010 gets too filled up to schedule before the dreaded CBT-e changes take effect January 1, 2011 in case you need a retake.
Remember, Q4 2010 could be the most difficult to schedule CPA exam testing window of all time so if you are in Wave 2 and want to take another stab at it before 2011 after you get a failing score towards the end of September, you better be sure to get your reapplication in for a new NTS as soon as you get your score. Be prepared to select an alternate Prometric location or date and time that you didn’t really want as it’s going to be rough getting in for some of you.
Of course, there are those of you in remote areas or CPA dead zones that may have no problems at all but for our little future CPAs in places like Texas, Illinois, California and New York (i.e. exceptionally large numbers of CPA exam candidates testing at any given time) be open to changing your dates or location if need be and don’t flip out if you can’t schedule where or when you want.
If you are testing today on this final testing day of Q3 2010 we’d love to hear what you’re taking. Jr Deputy Accountant’s unofficial poll of CPA exam candidates (really I’ve just been asking candidates I’ve talked to lately and not even taking a tally; sue me) reveals that a large number of you are actually going after BEC either today or before the end of the year to avoid written communication in 2011. That’s a bit of a shock, I assumed most of you would try to tackle FAR before IFRS hits but hey, whatever floats your boat. For those of you who pass BEC this year, you also have the advantage of getting a BEC exam with less economics and IT to worry about, not to mention no essays.
And if you don’t pass? Remember, there’s always next window, CBT-e or not and hopefully we have already calmed your fears surrounding the 2011 changes. It’s a little more to memorize with international standards thrown in the mix but you were already going to have to memorize a metric shit ton of information anyway so what are a few more standards going to hurt?
Good luck to all of you and don’t forget to get in your last minute CPA exam questions before it all changes in a few short months!
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!
I’ve talked to a lot of panicked CPA exam candidates out there who seem to be bewildered and anxious about CBT-e changes coming up in just a few short months and even though we’ve covered it plenty here on Going Concern, I figured I’d take the time to remind you once again to relax. Please. Seriously. Like now.
A few things to keep in mind and then we’ll get to the good part.
1. Accounting is still accounting and IFRS puts debits on the left too. While international standards are spooking everyone, let’s take a deep breath and remember that accounting is still accounting whether it’s GAAP, government, IFRS or that wonky version of financial accounting that the Fed gets to make up. For the first few testing windows, if not years, it is highly likely that the AICPA will take a conservative approach when it comes to integrating the new standards into the CPA exam. They are not going to scrap years worth of effort put in to the computerized exam just to test international standards that aren’t even used in the U.S. so stop thinking 2011’s exam is THAT much different.
2. Regulation isn’t really changing at all. Does it ever? You’d be surprised how little the exam changes from year to year even as new standards are released and introduced to the bank of questions candidates receive. The fundamentals haven’t changed much over time and probably won’t. In the last three years, I can only remember two very large changes: a massive overhaul of Audit in mid 2007 that changed a lot of terminology but not much else and FAS 141(r) or, as candidates know it, business consolidations last year. Beyond that, the meat and potatoes of the exam have remained pretty constant in the 6 years since the exam went computerized.
3. Simulations will be easier. Believe it or not, the new sims should be way easier than the current ones. Instead of hoping you get a simulation that covers the two or three areas you studied (ahem, procrastinators, I’m talking directly to you), you get 6 or 7 smaller simulation problems that cover a multitude of areas. This makes your crapshoot odds of knowing what you’re doing far better than they are under the current structure.
So, now that we’ve pointed out those few things, I think you should know that there’s no reason to hold off on studying this year if your plan is to start taking exams in the beginning of 2011. GAAP will not change and will still be tested, it is just that new international standards will also be added to the mix.
You can certainly get a jump on studying by going over the current material towards the end of the year and then hit the 2011 stuff once it is available. Otherwise you’ll have to cram up to 150 hours of studying into a couple weeks right after New Year’s when you’re probably in no mood to study anyway. Trust me, a fourth quarter 2010 FAR exam isn’t going to be drastically different from a first quarter 2011 FAR exam except for the obvious international stuff sprinkled throughout. No big deal.
You CAN use 2010 books to START to prepare for the 2011 exam, just be sure to update them with 2011 material once it is available. If you rely solely on 2010 materials you will probably fail but you can definitely use them to get the foundation on topics that are still going to be tested in 2011 and beyond in much the same way they have been since 2004.
Hope some of you can now sleep at night. You’re welcome.
It’s a valid question and we haven’t answered it yet so let’s give it a shot, shall we? Here’s the specific reader inquiry:
I graduated in 2008 with an accounting degree, but I’ve not really pursued anything in accounting since then. Without talking too much about my personal life, I’ll just say I had better opportunities.
