How to Become a CPA: A Step-by-Step Guide Webcast
Join Tom Rogowski, CPA, and Senior Business Development Director at Roger CPA Review, as he discusses how to get from point A to point CPA in this webcast.
Hello, everyone. My name’s Tom Rogowski. I’m the senior business development director at Roger CPA Review, and I am a CPA, and I’m here to help you on your journey to become a licensed CPA. Before we get started, there’s always two pieces of information I like to share with individuals considering the CPA exam.
The first bit of advice is to not go it alone. Take a review course. I know you’re thinking, “Rogowski, you work “for a CPA review company. “It’s very self-serving for you to say don’t go it alone.” No, it’s based on personal experience. See, I enjoy taking the exam so much I took it twice. I tried to take it right out of school first time without a CPA review provider. Didn’t do very well. Thought to myself, “Well, I’m only going “to take this exam one more time,” and I decided to invest in a CPA review, and I passed the second time around. So first piece of advice: don’t go it alone.
The second piece of advice is do your research. Sign up for tree trials. Many of the review providers have free trials. There’s two things you need to look for when you take a free trial with a review company. Look for product innovation. Do they have something within their product that differentiates them from the other review providers that you’re taking a look at? The second item is look at the lectures. Are they engaging? Are they dynamic? Do they keep you awake? That is a second point of differentiation with respect to the review companies. At Roger CPA Review, our mission is simple: to change the way students learn to achieve maximum efficiency. We’re passionate about offering innovative products and services that students not only need but they love. An example is our SmartPath Predictive Technology revolutionizing the way individuals study for the CPA exam. It’s empowering future accountant to achieve their career goals faster than ever before, but that is definitely a feature you will wanna take a look at when you sign up for our free trial, and it falls under the umbrella of not just tools you’ll need to pass the exam but a tool you will love in the context of studying for the CPA exam.
So it’s an exciting time to be a CPA. I know that may sound like it’s an oxymoron, but it is an exciting time. Why? Because you have job security coupled with job flexibility. Let me explain that a little bit. I’ve been involved with the profession for 30 years, and accounts over the course of those 30 years have always been in high demand. Job flexibility. People tend to think of the traditional auditor or tax accountant. It goes well beyond that to the world of risk management, financial analysis, forensic accounting. You can be an FBI agent chasing down white-collar criminals. You get to carry a gun. That’s pretty cool, so there’s a lot of things you can do, and there’s a huge need for accountants today. You’re a trusted business advisor. We may hear that term quite often in the accounting space. Let me tell what it means to me. I have a network of friends, and oftentimes, they don’t know I’m a CPA until a couple of years into the friendship, and when they do find out I’m a CPA, there’s always two things that they say. The first thing they say is, “I didn’t realize you were that smart.” I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but that’s the first thing they say. The second thing they say is, “Can you help me with my taxes?” So in their eyes and in their mind, that obviously the credential. Even if they are not involved with the world of accounting, the importance of the credential is significant. You are also at the forefront of technological advances within the profession. Think of all the buzzwords today: artificial intelligence, data analytics, cryptocurrencies, cloud computing, all the stuff that I really don’t understand as a 52-year-old man but that you will understand when you journey into the profession as a CPA. Enjoying a better work-life balance. Oftentimes, the accounting world industry is considered to be a sweatshop. Not anymore. The millennials and Gen Zers that are entering the workforce or have entered the workforce demand flexibility with respect to work-life balance, and because they are demanding it, the firms are listening. The final thing and, depending on how you value money, maybe the most important, may not be that important. The money ain’t bad. If you look at many studies and compare those individuals, those accountants that went on to pursue their CPA versus those individuals that did not, the CPAs make over $1 million in their lifetime, in their professional lifetime, when compared to the non-CPAs.
So let’s get into the four Es with respect to becoming a licensed CPA. Educational requirements, exam, specifically the CPA exam, ethics exam or possibly an exam, and then work experience. I’m going to unpack the four Es but spend the bulk of the time on that second E, the CPA exam. So the first of the four Es, educational requirements, it’s state board determined, so take a look at the State Board of Accountancy rules for the state in which you plan to be licensed. Here are some standard requirements for a particular state: bachelor’s degree, 150 semester hours, 24 hours in accounting. The important point with respect to this slide is to recognize that there are educational requirements to be licensed. There’s also educational requirements to sit for the CPA exam, and those may be a little bit different, but consult your State Board of Accountancy. You can go to our website to take a look at the rules for your particular state, but recognize that they are there. So let’s jump into the second of the Es, the four Es, exam, and again, this is where we’ll spend the bulk of the time during the presentation, first on the structure of the exam and then providing you some strategies to tackle the CPA exam. So what to expect on the CPA exam.
