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How to Pass the CPA Exam On the First Try

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how to tackle a huge looming project. Back in the summer of 2012 I was dealing with the biggest professional project of my life – studying for the CPA Exam. I’m happy to say that I now have my CPA license because I learned how to pass the CPA exam on the first try. Today I’m going to show you what I did.

Learning How to Pass the CPA Exam

how to pass the cpa examI read a ton about the CPA Exam itself before I started and while I was in the middle of it (and not at all after I was done). You have got to learn everything you can about it in order to pass. It’s important to learn from both the official source, but also from blogs and forums where people who are also taking the exam are chatting.

You’ll find out great little tips but also you’ll get the motivation to carry on when you get tired. Some places I looked at included:

Official Sites:

  • The AICPA CPA Exam site. The AICPA stands for the American Institute of CPAs. This is the official source for information and a must read to know how to pass the CPA exam. Let me repeat…Read everything you can on here. You need to know how the exam is scored, how to take it, the structure of the exam, and on and on. The AICPA makes up the content of the exam. Don’t rely on the blogs and forums for information like this.
  • NASBA. This is the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. NASBA administers the exam. This is where you sign up, and this is where on score release day, you’ll be coming and hitting the refresh key every 10 seconds to see if your score has posted yet. Don’t be fooled by the happy girl taking the exam in the picture. You won’t be happy, and you certainly won’t be sitting next to people with no barrier between you!
  • Prometric. This is the company that runs the testing center. Prometric will search and fingerprint you on test day (not joking). You’ll be in a room with people taking all sorts of other exams, not just the CPA Exam.

Blogs and Forums:

  • Another71. This is a website run by a guy named Jeff Elliott — read his CPA Exam story here and see for yourself how many 71s he got (passing is 75). This is a great site that includes a blog, forums, and he also sells exam review materials (more about that later). I got LOTS of motivation here, and LOTS of great tips. You definitely want to be on the score release thread on this site on score release day. You’ll know the nanosecond that scores have been released by NASBA.
  • Going Concern. Going concern is an accounting related blog that is fun and sarcastic. It’s kind of water cooler talk, but there is a section devoted to the CPA Exam.  If 20-something male humor is not for you, then you probably won’t be a fan.
  • Yaeger podcasts. Phil Yaeger from Yaeger CPA Exam review does a talk radio format, question and answer show. You can listen to the archives at the link provided.

To Pass the CPA Exam You’ll Need the Proper Resources

Here’s where the study materials come into play.

There are all sorts of exam study review materials out there — the big boy is Becker, but there’s also Yaeger, Gleim, Wiley, Roger CPA Review and lots more. You need to go read about each of the study programs to see which is best for you.

What is in your budget? Do you want to do self-study, or a program? Live classes? Video? Online? Books only?  Read about each company on their website. This is a great time to use the forums mentioned above to see what other people’s thoughts are on the various programs.

Roger CPA Exam Review

I ended up going with Roger, and I honestly think that was my best decision regarding the CPA Exam.

Why did I choose Roger CPA Review? Well, first off — my situation is that I was working full-time in public accounting and I have a husband and four children, not to mention various church activities and hobbies (no, scratch that — there are no hobbies or activities while you are studying for the CPA Exam). So I was willing to spend the money to get a quality course so that I could GET THIS DONE.

I did NOT want to fool around with this exam and fail a bunch of times. I knew that I would miss time with my family while I was studying, and I wanted to do everything I could to minimize that time. So, I was looking for an all encompassing study course that would take me through the whole exam.

For me, I was deciding between Becker, Yaeger, and Roger. Becker was out of our price range, and after listening to a few sample lessons from both Roger and Yaeger, I decided to go with Roger. Roger is as entertaining as you can be with the content, and he has tons of silly songs and mnemonics. I’ll tell you what though, those silly songs and mnemonics will be there in your head on exam day. And that’s really the whole point, isn’t it?

I used Roger’s package that at the time included study materials for all four exams including the offline USB video lessons (big plus). Basically, the flow was to watch the lesson and then do a ton of homework problems. My package included both the Wiley books for practice problems and also online access to Wiley’s test bank  – another big plus.

Roger has several schedules that you can follow. You basically choose how quickly you want to get this done — 3 months (craziness), 6 months (my program), or longer, and then he maps out a day by day schedule for what you need to accomplish on each day. This was fantastic for me — with family and work responsibilities, I really didn’t want to try and create my own schedule when I could just take one that was already done with proven results. So, I did exactly what Roger said to do for the 6-month program, and it worked like a charm.

The two extras that really worked for me were having the USB offline lessons and the online test bank. The online test bank was great because I could pop on there anytime and do a couple of multiple choice problems. I didn’t have a smartphone at the time, but there is a Wiley test bank app available. The more accessible the practice questions are, the more likely it is that you will use them. Instead of checking in at Facebook or Pinterest for a couple of minutes (hours), go do some multiple choice problems. The online access made this easy.