Anyways, I’m considering getting back into public accounting, and I plan on beginning taking the CPA exam in 2011, after busy season. If I order a CPA review course, will that be enough, or should I spend some time reviewing my books/notes from college?
Yeah, we’re with you on the “better opportunities,” be that foaming lattes or harvesting certain medicinal plants (depending on your state, of course), so let’s forget about what you’ve been doing since you graduated and focus on the task at hand: passing the CPA exam.
As we’ve told you plenty of times, it’s always best to knock the exam out as soon as you graduate since you likely still have some sort of study habits left over from college and aren’t yet tied down with family and a career but things don’t always work out that way for whatever reason. That’s fine, my professional experience has actually been that those who take some time off after school do better once they do start to tackle the exam simply because they are older, wiser and usually slightly more dedicated than a 22 year old fresh out of college. No offense to the dedicated 22 year olds out there, of course.
But please, whatever you do, don’t bother with your college textbooks. Chances are your cheap, lazy and overworked accounting professors used the same textbooks year after year while the CPA exam changes twice a year. Sure debits still went on the left even in 1903 but keep in mind the CPA exam isn’t necessarily a test of how good of a CPA you will be but a comprehensive skills test that identifies your shallow knowledge of a broad range of subjects. Think of the exam as a lake 15 miles wide but only an inch deep; some of your college texts may delve into some areas in detail that aren’t really tested on the exam or they could skip entire areas completely, especially since you graduated just as the economic crisis was hitting. Things have changed since then and with international standards hitting in 2011, the chances are even lower that these areas were covered in school.
For you, the best thing to do is find a review course that will help refresh your knowledge based on what you learned in school but also give you a general outline of topics that you may have forgotten or never covered when you were in college. I know it’s called “review” but a good review course can teach you as if you have no prior accounting experience whatsoever… assuming you do remember which side to stick the debits on.
Skip the textbooks and spend your time focusing on a review product that will give you exactly what you need to pass the exam. Good luck!
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.
Save August 3rd if you don’t already have plans, yours truly will be over at CPA Exam Club (brought to you by our friends at CPAnet) for a nice little chat about the CPA exam. Just some of the things we’ll we covering:
• 2011 exam changes: what you need to know, what’s changing and what you really should stop worrying about
• Exam strategies (especially around the 2011 changes): which parts to take in which order and why
• Study plans: how to make one and how to stick to one
• Hipster fashion tips for what to wear to Prometric
• Whatever else YOU come up with
In order to participate in the hour and a half chat you have to first register at CPA Exam Club and RSVP for the event. If you aren’t already on the site, it’s a great resource for candidates and a way to share tips and tricks, exam experiences and of course commiserate with your fellow future CPAs. Registration is free.
I have already agreed to be A) super nice and B) more helpful than usual so if you’ve been reluctant to submit your CPA exam questions here because you’re afraid I’ll yell at you (I probably will), here’s your chance to get an answer to any and all of your exam inquiries without getting snapped at. Get to it!
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 goin ce.
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!
I spend a lot of time yelling at you kids trying to tell you what to do: schedule early for the last window of the year, don’t overload yourself by trying to take on too many exam parts at once and be sure to bring your ID to Prometric (lay it out like your clothes on the night before the first day of school so you don’t forget).
Nag, nag, nag. I do it because I care and I want to see every accou ig CPA dreams achieve their goal, even when that means a major risk for capital markets (you know who I am talking about, there are some people who shouldn’t be allowed within 50 feet of a balance sheet).
But let’s put all of that aside for now and talk about ways to blow it. I mean really blow it. Unlike most of my tips, if you follow these you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail.
Schedule too many exam parts in one window This is a common mistake, mostly for newbie CPA exam candidates. You get all excited and have three months to waste before starting work in the fall and decide to take as many parts as you can in a window just to get it over with. Great. Of course, you realize halfway through the first chapter of REG that you have too much on your plate and end up blowing all three. Congrats, you’ve just learned an important lesson: take it easy. We say no more than two exam parts per window and unless you will get fired if you don’t get this stupid CPA in the next 6 weeks, stick to that rule.
Put your social life (substitute “work life” for social life here if you don’t have one) ahead of the exam If you have a life, congratulations, but it’s going to have to get back burnered for a minute while you tackle this thing. You don’t have to break up with your girlfriend but if she isn’t in accounting and going through the same misery as you, you may have to cut her off for awhile so you can concentrate. You know, only if she’s that kind of girlfriend. Your friends will get over it. Try surrounding yourself with other, equally-miserable CPA exam candidates like yourself. They’ll never be available and will only pester you via text when they are procrastinating.
Study only when you feel like it This one is great for totally blowing it and if that’s your goal, all you have to do is tell yourself you’ll study after work or when you get a chance or maybe after the game is over. Without a solid study schedule, you’ll quickly realize you never feel like it.
