Tax Lawyer Pursuing CPA Needs to Know: Take More Classes or Cram with a Review Course?

Whenever the news is slow and you kids are quiet (I won’t expect to hear from many of you until after April but just in case, here’s my email), there’s always CPAnet to troll and here’s a good one: tax and estate lawyer pursuing the CPA wants to know if he should take a bunch of classes to prepare for the CPA exam before jumping in.

I promise to let him down gently.


Here’s the question:

I am a tax and estate planning lawyer and have been taking accounting and tax classes at UCLA extension in preparation for the CPA exam.

Since tax season is hell, I would only have the second half of the year to take a revthe exam. That means June – November (& January) 2011, 2012, or beyond. I am unsure whether I should continue taking classes such as (auditing, internal auditing, nonprofit accounting, etc.) for the next year and a half until June 2012… or whether I should just sign up for a review session this June after I take Intermediate Accting 3 & (maybe) Managerial accounting this spring quarter AND study my butt off in the review course.

Without sounding too much like an ass, I’m a fairly smart guy (top 20% in top 20 law school, passed bar exam) and a very hard worker. I have a lot of information under my belt but it may not all be relevant.

So, do I absolutely need to take the 2 auditing classes offered at UCLAX or the nonprofit accounting class or can I cram the review course material? I have heard that advanced accounting is unnecessary and I learned consolidations in Business Enterprise Taxation. I don’t know econ, but I looked at some practice questions and I got most of them. Supply and demand doesn’t seem too complex.

Am I crazy to skip these classes and rely on the review course? My experience with the bar exam was that the courses in law school were more likely to confuse than to help.

First off, my professional experience has been that whenever someone says “I’m a fairly smart guy” or “I’m no idiot” or “at least I am not like the senior who probably ate paint chips as a kid,” that candidate almost always has difficulty getting through the CPA exam. Why? Because brains have nothing to do with it, stupid.

I often explain it to candidates like this: the CPA exam simply tests your left brain’s ability to process and spit out information exactly as it was put in. We don’t need creative right-brained accountants (especially now that Lehman is kaput) so the more right brain spin your brain tries to put on CPA exam information, the worse you’ll do on the exam. “Smarts” don’t factor in, it is merely a test of entry-level knowledge and we all know you don’t have to be smart to be an entry level accountant. Hell, you don’t have to be smart to be a partner either but we’ll let that one go.

That being said, it’s important to recognize that there are two distinct universes: the CPA exam universe and the real universe. In CPA exam world, all cash flows use the direct method, accountants are always ethical bordering on neurotic and there is always a very clear answer for any query. In the real world, we use indirect to save time, have trouble passing the open-book ethics exam after four tries and sometimes have to choose the “best answer” without knowing for sure that it’s right.

While more education is almost always a good idea (unless you’re already over-burdened with student loan debt to begin with), it may be easier for our future candidate above to simply jump into a good CPA exam review and call it a day. Some of the cheaper review programs will only build on the candidate’s knowledge base or help familiarize with the exam’s format and content but the pricier, higher-quality reviews also provide the information the candidate needs to pass, regardless of their experience level.

Remember: because the CPA exam tests entry-level knowledge, you aren’t expected to be a expert in anything. Not everyone takes advanced accounting and while some of those topics are tested, any decent review course can give you just enough to scrape by if you aren’t familiar with those areas. Don’t waste your time taking extra classes unless that is a personal goal of yours and, if so, either do it before or after but not during your CPA exam attempt.

Whenever the news is slow and you kids are quiet (I won’t expect to hear from many of you until after April but just in case, here’s my email), there’s always CPAnet to troll and here’s a good one: tax and estate lawyer pursuing the CPA wants to know if he should take a bunch of classes to prepare for the CPA exam before jumping in.

I promise to let him down gently.


Here’s the question:

I am a tax and estate planning lawyer and have been taking accounting and tax classes at UCLA extension in preparation for the CPA exam.

Since tax season is hell, I would only have the second half of the year to take a review course and take the exam. That means June – November (& January) 2011, 2012, or beyond. I am unsure whether I should continue taking classes such as (auditing, internal auditing, nonprofit accounting, etc.) for the next year and a half until June 2012… or whether I should just sign up for a review session this June after I take Intermediate Accting 3 & (maybe) Managerial accounting this spring quarter AND study my butt off in the review course.

Without sounding too much like an ass, I’m a fairly smart guy (top 20% in top 20 law school, passed bar exam) and a very hard worker. I have a lot of information under my belt but it may not all be relevant.

So, do I absolutely need to take the 2 auditing classes offered at UCLAX or the nonprofit accounting class or can I cram the review course material? I have heard that advanced accounting is unnecessary and I learned consolidations in Business Enterprise Taxation. I don’t know econ, but I looked at some practice questions and I got most of them. Supply and demand doesn’t seem too complex.

Am I crazy to skip these classes and rely on the review course? My experience with the bar exam was that the courses in law school were more likely to confuse than to help.

First off, my professional experience has been that whenever someone says “I’m a fairly smart guy” or “I’m no idiot” or “at least I am not like the senior who probably ate paint chips as a kid,” that candidate almost always has difficulty getting through the CPA exam. Why? Because brains have nothing to do with it, stupid.

I often explain it to candidates like this: the CPA exam simply tests your left brain’s ability to process and spit out information exactly as it was put in. We don’t need creative right-brained accountants (especially now that Lehman is kaput) so the more right brain spin your brain tries to put on CPA exam information, the worse you’ll do on the exam. “Smarts” don’t factor in, it is merely a test of entry-level knowledge and we all know you don’t have to be smart to be an entry level accountant. Hell, you don’t have to be smart to be a partner either but we’ll let that one go.

That being said, it’s important to recognize that there are two distinct universes: the CPA exam universe and the real universe. In CPA exam world, all cash flows use the direct method, accountants are always ethical bordering on neurotic and there is always a very clear answer for any query. In the real world, we use indirect to save time, have trouble passing the open-book ethics exam after four tries and sometimes have to choose the “best answer” without knowing for sure that it’s right.

While more education is almost always a good idea (unless you’re already over-burdened with student loan debt to begin with), it may be easier for our future candidate above to simply jump into a good CPA exam review and call it a day. Some of the cheaper review programs will only build on the candidate’s knowledge base or help familiarize with the exam’s format and content but the pricier, higher-quality reviews also provide the information the candidate needs to pass, regardless of their experience level.

Remember: because the CPA exam tests entry-level knowledge, you aren’t expected to be a expert in anything. Not everyone takes advanced accounting and while some of those topics are tested, any decent review course can give you just enough to scrape by if you aren’t familiar with those areas. Don’t waste your time taking extra classes unless that is a personal goal of yours and, if so, either do it before or after but not during your CPA exam attempt.

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