In terms of at a high level, there are four parts to the CPA exam: financial accounting and reporting, auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, and regulation. Four parts, four exams. You take them one at a time, four hours each exam, so a total of 16 testing hours. Now, if you think about it in terms of your academic studies, financial accounting and reporting, and I’ll refer to it as FAR going forward, think of your intermediate accounting classes. Think about advanced accounting class. Think about government and not-for-profit classes. Many schools offer government and not-for-profit as an elective. If they offer, if your school offers it as an elective, I would highly recommend taking it, because it accounts for about 10% of your grade on the FAR exam. Auditing and attestation, in terms of mapping it to your coursework, pretty straightforward, your audit classes. I’m gonna skip over BEC quickly and go to REG, and I’ll come back to BEC. REG, think of your tax classes: individual tax, corporate tax, estate and gift tax, ethics, business law. Those all fall or correlate to REG. BEC is a little different. I like to consider it the mixed bag of tricks in terms of the four parts to the CPA exam, because it includes and is mapped to your cost accounting classes, your economics classes, your information system classes, so a lot of variety that’s stuffed into BEC. So what do you need to pass the CPA exam? 75 or better. If you get a score of 75 or better, you pass. 74 or less, well, you’re going to have to tackle that part again, or as my colleague likes to say, “If you get a 75 or better, woo hoo! “Let’s go to Vegas! “If you get a 74 or less, ah, man. “Hey, let’s go to Vegas.”
So the types of questions on the CPA exam, and I’ll run through these to give you some insight in terms of what to expect. Multiple choice questions, we all understand what multiple choice questions are. Simulations, you may not be familiar with the word tasked-based simulations. There’s various kinds of task-based simulations. I’ll give you an example of some of them that are listed here: document review simulations, research questions. And then there’s something called written communication. Written communication is only found on the BEC exam. It is not found on the other three parts. So let’s take a look at the types of questions. The multiple choice question, again, we’ve all seen multiple choice questions, so the format’s not important here. What is important is take a look at what’s around the multiple choice question, the exam interface. We take pride at Roger CPA Review in terms of creating an interface that simulates the AICPA exam’s interface so that you’re comfortable and confident on exam day. You’ll see the icons at the top. I wanna bring your eye to that countdown timer where it says 3:58 on that slide. That could be your friend or it could be your enemy on exam day, and a little bit later, I’ll talk about some time management strategies as it relates to the exam. Task-based simulations, this is what I refer to as a standard task-based simulation. You’ll see in this it’s a mini case study. In this example, you’re presented with some facts, and then below the paragraph of facts there’s a situation. To the right of the situation there are some empty boxes where you need to determine the impact that the facts and the situation have on audit risk. So what you do when you work through the simulation, read the facts. Read the situation. Go to the right. See that little icon in the box? You click on that icon and up pops some potential responses. You select one of those response, and you move on to the next icon in the box below it. So this is an example of a document review simulation. What’s interesting about the document review simulations, it’s a little bit more involved than that standard task-based simulation. You’ll see here a document review simulation will not only be the document itself. In this case, it is a document that was provided to you as an accountant that you need to review, and it’s a release of second quarter earnings, but you will notice at the top there’s some exhibits that you need in your review of the release. You need to review those exhibits to ensure that what’s being stated in the press release on second quarter earnings is actually accurate. So what you do is you read the release. You see the blue font, the comments in the blue font. You see the little icon again. You read through the release. You click on that blue icon, and what happens is you get a list of items to choose from. So you choose the item that is accurate after you cross reference to those exhibits that were at the top of the simulation. So in this case, you could agree with the text, you could delete the text, or you could change the text based on the options provided to you. Now, on to a research question. First of all, research questions are only found on FAR, audit, and REG. You will have at least one research question on those three parts, but don’t be surprised if you see two questions. In terms of tackling the research questions, treat it like a Google search. GTS: Google that stuff. You’re not actually Googling. You’re in the authoritative literature, whether it’s an Internal Revenue Code section or the audit pronouncements, and your goal is to drill down to the proper citation. So when responding to written communication questions, a few things you need to keep in mind. Stay on topic. Clear, concise, complete sentences using standard English. It’s okay to repeat key words from the fact pattern above. What you shouldn’t do is you shouldn’t use abbreviations, charts, graphs, bullet points. These are machine graded, and the machine cannot grade abbreviations, bullets, charts, and graphs, so keep that in mind. When tackling written communication, I think back to my effective business writing days, right, and some suggestions that came out of your effective business writing class. You wanna start with an introductory paragraph, and then you wanna support that introductory paragraph with some body paragraphs, and then a concluding paragraph. If you follow your effective business writing class, you’ll do absolutely okay on this part of the exam. Now, we just spent some time covering the various types of questions that are on the CPA exam.