Blow off the multiple choice and just watch CPA review videos Hey listen, in a former life I pawned CPA Review wares 60+ hours a week and let me tell you, we liked it when students got addicted to videos, it pays the bills. But we liked it better when students also did the homework because that meant they passed and failing students don’t help our numbers nor testimonials. So go ahead and stick with the “I’m going to watch FAR thirteen times until it totally sticks in my brain” method, it means more money for repeats and we liked that too.
Spend every moment obsessing over things that aren’t often tested or worth much (like research) Want a surefire way to fail? Focus on the minute details and obsess over rarely-tested information, ask questions in Live class about your own 401(k) instead of pensions and get really bent out of shape over tiny punctuation errors in your review texts. Chances are if this is your strategy, you’ll not only fail miserably but piss off a few CPA review instructors in the process. Good luck with that. Really.
We’ve given you plenty of tips on studying for REG but let’s go over it one more time, shall we?
Is 1 month enough time to study for Regulation? I haven’t studied yet and I have the exam scheduled for beginning of August.
Regulation should take about 80 and 100 hours to study for, since we don’t live your life we can’t tell you how much other stuff you would have going on in a month so it’s up to you to figure out how to fit that time in. In a general sense, it can be done in a month but you might be better off taking slightly more time just so you aren’t overloading on information. Regulation isn’t a huge or overly-complicated section but if you’re trying to do all your studying in one month, you’re going to have to cut out just about any chance you might have at a social life between now and then.
When trying to “cram” for a CPA exam section, it is easy to over-study in an attempt to get in as much studying as possible within a short period of time. So this is a good time to point out that your brain learns in layers and gets bored easily so don’t study for more than 3 hours at a time without taking a long break. If you plan on spending your weekends studying, stick to the 3 hour rule and try to plan something moderately enjoyable for yourself in between (renting a movie is OK, going out and getting wasted is NOT).
Studying 3 hours a day for 28 days will clock you in at about 84 hours, which is on the low end of study targets for this section and kind of exhausting. If you can buy yourself a few more weeks and put off your exam, you can stick to 1 – 2 hours a day and still have a life. Be diligent about creating a study schedule and sticking to it as you’re short on time to study as is, you can’t afford to miss 2 or 3 study sessions.
Alright, little future CPAs, most of you are probably still recovering from the holiday weekend and if you’re lucky enough to have a job, reluctantly dragging yourselves back to the grind which sometimes means studying for the CPA exam. Taking the summer to study? Good for you! We’ve got some tips for keeping on track when the weather is nice and the work is light.
Don’t overdo it!
If you just graduated and aren’t starting at a firm until the fall, you might be one of those candidates who decides to take all four CPA exam sections in one testing window. That’s all well and good but let’s be realistic: your degree may not post to your transcripts until August and even then you’ve still got to wait for your state board to process your application. Find out how long the process takes in your state and plan accordingly! If you’ve been approved to sit for the exam and have a few months to study, we humbly suggest taking on no more than two sections per testing window. It’s a lot easier to study when you aren’t working but trust us, it’s a lot easier to pass exams when you’ve got the time to concentrate on each section and cramming all four into one window can sometimes put a damper on that process. So slow it down, killer!
Make time for fun
Listen, no one said you have to give up your life to pass the exam and it might be a good idea to retain your sanity through the process so by all means, get out and enjoy yourself in moderation. Once you’ve created a solid study plan by accounting for each hour of each day and planning study time in between, you can afford to pencil in “fun” here and there to keep yourself motivated. Moderation is key, you don’t want to be puzzling out variance analysis while nursing a hangover so save the big bashes for when you pass.
Remember you only have two testing windows left until the CPA exam changes in 2011
Amazing how motivated you can become when you remind yourself that if you don’t get FAR out of the way this year, you’ll be forced to identify differences between GAAP and IFRS. As you know, you learned one of these in school and the other is a big fat unknown not just to many accounting students in America but many of our CPAs as well. If you’ve been putting off the exam or half-assing it for the last several testing windows, now is the time to stop and get serious about your goal. It isn’t getting any easier and it isn’t going to pass itself.
Before you get upset at that headline, I don’t condone quitting the CPA exam process, especially if you’ve actually made some progress and passed some exams. But for some, quitting the exam is the only logical choice and it’s fair to present that argument for those of you truly struggling to get through.
Signs that you should keep going are obvious. If you are feeling unmotivated, bored, intimidated, anxious, panicky, upset, overwhelmed and/or a little depressed, you are just like every other CPA exam candidate out there. There isn’t a single person who gets through the entire experience without feeling some of those feelings, sometimes all at once. But in some very rare cases, struggling with the exam is a sign that perhaps you should be doing something else, and that’s what we’re talking about. So what are some other signs?