Roger CPA Review SmartPathRoger has video lessons that you can watch either online (click banner link above) or you can get a USB connected hard drive to attach to your computer to access the lessons offline. This was great for me, because in addition to watching the lessons as a part of my regular schedule, I listened to the lessons again in my car on the way to and from work. This really cemented the materials in my brain. You need to find any extra snippet of time and use that for study. Unfortunately, after my second exam, my laptop died, and so I couldn’t bring it to work anymore.

Click on the banner to the right to learn more about how Roger can help you succeed in passing the CPA exam fast.

NINJA Audio Program

So, at this point, I turned to another71.com and purchased the NINJA audio review for my last two exams. I discovered from listening to Roger’s lectures during my commute that I am very much an auditory learner. So, I wanted to find something that would replace that after the untimely death of my laptop. Jeff’s audio lessons are super-duper concise and are packed full of only the stuff that you need to pass the exam.

For me, the audio lessons were a great supplement, but I wouldn’t use them as a stand-alone product. Listening to them in 20-minute bursts on the way to and from work was perfect. Those audio lessons were in my brain just from the repetition, and I could see the results on exam day.

Support from Family and Friends

I’m afraid that this “how to pass the CPA exam point” is often overlooked and under emphasized. You have GOT to have the support of your family and friends to be able to do this. My husband and my kids were completely supportive. They didn’t moan or whine when I went to go study — they knew that this was a short period of time that would pay off in the long run.

In fact, my oldest son even got involved. When I was studying for Audit, I handed him the audit report and told him that I had to have that memorized. I ended up giving him that little buzzer thing that is in the Catch Phrase game too. So, we sat on the couch for about a half an hour each day for a week, and I recited the audit report to him. If I got something wrong, he buzzed me (he LOVED doing that). But, it worked. I got to spend some time with my son while studying and I ended up getting my highest score on Audit.

So, what do you do if your family and friends are not supportive? Well, one piece of advice that I heard is to just stay at work and study there. People are less likely to bug you there, especially if they think you are working late.

Kick it in High Gear

Now you know how to pass the CPA exam — you’ve got the knowledge, you’ve got the materials, and you’ve got support. Now DO IT. Go sit your butt down and study. This is probably the simplest piece of advice, but the hardest to implement!

Here are some things that helped me:

  • Turn off Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram/Twitter, etc. etc. etc.  Like, I actually went and deactivated Facebook. This is kind of putting it on hiatus, so it’ll still be there when you are done, but it kept me from checking Facebook. Those 5-minute Facebook checks should be spent doing multiple choice questions. I didn’t have Pinterest at the time, but if I was studying now, I’d have to disable that too.
  • Turn off the TV. We cut our cable TV subscription during this time, so it wasn’t really an option. And we saved money in the process.
  • Schedule your exam even if you don’t think you’re ready. Scheduling it will help you get ready. I knew how much time would be enough because I was following Roger’s schedule.
  • Schedule your exams in the right order. From the research that I did, it sounded like FAR would be the toughest. So, I scheduled that one first. Since you have an 18-month window to pass all four exams, I’d recommend doing the hardest one first. That way, you are not stuck at the end of the window trying to pass an exam before you lose credit for the first one.
  • Turn down time into study time. Like I mentioned before, I re-listened to my lessons during my commute to work. For most people, this is a significant amount of time — don’t waste it.
  • Cut out housework. For me, this goes back to the supportive husband and kids. I really didn’t do any housework at all during this time — Brian and the kids did it all, and for that I am grateful. If this isn’t an option, then I would only do necessary housework like dishes and laundry — and you can be listening to your NINJA Audio while you do that.
  • Keep your spirits up. Studying for the CPA Exam is just for a short but intense period of time. Remind yourself why you are doing this. I got encouragement from seeing the CPA certificates up on coworkers’ walls. Also, my kids made me a chart for each exam and put little balloons up by my score each time I passed an exam. It reminded me who I was doing this for.

Are you currently studying for it or want to ask some other questions on how to pass the CPA Exam? Let me know your situation in the comments, or if you have some advice for our CPA Exam takers. Please feel free to share!

Questions: Did your profession require a test to obtain a license? What was that experience like? Has your family or friends ever helped you tackle a big project? What other advice would you give on how to pass the CPA exam?

Author Bio: Kim Fourman is a licensed CPA, working at Loggins, Kern & McCombs, CPAs.  She rocked all four parts of the CPA exam and hopes you do the same. You can connect with her on Twitter.

Image by cpaexamclub.com at Pinterest

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. I share your tips my all friends this post very nice and help full tips for all students. you are a such good writer thanks’ lot Kim.

  2. I would love to transition into a more hybrid finance-accounting role and heard financial analyst for large banks or tech firms would be a good fit.

  3. “I used Roger’s package that at the time included study materials for all four exams including the offline USB video lessons (big plus). Basically, the flow was to watch the lesson and then do a ton of homework problems. My package included both the Wiley books for practice problems and also online access to Wiley’s test bank.”

