Successful CPAs Recommend These Exam Prep Tips
When studying for the CPA exam, it’s easy to get lost in the magnitude and significance of the process. But at the end of the day, your ability to pass the exam comes down to how well you study in the weeks leading up to the exam.
5 CPA Exam Pointers Worth Trying
Historically, pass rates for each section of the CPA exam have averaged somewhere between 45 and 55 percent. In other words, roughly half of all candidates fail on any given section of the exam. And while the content is certainly difficult, the secret to passing is not rocket science. You simply have to take studying seriously.
Here are a few simple CPA exam study tips you can use to improve your odds of passing the first time:
Take Mock Exams
We can’t stress enough the importance of taking mock exams and completing practice questions. While there’s no way to fully simulate the exam day experience, a mock exam does a pretty decent job.
Not only do mock exams familiarize you with the material, but they also help you get comfortable with the format and timing. By actually sitting down and following the same timing requirements and rules that you’ll have to adhere to on exam day, you get a feel for how to properly pace yourself. This might seem like a minor issue, but it’s actually a huge part of passing the exam. The more practice you get, the better.
Use 1-on-1 Mentoring
There are times when you just want to talk to someone and bounce around a few questions. This is where having a live mentor is helpful. Most review courses don’t offer mentoring as part of the package, but you can look for ones that do.
The value of 1-on-1 mentoring is that you get tailored advice specific to your strengths and weaknesses. Your instructor can help you identify weaknesses, capitalize on strengths, and provide individualized feedback. They can even answer specific questions you have about test material or the format.
Try Adaptive Review Tech
It’s easy to get stuck in a “study rut” without realizing it. You review the same concepts over and over again, but fail to consistently put new content in front of yourself. This leads you to memorize the answers to a select set of questions, but ultimately fosters a false sense of security that you know the material. If you can find a course that discourages this habit, you’ll perform at a much higher level.
Not all CPA exam review courses are created equal. Many are very basic. In other words, you get what you get. Every student has the same studying experience. And though this can be fine, it’s not the most helpful approach. Every CPA candidate has a unique skillset and knowledge base. Treating each student as if they need the same preparation is foolish.
We recommend going with a CPA exam review course that has adaptive review technology. Wiley is a great example. Their FocusMe technology reviews each person’s aptitude level and dynamically adjusts the difficulty of these questions based on the area of need. This ensures you get a study experience that’s completely tailored to you.
Flashcards may seem like a very rudimentary study tool, but they’re actually quite effective. The reason they work is rooted in the concept of active recall.
Whereas many forms of studying embrace a “participatory” style of learning, flashcards require you to be more actively engaged with the material. (There’s no crutch to stand on – you either know the answer or you don’t.)
Plus, the physical act of creating flashcards is a learning activity in and of itself. (The process of writing the words down helps cement the information in your mind.)
Consider making flashcards for key terms and carrying them with you throughout the day. They’re easy to flip through between meetings, on the train, or while waiting in line.
Study in the Morning
If you’re waiting until after you finish work and get home from the office to study for the CPA exam, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Your brain is fried and you don’t have the same level of focus and willpower that you did earlier in the day.
Research shows that people reach their peak productivity levels in the morning. Unless you’re a rare exception to the rule (or have a schedule where you sleep during the day), your brain is going to operate in this same manner. You’ll have a clearer mind in the AM and a much greater capacity for focusing on the content at hand and truly absorbing it.
If you have to be in the office at 9 a.m. each day, consider waking up a bit earlier and setting your study hours from 6:30 to 8. This gives you a full 90 minutes of study time before the day even begins. (And you can always add another half hour onto the end of the day.)
Anyone with high school or college experience knows what it’s like to cram for an exam at the very last minute. You stay up all night and attempt to absorb all of the information that you should have studied for days/weeks ago. And in 99 percent of cases, the results speak for themselves. No matter how much you cram, you don’t perform well on the exam.
As you intuitively understand, cramming is an ineffective method of studying. But did you know that it can actually produce diminishing returns? That’s right – cramming actually hurts your results more than if you got a full night’s sleep.
The moral of the story is simple: Begin studying far enough in advance and you won’t need to cram. In doing so, you increase your odds of passing.
Make Easy Work of the CPA Exam
The CPA exam is difficult – there are no two ways around it. But if you implement these tactics and techniques, you’re almost guaranteed to do better than 90 percent of candidates who waltz into exam day on a wing and a prayer.
Take your time, trust the process, and remember that there’s no substitute for immersing yourself in the content and learning the material frontwards and backwards.