Severe depression Obviously if the entire exam process has you feeling dejected, depressed and hopeless, you may not be cut out for the stresses of public accounting and all that comes with the CPA designation. A little sadness or frustration is totally normal but if you find yourself staring at your CPA review flashcards wondering if the corners are sharp enough to slit your wrists, talk to a professional and consider a different line of work. Please. The exam is hard but it isn’t worth killing yourself over. No pun intended.
Complete lack of motivation Again, a little bit of procrastination or a motivation drought is normal if not totally expected. But if you absolutely cannot muster up the courage to crack open the first chapter of FAR for days on end, you’ll never make it. Either motivate yourself (we’ve given you plenty of tips on how to do this in previous CPA exam columns) or give up. I’m serious. If you don’t, you’re not getting through it.
Extreme agitation It’s OK if you’re high-strung, so is Caleb (that’s why he’s the perfect CPA). It’s OK if you are snapping at random passers-by with the nerve to bring their raunchy shrimp ramen lunch smell past your cube. But if you are yelling at everyone from the cat to the mailman for most of the day, the stress of the exam process has taken its toll on you. Remember, the exam is a sort of real world test run and it isn’t going to get any easier once you start your illustrious career in public accounting. Bail. Now. And relax, it’s really not that serious…
Let’s just say I know from professional experience most of these instances are few and far between. Very rarely in my career helping future CPAs pass the exam did I encounter someone who was doomed to 74s without any hope at all. Sure, there were people who failed. A lot. For some of them, they needed to fail in order to change their study habits, take the exam seriously, or really decide this was what they wanted to do.
Very often, I would encounter professionals in their late 40s or 50s who felt disappointed in themselves for abandoning the CPA exam 10, 15, or 20 years ago. So if you do happen to be really depressed, lazy, and/or pissed off and decide to quit, know that you’ll probably end up coming back at some point in your life wishing you’d just gotten it over with when you first had the chance.
It’s actually not too uncommon these days; you get your accounting degree, start out with the CPA exam, and realize a few months into it that your job prospects aren’t that rosy. So what do you do? Can you move midway through your exams? And if so, how do you keep the passing scores you’ve already gotten?
It’s much easier to transfer a license than it is CPA exam scores – Lucky for you, the exam is uniform meaning every candidate in every state gets questions from the same testing bank. So as long as you meet the requirements in your new state, you can continue taking exams in the state you originally applied in without actually flying back to take them. Prometric lets you schedule for any other state’s exam as long as you are approved so you can start in California, finish in New York and hey, maybe even squeeze in a vacation exam from Puerto Rico! OK, maybe that’s pushing it.
Know both your old and new state’s requirements – If you are in one of the two states (California or Virginia) that allow you to sit for the exam with 120 semester units, you will definitely have to wait until you have passed all exam parts and gotten licensed in your home state before transferring your license to your new one. NASBA has a pretty useful tool to look through exam requirements if you’re not sure but keep in mind it’ll run you $10 for a full day of scoping through the information.
Be conscious of the fact that exam fees vary from state to state – If you do plan on transferring your exam scores by applying in your new state, make sure you get the more expensive parts (FAR and AUD) out of the way first. It shouldn’t be too large of a difference but $50 can be huge when you’re pinching pennies and out of work.
If you do decide to transfer scores, all you have to do is apply in the new state as if you are a new candidate and request that the board recognize your passing scores. Again, why bother?
So our humble advice is to: A) put off studying until you are set up in your new place if you can and B) keep taking the exams just as if you were at home and worry about transferring your license later.
Keep in mind that you will have to meet your home state’s requirements first and then those of whichever state you have moved to so check with each state board if you are unsure whether you will meet both.
When in doubt, contact your state board for clarification and advice. If they’re not much help, try your state society of CPAs. And if that doesn’t work, get in touch with us and we’ll see what we can do to push you in the right direction.
Blackout months are notorious for inviting procrastination, especially June. The weather is nice, the work is light, and if you’ve been studying for most of the year, the mid-point can be exactly where you lose what little motivation you had to study. Because you have an entire month “off”, it can be easy to fall into a rut of not studying.
So as we go into this month, let’s remember some ways to stay motivated, even when it’s tempting to run off and play in the sun:
Get a study buddy – Sometimes all you need is someone
chewing you out encouraging you to keep going. If you’re doing this alone and know you’re slacking, maybe you need to recruit a friend to keep you in check.
Bribe yourself – Yes, bribing yourself is a pretty low tactic but whatever works, right? Promise yourself a splurge when you pass whatever section you are studying for or, if you’ve got a little extra cash to throw around, bribe yourself often with treats like $4 lattes and DVDs or whatever it is you’re into that won’t break the bank. This goes in reverse – if you aren’t studying and know it, punish yourself by taking away the movie tickets or nice dinners out.