    You bought Roger’s CPA review package and it came with Wiley’s books and test bank? How is that possible? Or did you buy both Roger’s and Wiley’s?

    • Yup — Wiley’s books and test bank came with Roger’s review at the time I bought it in 2012. I just checked the website, and it looks like the online test bank is still offered, but Roger’s website doesn’t mention if it’s the Wiley material or not.

  4. Congradulations. You forgot to mention one of the most important factors in passing the CPA exam on the first try though: Be incredibly smart. Everybody has to work very hard to pass, but my experience is only the brightest people pass on their first try. I’m a two-timer myself.

  5. OMG! I was laughing/crying when I read your blog. I remember studying for the bar while married with kids. Honestly, you will look back on that time in 20 years and seriously wonder how the hell you did it! Congrats!!!!! Glad that’s all behind you now.

  6. Despite working for an accountant the first four years of my life, and having enough credits to sit for the CPA exam, I can’t. I majored in finance, not accounting, so I’m unable to get my CPA. I don’t mind too much now, though, because I have some good experience and could pick up a CMA if I wanted to solidify my accounting background. I switched to FP&A a couple months ago, so we’ll see if I ever decide to go back to accounting.

    • My major was math, so it took me quite a while to have enough accounting courses to sit for the exam. At least it is something in your toolbox that you could pursue later if you wanted.

  7. I finished the CPA exam just over a year ago. I passed everything except for Audit on my first try. Failed audit with a 74- talk about torture! I used Becker I(and only becuase my employer paid for it!) Passing the CPA exam really gave me the confidence to go after my dreams. I always think, If I can pass the CPA exam, then I can do anything!

  8. Today I passed the written exam to become a long-distance truck driver. I was quite a difficult test and required much study. Now I get a week driving trucks to prepare for the road test. Passing exams to get to the next phas of our lives is an important achievement and I congratulate you on yours.

  9. All 4 parts on the first try? Very impressive. I think you’re definitely right about the need to cut out distractions. I can’t think of the name, but they have specific programs you can download that act as a firewall for a set amount of time, basically preventing you from doing anything but study.

    • Thanks, Ryan — we’ve got something similar that we use for our daughter’s iPod — I think it’s called “Parental Time Lock”. It locks her out after a certain amount of time per day. But, I’ve heard about the study apps too, and I think it’d be worth it. Whatever it takes to help with the distractions.

  10. Getting my CFP designation took a lot of time and effort and I didn’t have kids at the time, which made it much easier for me. So it’s a huge tribute to all of you for coming together and figuring out how to make this work. And of course, huge kudos to you for passing an incredibly difficult exam the first time!

  11. I had flash backs to my time studying for this exam. I did NOT pass all 4 on first try, but I never gave up and finally made it. The increase in pay for having the license is very real. The bragging rights are cool too.

  12. Currently I cannot obtain a CPA due to working for an inactive CPA. I could still go through all of the tests but if I am not planning for working at a firm in a relatively short period of time that would just be an extra expense that isn’t necessary at this point. Could I earn more as a CPA? Yes. Would I be working more? Yes. Not sure if that is what I want at this point.

    • Kipp, that’s wise to be thinking about it that way. You are correct, you have to be under the supervision of an active CPA in order to get your education requirement (at least that’s the way it is in Georgia). I’ve heard of people taking time off from their job to work somewhere else to get their experience in. But, if its not what you want, then don’t pursue it.

  13. Okay, admittedly, I could not read most of this post because I kept getting flashbacks to studying for the bar exam. And to pass that on the first try, I gave up everything – healthy eating, exercising, spending time with friends and family, and anything else you could possibly think of. I woke up and studied from 8am to 9pm – literally. It was a horrible experience but one very similar to everyone else’s experience. And it paid off! I’m glad to see you were able to pass yours on the first try, too 🙂

    • Haha, sorry for the flashbacks! I had the same thing when I went to go check all the links I used — especially seeing Roger’s video clips!

  14. Great tips! I passed all four parts the first time through because I was broke and did not want to pay the exam fees twice. I used Gleim because I had already purchased it for grad school and couldn’t afford anything else. It took a lot of time, but like you I had a ton of support. You really do have to live it and breathe it for months at a time, but it’s worth it. I’ll never forget the day I got the results of my last test in and knew it was finally over.

    • Congrats, Autumn! I have a colleague here that used Gleim too, and she liked it. You’re right — that last score release day feels AWESOME!!

  15. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    I share your tips on my daughter who will be taking her first CPA exam in November. She has started reviewing and it seems like she needs more focus and time to study. I’ve bought her a whiteboard so she can just monitor schedules and use it for calculations.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jayson — best of luck to your daughter. You really can’t overestimate the time needed to study for this thing if you really want to knock it out. It’ll pretty much dominate her life for a couple of months.

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