I’m going to now talk about how those questions translate to your particular score. For audit, FAR, and REG, you’ll see that 50% of the score for those three parts is based on your performance on multiple choice questions. The other 50% is based on your performance with respect to the task-based simulations. So BEC’s a little bit different. 50% of your score on BEC is based on your performance with respect to multiple choice questions. Then, the other 50% is split between task-based simulations, 35%, and written communication, 15%, so that’s how scores are tabulated on the CPA exam. So we just spent some time talking about the various types of questions on the CPA exam and the way the exam is scored. Now, let’s talk about the structure of the exam holistically, and this is a visual that shows the holistic approach in terms of tackling the exam. If you look at audit and BEC, FAR, REG, you’ll notice that the first two testlets are multiple choice questions, with the final three testlets being task-based simulations. The exception is BEC. I had referenced earlier that BEC contains written communication, and those written communication questions are found in the fifth testlet.
A couple of items to point out with respect to these testlets, that once you complete a testlet, so you’ll be asked to complete testlet one, multiple choice questions. You’ll be asked to submit the testlet when you are done. Do not leave any questions unanswered. Guess if you have to, but once you submit that testlet, you cannot go back, so you’re on your way to testlet two, three, four, and five. The other thing I would point out on this slide is that after that third testlet, you will see a standard 15-minute break. Take that 15 minutes. It doesn’t count against the four hours that you have to complete the exam. Take the break. Stand up. Stretch your legs. Walk to the Prometric testing center lobby. Get some blood flowing, and then come back to tackle testlet four. I will also add that the importance of that break and where it’s inserted, you should be about halfway through the exam, so you should be at the two-hour point. So if you look at it a little bit differently in terms of time strategy breakdown, you’ll see the countdown timer reflected in terms of the 45 minutes on testlet one within audit. You should be done, based on your countdown timer on the exam interface, you should be at three hours and 15 minutes, but there’s some additional information on this slide that’s important, specifically the amount of time you should be spending on each of the questions. Multiple choice questions, you could range from seven 75 seconds to 84 seconds. Task-based simulations. I showed a standard task-based simulation. Those typically take 15 to 20 minutes. The more complex simulations, the document review simulations, a little bit longer, 20 to 25 minutes. Research questions, again, found only on FAR, audit, and REG. Those are about 10 minutes to answer a research question. You may have one, possibly two of those on your exams. Written communication, BEC only. There’s three of them. Each one, spend about 15 minutes. So that’s time strategy in terms of as you’re working through an exam. There’s other important elements with respect to time management, and those are shown in this slide. The top part of the slide: testing availability. The exam is not offered 365 days of the year. It’s offered during certain times during certain testing windows. For example, you’ll see in Q1 the exam is offered from January 1st through March 10th. From March 11th through March 31st, that’s the blackout period. You cannot sit for an exam part. So you can follow that flow through each of the four quarters of the calendar year. The other important element on this slide is you have 18 months to get through all four parts of the exam once you’ve passed your first part.
So one final item with respect to the 18-month testing window. Don’t find yourself scheduling the four parts of the exam across 18 months. You can get through this exam in six, nine months. Sometimes people take a year. You do not want to schedule to the 18-month period of time, because life has a way of throwing curve balls at you. You’ll find yourself maybe not passing that last exam and losing credit for a part previously passed. So a common question we receive from candidates is what order should I sit for the four parts of the CPA exam. You can sit in any order. This is our recommended approach, especially with new tax legislation. That new tax legislation will be testable on the exam on January 1st, 2019, so it’s not testable in 2018. Chances are if you are graduating soon or recently graduated, all your tax classes focused on the old legislation. That old legislation’s going to be testable on the exam through 2018, so the recommendation is the first part you should sit for if you’re beginning your exam process in 2018 is to sit for regulation. Then, once you sit for regulation and pass regulation, you should move on to FAR. Why FAR? FAR is the largest of the four parts in terms of the amount of material you need to understand and get through. It is often the most difficult exam based on pass rates, so we want you to get through the hardest one right after you take REG. Then, you can move on to audit and BEC. I have them in this order simply because I like to save the easiest for last, and BEC, based on pass rates and historical pass rates, is the easiest of the four parts. So this is if you begin to sit for your exam in 2018. Let’s say you’re not ready to start sitting because you haven’t met the educational requirements to sit for the exam in 2018, but you will start this process in 2019. The order changes a little bit, and it starts with FAR, again, for the reasons I referenced earlier, the sheer amount of material. It’s oftentimes the most difficult based on historical pass rates, so on and so forth. Then, after you get through that beast of an exam, the FAR exams, then you can move on to audit and BEC. Take your pick there. We have on this slide the fourth part that you should sit for is REG. Don’t sit for REG early in 2019, simply because the AICPA has told us that the scores released on the REG exam will be delayed a bit, because keep in mind they’re testing new legislation, so they need some additional time to figure what the scores are for the REG. So push that to be the final, the fourth part in terms of your CPA exam process. So moving on to the third E, the ethics exam. Again, state board determined. Not all states require an ethics exam. Consult our website. Consult your State Board of Accountancy’s website in terms of determining whether or not it requires an ethics exam. This is the standard layout, 40 multiple choice questions, self study, three attempts to pass the exam. You must score at least a 90%, so that’s 36 of the 40 questions you have to get right. Open book, no brainer, right? I get a question periodically. What if I don’t pass the ethics exam on my three attempts? I don’t know. I’ve never heard of that happening, so take it seriously, but if you can get through the second E, the CPA exam, you should have no problem getting through the ethics exam.