Schedule your exam date close to the opening of the next window – This way you know you can’t blow off the entire month. Obviously this isn’t a good idea if you’re taking FAR and don’t plan on studying until June 1st but if you’re planning on taking a smaller section like BEC and have the time to put it, schedule your exam in the first or second week of the window so you know you can’t procrastinate. I guarantee you’ll only lose one exam fee because of not studying before you learn that particular lesson.
Good luck and if you’ve had luck breaking the procrastination habit, do share what worked for you!
As many of you who have been reading Going Concern for some time already know, I used to be in CPA Review. I ditched that gig months ago to pursue my dream of writing full-time (so far so good) and can finally write a completely unbiased post on choosing a review course. I won’t name names here just for the sake of equal opportunity but let’s talk about how to pick a review cours ntly, whether or not you actually need one.
First and foremost, if you are broke, you need to know that review courses are expensive. Like new car expensive. Ok, maybe like used Ford Focus expensive, either way, if you’re fresh out of school or still looking for work, you probably don’t have $2,000 lying around. It’s fine, you can get by on cheap textbooks but you’re going to have to bust your ass a tad harder than the guy who got his flashcards and full review paid for by the firm.
Keep in mind: the CPA exam is an investment of not just money but time. If you put $2,000 into it but still don’t study, you’re going to fail miserably. Unless you pay some brainiac $2,000 to take the exam for you but that would be illegal.
If you’ve got the cash for a full review, the first thing you’ll want to do is your homework. No, not practice MCQ, we’re talking research. A simple Google search will give you plenty of options (hell, there are less than a dozen CPA review providers so it’s not like you have to slog through pages upon pages of results). Remember: every candidate is different and what works for the stock photo chick on the company’s website may or may not work for you. Before you start looking for a course, take a personal inventory of your own needs and think up some questions to ask. Try these if you’re really stumped:
• Is there an instructor or teacher available if I have questions about homework or content? And if so, how long should I expect to wait for a response?
• How long from purchase do I have to access the material? Will it expire? Can I renew after that period and if so, are there any limitations on when?
• Are there any discounts available?
• Am I limited to one format or can I have the flexibility of combining online/live courses?
• What is the policy for students who fail a part? Is there a repeat or discounted option?
• Will I have access to updates as they are released and is there a cost and/or time limitation for this?
Those are a start. Most of this information is available on CPA review courses’ websites but sometimes it helps to get a real person on the phone and ask. You can quickly tell what sort of operation you are dealing with by the way the company’s phone staff handle your questions. The exam is a commitment and so is your choice of review course so be sure you are comfortable before you commit.
If you have already committed to a course that isn’t working for you, call around and ask if there are discounts available for students who have taken other courses. Most CPA review companies offer this.
Keep in mind that review courses – like all businesses – are still interested in making money above all else. Some will push full programs with all the bells and whistles while others rely on materials that look like they were made at Kinkos; at the end of the day, it’s not how shiny your review book is but how effective the instruction style is in teaching you the concepts that will help you pass.
And you will, as long as you put in the effort.
Remember in elementary school when you used to have to partner up – or better yet form a chain – for safety while crossing streets on field trips or when returning back to the classroom? The CPA exam can sometimes be like that treacherous stretch and it’s totally OK to reach out and grab someone’s hand. Here are some telltale signs you need to phone a friend:
You’ve failed two of your last exam attempts and have studied at least 50% less than you should have because you just couldn’t get motivated to do it
If this is you, find someone who is really excited about the exam to study with. Believe it or not, there are some truly enthusiastic, motivated, excited candidates who are really into this thing. If you cannot locate one of those (using CPAnet or similar forums), settle for someone who will at least nag you enough to get you to study.
You spend too much time at work and not enough studying
Again, like our first case, you make excuses for not studying. Yours is just work (whatever it takes to get you out of it, right?) and though you know people at work that are taking the exam, you are too worn down at the end of the day to crack open a book. Find someone at your firm to study with and do MCQ at lunch. If you get one. Please, it’s not that bad.
You’re over 40, haven’t been in college in years, and none of your friends are accountants but you’ve decided to put in the effort to finally get the CPA you started pursuing years ago
It may feel like you’re on your own with this one but you have a larger incentive for seeking support than other candidates who are fresh out of school; none of your friends are taking this thing. Again, CPAnet is a good place to start if you are looking to find someone to study with or a group.
Though it doesn’t get much coverage in CPA exam study guides (for a reason, which we’ll get to later), your ability as a CPA exam candidate to tackle research on each exam section might make or break your overall performance.
