Why Now Is the Time to Study For the CPA Exam and Why FAR Should Be First

Not sure if you’ve heard but the world is a little topsy-turvy these days. Many accountants who just a month ago were thinking about how to survive busy season are now adjusting to a new normal in which work is done from the comfort of home and in-person meetings are replaced by video conferencing.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Prometric took the extraordinary step to close testing centers across the U.S. and Canada in March, leaving many CPA exam candidates to wonder “what happens to my exam?” Prometric is now scheduled to reopen on May 1, but as we all know state and federal authorities are continually adjusting shelter-in-place policies, so we’ll see if that date sticks. It seems no one really knows what’s going to happen and we’re all just trying to do our best day-to-day in all this uncertainty. The good news is you can sign up to receive coronavirus text alerts from Gleim to get the latest CPA exam info so you’ll know right away if that situation changes. At least that’s one less thing to worry about.

Meanwhile, NASBA announced that due to Prometric closures they would extend the Notice to Schedule for candidates with an NTS expiring between April 1 and June 30 until Sept. 30, 2020. The 2020 second quarter CPA exam testing window was due to open on April 1, but obviously it looks like May 1 now.

NASBA says not to contact your board of accountancy regarding NTS extensions; they’re working on it. Candidates are, however, encouraged to monitor NASBA’s website and social media for updates.

So, what are candidates supposed to do with this information? “Freak out” is not the answer, sorry. You’re probably going to be surprised by our suggestion. Hope you’re sitting down: STUDY.

I know what you’re thinking. “Are you crazy, lady? Why would I study when I can’t even schedule my exam right now?!” I assure you I’m sane. Bear with me, let me explain.

Anyone who has studied for the CPA exam while working — which is a good chunk of people who have ever sat for the exam — will tell you it’s difficult to balance work, studying, and all the other things human beings do when they’re not working and studying. It’s doable obviously or no one would ever pass, but it’s a delicate balancing act that requires discipline and determination. Here’s the thing: Due to COVID-19, a lot of you don’t have commutes to worry about (unless bed to couch to kitchen counts, which I assure you it doesn’t). That right there frees up time, potentially A LOT of time depending where you live. Know what you can do with that time? STUDY.

Maybe you were one of the lucky ones pre-pandemic who didn’t have a long commute. No doubt the ’Rona has opened up several time-saving opportunities you can now apply to studying for the CPA exam other than not commuting. For example:

  • Gym rat? Not any more, bucko! All that time you used to spend pumping iron is wide open. Use it.
  • Chronic Tinder-swiper? Yeah, those dates aren’t happening. Put the time you used to spend swiping toward studying.
  • Parent? Believe it or not, even you guys now have a unique chance to capture some free time. Think about it, all that time you used to spend carting your beautiful little spawn to soccer and band practice and softball is all yours to do with as you please. STUDY.

Or let’s look at a different scenario. Let’s say you’re a soon-to-be grad or recently graduated. Congratulations, first off. With so much up in the air right now, it might not seem like the best idea to clamp down and start studying, but think about it, what better time than when you have nothing but time? If you, like many grads, had penciled in some travel time post-graduation, you can pretty much assume that’s out. Why not use that time to study? That big trip you had planned will be waiting for you when all of this blows over.

The biggest and most obvious benefit to studying now is that you probably have the time to do so. At least more time than you’d usually have. “I’ll study when I have time” has never been a very wise study plan for CPA exam candidates, but hey, finally all y’all who tell yourselves that have no excuse. For everyone else, studying can also help lend a bit of security in uncertain times. I know your CPA review materials aren’t normally what you’d associate with comfort, but in this case, a little routine can help keep you focused and on-track.

On board? Good. So let’s talk about a plan.

Even in the most normal of times it’s a wise idea to develop a study schedule and stick to it. How that looks varies by candidate, but generally speaking, you can start by loosely plotting out the order in which you will sit for the four parts, your time frame to do so, and then budget your available study time from the day you begin studying a section up until test day.

Obviously with Prometric closed for the time being that might get tricky, but let’s say you go for the “knocking out the section most find the hardest” approach and decide to sit for FAR first. How convenient, because the remainder of this article is about how to tackle the beast.

There’s a reason FAR has the reputation it does as the sheer breadth and volume of information means it takes the longest to study. That’s a good thing as it means there’s plenty to keep you busy while Prometric is closed, but FAR’s size makes it an easy contender for the “worst” CPA exam section. As one former Gleim candidate wrote in their advice for passing FAR, “The only thing I can think of that’s worse than taking FAR is taking FAR more than once.”

So we know Financial Accounting and Reporting covers a lot of topics, but you’ll be relieved to know that many of them should be familiar to you as they were covered in school.

FAR Exam Syllabus
Content Percentage
25-35%
30-40%
20-30%
5-15%

See? Hopefully knowing you already have a foundation in this area helps you feel slightly less intimidated by the sheer volume of this section. Besides familiarity, however, there are more reasons to choose FAR as your first section.

“Starting with FAR makes the most sense because, quite frankly, it is by far the most difficult section of the CPA exam,” says Garrett Gleim, CPA, CGMA. “You have to learn generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to identify, conceptualize, and analyze transactions. At the end of the day, FAR is the section where you learn those fundamental skills, and AUD, BEC, and REG all assume some underlying knowledge of GAAP. Further, you want your 18-month completion window to begin after passing FAR because with FAR under your belt, you’ll be ahead of the game for the other sections.”

We won’t get too deep into the nitty-gritty here but a question many candidates have about this section in particular is how to tackle it without getting overwhelmed. Lucky for them, our friends at Gleim have some FAR-specific advice:

1. Put in plenty of practice with multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. Practice MCQ and TBS will be your friend as you work through FAR. OK, maybe not a friend. More like a helpful companion.

2. You’ll want to make sure you’re proficient with journal entries, schedules, and T-accounts. This one is pretty straightforward. Because FAR is the most accounting-y of the four CPA exam sections, expect lots of the above.

3. Practice rewording information rather than simply reciting it. You’ll know you’re familiar with FAR topics when you’re able to explain them using your own words. Rote memorization simply won’t help you here.

For more guided advice like the above, be sure to grab your free CPA exam study guide from Gleim which offers tips, tricks, and all the basics you need to know about taking the exam.

Although it seems like so many things are up in the air right now, one thing you have control of is sticking to your CPA exam study schedule so you’re ahead of the game when Prometric’s doors reopen. Why not use this time to get yourself one step closer to your goal of passing the CPA exam? It’s either that or re-watch Breaking Bad for the fifth time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but imagine how good you’ll feel when all this blows over knowing that you made an investment in your future and got yourself that much closer to your ultimate goal of licensure.

Studying can feel overwhelming, especially now. But it doesn’t have to! We at Gleim are here for you. Our courses support you from start to finish and take away all the guesswork so that studying at home doesn’t feel like studying alone. Our SmartAdapt™ course will guide you through the topics you need to master and tell you when you’re ready to sit for the CPA Exam. We deliver complete coverage of exam content through easy-to-understand outlines, plus on-demand, closed-captioned videos when you need a professor to teach you the concepts (or you just want to see someone else’s face). Best of all, our Personal Counselors are here to provide one-on-one assistance—they’re adjusting to remote life too, and would be thrilled to receive your call or email!

When it’s time to test your exam readiness, our mock exams are closer to the real exam than any other you will find. Demo FAR for free today and make the most of your time at home by joining the millions who have passed with Gleim!

Related articles