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How Scary is The CPA Exam? Advice for Acing Your Certification Test

Sep 16, 2013

Studying for last law school examThere are few things as challenging and time-consuming in the career of an accountant as passing the CPA exam. And the statistics don't make it any less intimidating. According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, nearly 240,000 exams are given each year, and over 40 percent of the exam-takers are on their second or third go-round. It's not uncommon for the brightest of candidates to fail by just a few points. Yes becoming certified will earn you more money and let you compete for the best accounting jobs in business today. There are many different certifications available for accountants, with most of them dependent on their specialty, but there's no real substitute for the CPA. That's why it's important to take steps to ensure you're prepared.

1. Invest in Preparation

You might think you can tackle the CPA exam on your own, but spending money on test prep or training packages can put you way ahead of the pack. You can find materials that are geared to how you learn, from audio books to class seminars. Whether you choose an online review course or meet up with professors and colleagues in person, you need outside help. Even if you continue with self-study, you'll know what material to prioritize and how to pace yourself for the big day. Research any product you're thinking of buying online before you decide - usually CPAs on message boards and social media will be open with their recommendations.

2. Remember Marathon Studying

Practicing good study habits means tackling a little bit of material every day instead of cramming. Keeping the material fresh in your mind will help you retain information. Marathon studying includes incorporating books and audio material into every aspect of your life. Read on the bus, on your lunch break, and while you're waiting for your laundry to dry. Get an audio review and listen while you're working out or cleaning the house. But while you're immersing yourself, make sure you get enough sleep and step away from accounting for at least one day a week.

3. Be Honest With Yourself

Design your study plan around areas where you need the most improvement. No matter how great of a student you are, everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. The exam will be broken down into financial, auditing, regulation, and business sections. Your attack plan for preparation should involve breaking down these sections into the topics you most need to cover and saving your easiest areas for last. Spend some time working on the different question formats, as well. You might need to work on more sample questions in the simulation or essay portions than in the multiple choice.


4. Have a Great Test Day

It's normal to be really nervous when the exam finally arrives, but you should remain calm and follow the right procedures. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive. The testing centers ask for an extra 30 minutes for signing in, getting your picture and fingerprints taken, and going over policies. Make sure you have your Notice to Schedule ID number. By the time you arrive at the testing center, you'll hopefully have taken the sample tests and read over all the paperwork that lets you know exactly what to expect. If there are technical difficulties while taking the exam, be sure to report them - your total time won't be reduced for asking for help.

When preparing for your CPA exam, it's important to remember the long-term goals you have for your career. Keep yourself motivated and help your family and friends understand how important this achievement would be for you. You should take it seriously but not burn yourself out. Whether you pass with flying colors the first time out or need multiple chances, just being able to meet that goal is impressive. You're on your way to being a bright new star in the accounting industry.

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