When planning out the amount of time you will spend on each exam section (i.e. 45 minutes on each simulation as a general rule), you can rest easy if you save the research portion of each sim for the very end. It is believed to be worth only one point so if you can’t get to it, don’t worry about it too much. Focus on the written communications as those are worth 10 points – or one of them is, and you don’t know which one so take care of both and save the research for last only if you have the time.
As for practicing, newer CPA Review practice software already has this function built in.
If you would like to practice manually, you’ll have to take your active NTS to register for 6 months’ worth of access to the professional literature from cpa-exam.org. With this, you can search through AICPA Professional Standards and FASB Pronouncements to familiarize yourself with accounting regs, though you are still encouraged to take the tutorial CPA exam on the cpa-exam.org website as the research on its own is not exactly representative of the research function in the exam environment.
If that is not enough practice, book a 30 minute test run with Prometric to check out your testing center and the computer you’ll be using.
Anyway, don’t obsess too much over the literature. Like the tax code, a lot of your “answers” will be provided in the questions, it’s just up to you to look into what the questions are asking.
Think about it: CPAs have access to volumes of regs and standards in their careers, it is not imperative that they memorize each one. The CPA exam is meant to test your understanding of accounting fundamentals, not how well you can memorize 200 FASBs and spit them back out.
Good news: Chances are you took most of this stuff in school so while it’s a lot of information to get through, most of it should be somewhat familiar.
Bad news: As the largest section, FAR covers a lot of ground and a lot of it isn’t very pleasant (like government, pensions, bonds and leases – all fairly heavily tested and all awful to get through when you’re studying) so prepare yourself accordingly and don’t take too much of it in at once.
FAR is a 4 hour exam and you will run out of time. Do not spend more than 1.5 minutes on each MCQ (FAR has 3 testlets of 30 questions each) and be sure to give yourself at least 45 minutes per simulation. If you run out of time towards the end, be sure to at minimum complete the written communication for both sims as only one is tested and you don’t know which one it is. It’s an easy 10 points and you don’t want to blow it.
The AICPA BoE has set the following target weights for skills testing:
Communication (6% – 16%)
Research (11% – 21%)
Analysis (13% – 23%)
Judgment (10% – 20%)
Understanding (35% – 45%)
Based on the Content Specification Outlines, Financial Accounting and Reporting covers the following areas:
Concepts and standards for financial statements (17% – 23%) Financial accounting, consolidated and combined financial statements, balance sheet, income statement, notes to financial statements, financial statement analysis.
Typical items in financial statements (27% – 33%) Typical items: recognition, measurement, valuation and presentation in financial statements according to GAAP. Cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities, inventory, PP&E, investments, intangibles and other assets, payables, deferred revenue, notes and bonds payable, equity and revenues.
Specific types of transactions and events (27% – 33%) Accounting changes and corrections of errors, business combination, contingent liabilities, discontinued operations, earnings per share, foreign currency transactions and translation, taxes, interest cost, leases, R&D costs, segment reporting, subsequent events.
Accounting and reporting for governmental entities (8% – 12%) Government accounting concepts (fund accounting, budgeting, and notes to financial statements), net assets, capital assets, transfers, financing sources, expenditures, encumbrances, etc etc. And of course governmental non-profit accounting is in this.
Accounting and reporting for nongovernmental (8% – 12%) Accounting and reporting for non-profit organizations, typical items for non-profits.
Studying for FAR should take between 100 – 150 hours regardless of whether or not you took multiple financial accounting classes in school. The key to FAR is taking it in small chunks to prevent being overwhelmed by information so don’t spend more than 3 hours per day studying and break each section into smaller subsections to retain your sanity through the process.
Good luck and see you tomorrow with ethics!
Editor’s note: This is the third in our five-part series this week on the CPA exam. We’ve already done Audit and Regulation and will finish with FAR tomorrow and an ethics discussion Friday. As always, if you have CPA exam questions for us, get in touch and we’d love to help.
Let’s get into BEC, shall we?
Good news: It’s the smallest section, has no simulations, and requires the least amount of study time. All of these seem like bonuses and many candidates take BEC first because of it but remember that your 18 month window starts from when you sit for and pass the first part so you might want to start with the most difficult, not the easiest.
Bad news: Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it is easy. BEC is the junk drawer of the CPA exam meaning a lot of information that wouldn’t fit elsewhere is stuffed into this section. The other downside to BEC is that many candidates do not take it seriously enough because it is so small; that means it is imperative to give the section the same focus and dedication that you would any other section.
BEC is a 2.5 hour exam (likely 3 hours after the CBT-e changes planned for 2011) and consists of 3 MCQ testlets of 30 questions each. You should allow yourself 1.5 minutes per question (45 minutes per testlet).
