4 tips to help pass your first CPA exam

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The Certified Professional Accountant exam is a major milestone in the lives of many accounting and finance professionals. Passing the test means gaining the potential career benefits offered by earning the CPA designation. While the standards for sitting for and passing the CPA exam differ from state to state, having a strong idea of how to best prepare for the exam can get you started on the right foot no matter where you take the test.

Given that completion of the CPA exam is a goal for many on the Master of Accounting track, consider these four tips to prepare for — and hopefully pass — the CPA exam on the first try.

Accounting student taking notes.

1. Act quickly and with purpose

When to sit for the CPA exam can be difficult, as most test-takers are likely adult professionals with full-time professional and personal lives. One suggestion offered by Minnesota Society of Public Accountants is to prioritize sitting for the exam soon after graduating from a Master of Accounting program.

Why shouldn’t you wait to take this important certification test? One reason is the ease of access to knowledge learned during your pursuit of your master’s degree. Simply put, the less time between graduation and taking the exam, the easier it will be for test-takers to recall relevant and valuable information. Putting too many months between the end of classes and the CPA exam can make it difficult to remember the information necessary to reach the correct answer, especially when some or all aspects of learning aren’t used on a regular basis in test-takers’ professional lives. It’s also worth noting that, due to test-taking and other forms of assessment commonly used in master’s degree programs, many graduates’ minds will be primed for that activity when it comes time to take the CPA exam. Wait too long and that familiarity may no longer be as ingrained or useful on test day. The CPA exam allows for an 18-month window to complete the four parts of the exam, but that doesn’t mean test-takers should aim to schedule their last section during month 17.

It can also be harder to successfully schedule around the many personal and professional demands graduates face as time goes on. Prioritizing the CPA exam and scheduling it without too much delay between it and the end of your Master of Accounting program is an important part of approaching the test from a position of strength.

2. Prioritize your studying and review efforts

With the knowledge gained during your Master of Accounting coursework, students moving on to the CPA exam have strong foundational knowledge and, naturally, test-taking experience. That doesn’t remove the need to study and review the relevant material prior to the test, however.

It’s customary for between 40 percent and 50 percent of all CPA exam-takers to pass the test during a given quarter, according to statistics from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. That success rate means it’s not enough to rely on the knowledge gained from a degree program and professional experience. Studying – and creating a schedule that carves out the necessary time to do so – is vital. Learning the test material needs to occur in concert with developing an understanding of how it’s presented, the AICPA said. Using available tutorial and sample tests allows for a broader understanding of the CPA exam. A greater understanding of the overall testing format is critical, as it both provides benefits on testing day and can allow for more efficient studying and preparation. With a multi-choice, standardized test format in place, learning how the test tends to ask questions and where potential clues about answers can be found is critical.

In general, test-takers should seek out resources for improving performance. That includes:

● Practice tests.
● Advice from previous or current test-takers.
● Additional resources from the AICPA, state societies and other organizations
● Review courses

While those courses involve the commitment of additional time and effort, they also add another dimension of preparedness to test-takers’ arsenals.

3. Focus on yourself, not others

Review course provider Roger CPA Review highlighted an important but less-discussed element of the CPA examination process to consider: Not getting the other people in test-takers’ lives too involved in the details of the process. The CPA exam is long and complicated, with multiple sections taken over several months. The standards for passing are exceedingly high and it’s not uncommon to fail some or all of the test segments, sometimes more than once. For those unfamiliar with the test, this element alone may prompt good-natured but distracting or even detrimental concern that interferes with preparations.

Too much involvement from friends, family and coworkers can be a distraction and take time away from important preparation. Every test-taker is different, and some may be open to sharing details with the people in their lives. The important consideration to make is to determine one’s comfort level before any discussions take place. With this knowledge in hand, it’s easier to decide which details are shared with who at any given time, leaving the focus on the test itself and not the perceptions of others.

4. Create the best foundation possible with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Accounting program

An online accounting degree gives professionals who want to earn the CPA title a strong foundation while providing flexible scheduling that takes existing career and personal demands into account. With an award-winning faculty of industry experts, alongside plenty of networking opportunities, students in UAB’s Master of Accounting program get a robust education that provides many dimensions of learning. With preparation for professional tests like the CPA exam available, students also receive the targeted, test-focused support they need to confidently approach the certification exam. With UAB’s 100 percent online Master of Accounting program, students progress at the speed that makes the most sense for their busy lives and prepare for their CPA exams in the same fashion.

Recommended Readings:
5 Signs That Becoming a CPA Might Be Right For You
Interested in Accounting? Consider Pursuing These 4 Management Roles

1. https://businessdegrees.uab.edu/accounting-degree-masters/
2. http://www.mncpa.org/cpa-exam/cpa-exam-tips.aspx
4. https://www.aicpa.org/BecomeACPA/CPAExam/ForCandidates/HowToPrepare/Pages/default.aspx
5. https://www.rogercpareview.com/blog/10-little-known-facts-about-passing-cpa-exam