What I Wish I Did Differently for the CPA Exam

On the road of life, nothing is ever for certain and unfortunately there’s no crystal ball that will tell you what an experience will be like so that you can be 100% foolproof when the time comes to go through it. If everyone was able to see how they would do on the CPA Exam and what they needed to do to pass it the first time, the journey to obtain licensure would be simple. But, like anything else, hindsight with the CPA Exam experience is 20/20. Here’s a list of things I wish I’d done from the beginning.

Start studying immediately

Before passing the first exam it was easy to keep pushing it back. I eventually realized, there’s always a group of friends planning a trip, people in town for the weekend, or a stack of files to get through at work.

Tell fewer people I’m working toward the certification

Answering questions like “What’s the exam cover?” and “How long until you know if you passed?” got old fast. After an exam the first thing people would ask is how I did. If I thought I failed, they’d give me some awkward encouragement. If I thought I passed, my family and each group of friends would want to meet up and celebrate when I knew I was on a tight deadline for the next section. Also, not everyone understood why I couldn’t take a break from studying to come out for a drink or help them move furniture, but no one questioned it if I said I was working or had other commitments.

Study over a shorter period of time

Initially, I tried to space out studying for each section over several months so I could fit it into my schedule without having to sacrifice anything. I started forgetting what I had learned in the first few weeks and I had trouble keeping pressure on myself when I knew the exam was still several months out.

Trim my schedule

It was possible to juggle after work activities with preparing for the exam, but it was significantly less stressful when all I had to think about after work was studying. I moved investments to index funds that I didn’t have to monitor, started buying things online I’d normally get at a store, and started taking my car into the shop for things I would typically do myself.

Put more energy into studying right before an exam

It’s been estimated that the average person can retain over 44% of information learned within the last couple hours, about 30% of information within the last couple days, and only about 20% of information learned 30 days prior (Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve). Before each of the last two exams I took several days to a week off of work. The conventional wisdom says study repetitively and log the information to long term memory, but for me, cramming a little seemed to be effective.

Avoid getting stuck on the details

I was constantly pausing lectures to memorize lists or formulas. Watching lectures straight through (while taking notes) has worked better. Anything I missed during the lecture I’d be forced to review in the book when I got to the questions and flashcards. Additionally, most of the material on the exams I’ve taken were high level, important concepts. For example, I wasted a lot of time memorizing the phase outs in REG and I only remember one of those questions being on the exam.

Keep up the momentum

I typically take breaks from studying after a test or toward the end of the month (when things start coming due at work). A one or two day break was sometimes necessary, but letting it stretch out longer made it tough to get back into the daily routine of studying.

From one CPA Exam candidate to another, I hope you guys find this advice helpful and that it can influence you to change your study habits or routines to accommodate the Exam if you’re in a similar situation. Leave us a comment below if there are things you agree with in this post or if there are other things you would do differently the second time around. Good luck and thanks for reading!

-Tyler Remington, Guest Blogger for Roger CPA Review

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