The AICPA BoE has set the following target weights for skills testing:
Communication (0% – 13%)
Research (0% – 13%)
Analysis (8% – 18%)
Judgment (6% – 16%)
Understanding (55% – 65%)
Based on the Content Specification Outlines, Business Environment & Concepts covers the following areas:
Business structures (17% – 23%) This means partnerships and expect to see quite a bit on this.
Economic concepts (8% – 12%) Business cycles, economics (inflation, deflation, interest rate changes), market influences, supply chain, foreign currencies and hedging.
Financial management (17% – 23%) Financial modeling, short and long term financing, loans, cash management.
Information technology (22% – 28%) Role of business IT systems, responsibilities within the IT function, IT fundamentals (hardware/software, networks, systems operation, etc).
Planning and measurement (22% – 28%) Planning and budgeting, organizational performance measures, cost measurement (don’t forget: cost accounting is AWFUL but pretty heavily tested so get on it!)
Editor’s note: this is the second in our 5-part series this week on the CPA exam. You can find Monday’s Auditing and Attestation breakdown here and stay tuned for the other two parts as well as an ethics wrap-up later in the week. As always, if you have a CPA exam question for us, get in touch.
So, let’s talk Regulation!
Good news: Like Audit, REG tends to have a slightly higher national pass rate than other sections (specifically BEC and FAR) and though business structures can drag, the tax stuff is fairly cut-and-dry. You won’t have to remember tax numbers as most of this information is provided so don’t obsess too much over specific numbers for the year, just stick to the concepts!
Bad news: Business structures can drag and the tax stuff is cut-and-dry. This means Regulation can be one of the most difficult sections to motivate yourself to study unless you are really, really into taxes.
Regulation is a 3 hour exam and is the only section to consist of three testlets of 24 multiple choice questions each (as opposed to other sections which contain 30 MCQ in each testlet). Because it is a shorter exam compared to other sections, that means that you have about 1.25 minutes to complete each question (30 minutes per testlet, leaving you 45 minutes for each simulation).
The AICPA BoE has set the following target weights for skills testing:
Communication (0% – 14%)
Research (9% – 19%)
Analysis (13% – 23%)
Judgment (8% – 18%)
Understanding (45% – 55%)
Based on the Content Specification Outlines, Regulation covers the following areas:
Ethics and professional responsibility (15% – 20%) Professional conduct, independence, confidentiality, due care… you know, all the good stuff that makes you a CPA. Keep in mind this area will no longer be covered in REG after 2011.
Business law (20% – 25%) Formations and terminations of businesses, authority of agents and principals, debtor-creditor relationships, government regulation (federal securities acts – heavy tested!!), negotiable instruments, insurance.
Federal tax procedures and accounting issues (8% – 12%) Just as it sounds, this area covers federal tax procedures as well as cash, accrual, percentage of completion, contract and installment sales.
Federal taxation of property transactions (8% – 12%) Assets, depreciation and amortization, exchanges, and capital gains.
Federal taxation – individuals (12% – 18%) Gross income, pass-through entities, exemptions, AMT, retirement, estate and gift taxes.
Federal taxation – entities (22% – 22%) S-Corps, partnerships, LLCs, LLPs, and trusts.
Studying for REG should take between 80 and 100 hours depending on how familiar you are with the concepts before you begin studying and your professional experience with the material. Obviously if you work in tax you’ve got a leg up and can spend a little less time reviewing taxation.
Good luck and join us tomorrow as we review BEC!
Friendly reminder (especially now that tax season is over), if you have a CPA exam question for us, shoot us a note, tweet us, or find us on Facebook and pester us until we answer. Up to you but we know you have questions so stop being shy.
Anyway. We have question from Twitter this week from @jacmelirose:
“What are the most heavily tested subjects for FAR? Help? Taking FAR in a month day for day.”
Alright, let’s start with the obvious: asking “what are the most heavily tested subjects” usually means you haven’t studied up until this point and are looking for a shortcut. Understandable but keep in mind this goes against the CPA exam guru’s advice. Just sayin’.
A good place to start is with the Content Specification Outlines for the section you are studying. For FAR, you can expect to see the following:
Financial statements (17% – 23%) – that means profit and loss, balance sheet, cashflows and footnotes/disclosures.
Typical items in financial statements (27% – 33%) – you’re talking marketable securities (pretty heavily tested or so we hear), receivables, bonds, leases, inventory, PP&E (depreciation, mostly), liabilities and revenue recognition. As much as you hate bonds, expect to see plenty on the subject so get cracking.
Transactional items (27% – 33%) – business combinations (yup, consolidations), contingent liabilities, discontinued operations, earnings per share and extraordinary items.
Government accounting (8% – 12%) – Everyone’s favorite! It’s not heavily tested but you will need to know a little about fund accounting, budgets, and government financial statements.