So the fourth and final E: work experience. Again, state board determined. Typically, this is the typical layout in terms of the experience you need to have to become a licensed CPA: one year of experience, and it’s typically under the supervision of a licensed CPA, and it can be fulfilled before, during, or after you take the CPA exam. But check your State Board of Accountancy website. I often describe the CPA exam in terms of the content that you need to get through as a mile wide and an inch deep, meaning there’s just so much of it. It doesn’t get too technical, but what you need to keep in mind that every one of us that are preparing for the CPA exam, we come from different backgrounds. We have different strengths. We have different areas for improvement, so up until the introduction of SmartPath Predictive Technology, the CPA review providers took a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of preparing you for the CPA exam, meaning they want you to work all the multiple choice questions two or three times, work all the task-based simulations, view all the lectures. It doesn’t make any sense. What you need is a tool that tells you that your strengths are, but more importantly, what your areas for improvement are.
Well, tell me more about the SmartPath Predictive Technology and how it works. Well, we looked at our data, and we have a lot of data and a lot of data on individuals that were successful studying with Roger CPA Review, and we found as we mined that data we came across a couple of diamonds. Specifically, there are two items that correlate to CPA exam success. The first item has to do with how many questions have you worked. The second item was what was your score on those questions. Those two variables are strictly correlated to CPA exam success, so once we found out that those are two critical variables, we’ve embedded that into our platform, and this, on the right-hand side, you’ll see a visual of SmartPath and what it does. It tracks your progress against those two targeted goals. How many questions have you worked, and what was your score? The importance of tracking progress has to do with the second item, maximizing your study time. Remember, I said the CPA review providers used to take a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of preparing for the CPA exam. This tool allows you to see where you are demonstrating your strengths and where you need to improve. If you’re demonstrating your strengths, move on. Focus on your areas for improvement. What this does, by having these visual cues and that level of tracking, it builds your confidence by guiding you on a clear path to success. You know what you need to be studying based on SmartPath. It provides a personalized learning experience that adapts to you. Again, the key is we’ve taken data from successful students, and we’re marrying it with your progress through the course. So that’s SmartPath Predictive Technology. Okay, so you remember the beginning part of presentation where I said there’s two pieces of advice I render to all individuals considering sitting for the CPA exam? One is don’t go it alone. Take a review course.
The second one is do your research, so this is part of your homework assignment in terms of doing your research. Sign up for a free trial. Again, look for product innovation and lecture style. Make sure that lecture style’s engaging, keeps you awake, so I can’t emphasize enough, sign up for a free trial. So in conclusion, this is what we hear from our students in terms of why they chose Roger CPA Review. I’ve covered SmartPath Predictive Technology. I won’t spend any more time talking about that. Dynamic, engaging video lectures, they keep you awake. Questions that you need, not just questions. Remember, it’s not about working all the questions. It’s about working the right amount of questions, getting the right scores. Superior one-on-one support, proven results in the form of an 88% pass rate, 200,000 successful students, Elijah Watt Sells winners, so reasons why students choose Roger CPA Review. So in conclusion, if you want to keep abreast of all changes with respect to the CPA exam, I encourage you all to sign up for our blog, and if you have any questions, connect with us on social media. I just wanna say thank you. I hope you enjoyed the presentation. I wish you all the best on the CPA exam and in your professional careers.
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