Not-for-profit accounting (8% – 12%) – Again, not heavily tested but it does show up (several MCQ and maybe a sim) so you will want to be sure to understand how NFP accounting works by understanding the 4 statements: financing, activities, cash flows and functional expenses.
Because we all know it’s against the rules to discuss what actually appears on the exam, we won’t tell you to expect BONDS, LEASES, and PENSIONS (and LOTS of them). We also will not tell you to be on the lookout for inventory in simulations because, again, that would assume we’re telling you we know what’s actually on the exam and of course we don’t.
FAR takes about 132 hours to prepare for – if you’ve got a month to do it, you need to be extra diligent about creating a study plan. Block out no less than 3 hours per day for MCQ/sim practice or lecture videos. Generally your brain tunes out if you’re studying any more than that per day but if you do the math, you realize you need more like 4 hours per day to meet the 132 hour requirement. In other words: a month is not really enough time to study for FAR. Here’s hoping you’ve been studying all along and are just looking for some last minute advice. Good luck!
Masochism at its finest means just thinking about the CPA exam while fully head down, eyes closed and trudging towards the busy season finish line. It’s cool, CPAs are a masochistic bunch and if you’re going to subject yourself to the torture of studying for the CPA exam while tackling your least favorite part of the year, have at it but please be smart about it.
It’s almost April and you know what that means – a brand new testing window filled with fun and exciting >75 action. Hopefully 75s, if you little masochists plan right.
Here are a few tips, you can do whatever you want with them. Ideally, you can ignore them for the next few weeks until you shift from busy season mode back to exam mode.
• Don’t be unrealistic about your work load – Some of you complain about “busy season” and know damn well you haven’t pushed a difficult piece of paper in months while others haven’t seen the light of Facebook (nor the end of the tunnel) in weeks. Take a reasonable assessment of the free time you have to commit to the exam and plan accordingly. If you’re grinding all the way through April 15th, maybe a late April test date is a tad optimistic and not all that smart.
• If you aren’t ready, blow it off – This goes against everything I always recommend to CPA exam candidates but it’s a wise piece of advice this time of year. If you are not ready for an exam, try to reschedule. Maybe taking FAR on April 1st made a lot of sense when you scheduled it in October but now that April is almost here and you haven’t seen daylight in two months, it’s not looking like such a bright idea. Of course, if you’re in a situation where you are about to lose credit for exams previously passed but still not prepared, there’s no harm in going to the exam anyway as you’re basically forfeiting the exam fee and might as well find out what’s on the test for next time.
• Don’t permanent vacation yourself just because you’re tired – Shifting from busy season to exam mode, it is really easy to rationalize an extended vacation from studying just because you need a break. The rest is deserved but don’t let a few days of relaxation turn into several months of procrastination. It’s easier than you think and I’ve seen it enough times to know it happens all the time. Don’t be lazy, this is what you wanted.
I’ll save you the hoo-rah, I’m pretty sure you don’t need it. It’s March already; if you aren’t studying, you’re working, and if you’re doing both right now I worry about your decision-making capabilities. Oh well.
Masochistic or not, it isn’t always easy to get yourself motivated to study.
You have entire CPA exam strategies laid out on the CPAnet forums here, here, and look, you even have a hoo-rah. Not everyone is an Elijah Watt-Sells so get that out of your head and worry about what works for you.
That strategy – finding a perfect fit for your own needs as a CPA exam candidate – also goes for motivation.
So how do you force yourself to study? Here are a few ideas:
Bribe yourself – Sock away $xxx for a new toy and reward a passing score with whatever your bribe is. If you’re cheap/laid off/sinking $1000s into failed exam fees and broke, it could be a decent dinner or a movie. Define splurge for yourself and make that the carrot you dangle in front of your face to get you to study.
Commiserate – You can find plenty of miserable accountants taking (and not always succeeding at) the CPA exam. You can also find support and encouragement if you’re actually trying to pass, so use resources like CPAnet and Twitter to find other candidates to speak to. If you’re taking a live review, sign up with someone else from your firm and go to class together. It helps to have someone else keeping you in check.
Visualize your goal – This might be the most, um, cheesy of methods but it absolutely works. Write CPA after your name on business cards and put them up where you will see them frequently (but don’t hand them out, that’d be illegal); though this tactic isn’t meant as a substitute for actually preparing (sorry to break it to you), a little positive thinking takes the anxious edge off.
Plan – Sometimes knowing there is a clearly defined schedule takes some of the panic out of the CPA exam, and if you’re disciplined enough, you won’t need motivation. Sure, it’s robotic, but that’s what studying for the CPA exam is. The exam doesn’t ask you to think critically outside of the parameters of financial reporting and accounting, nor do you get bonus points for creativity. So maybe you just need to have a plan, stick to it, suck it up, and move on until you’re done. It’s the most miserable of the options but sometimes all that works.
So? What worked for you?