Tips On How To Pass The CPA Exam
by Tom Vucinic, CPA
As a CPA exam candidate, you have probably been bombarded
by ads from different companies offering courses that guarantee your success
in passing the CPA exam. CPA exam review courses are an investment of
time and money, making your selection important to ensure that you will
successfully pass the exam. In your quest to pass the CPA exam, the following
suggestions should help you when selecting the right review course.
1. Course presentation
Choose a course that will complement your learning style
and cater to your needs. If you need the discipline of a regimented schedule,
choose a classroom course. If you absorb information more efficiently
by studying on your own, opt for a self-study course. Review courses are
available in every medium imaginable, including integrated software programs,
live lectures, audio courses, video presentations, and, of course, a combination
of these. For first time review students, your are generally most successful
if you select a course with a balanced combination of classroom guidance,
self-study materials, and periodic evaluations to monitor your progress.
A good course should increase general knowledge, drill you on exam-like
problems, and gauge your weak areas. Also, investigate the presentation
format. Is an instructor in the classroom interacting with the students?
Does the presentation use multimedia resources?
2. Content and depth
The key to choosing an effective course is to find one that
utilizes the most up-to-date exam problems and essays available, while
presenting them in an easy-to-understand fashion. Look for a program that
provides materials based on topics from past exams.
3. Convenience and time allocation
Ultimately, the course you choose should be as accommodating
and efficient as possible. When selecting a review course, it's important
to have a realistic understanding of the amount of time involved in taking
a course. At a minimum, your homework and study time will equal the in-class
time. Find one that fits into your schedule. It may be helpful to find
a course that offers student tools and make-up days outside of the regular
class schedule---since you need to add study time to your already hectic
To decide whether or not a course will work for you, ask
yourself the following questions:
Since there are no shortcuts to success, are you committed
to putting in the time necessary to give yourself a chance to pass the
Will you benefit from lectures?
Are there make-up sessions available?
How far do you have to travel to attend class?
Are there hidden costs involved, such as parking?
Utilize free-trial programs before committing to a method
of review. This will help you decide on the effectiveness of the course
for your style and needs. Decide on a course as soon as possible to take
advantage of the discounts available to those who register early. Take
careful consideration to spending a little more for a course that may
increase your chances of passing the exam in your first sitting.
5. Tools and techniques
Inquire about the test taking techniques courses promote
in their materials. The benefits from experienced insight into mnemonic
devices and testing strategies will prove invaluable in alleviating test
anxiety. Apply these tools early in your course and determine if they
are truly helpful. If you find they are not, ask your instructor about
6. Help and customer support
If you are dependent on academic support, ask yourself how
many times you would e-mail your instructor for answers. It may be important
that you have access to your instructor.
7. Pass rates
Pass rates are misunderstood and misused. As a future CPA,
question the pass rate data offered and the relevancy to your situation.
For example, if you are a senior at Michigan State University, how important
is it to you to know how well the review course provider performed at
a graduate school in Virginia? If the provider doesn't publish local and
national pass rates, ask them why? Remember that the national average
pass rate for first-time undergraduate candidates passing all four parts
of the exam is approximately 10 percent. For any one part of the exam,
the average rate is about 30 percent. (It is somewhat higher for the Audit
and Law sections.) A review course provider that promotes a 90 percent
pass rate is either identifying a very unique market or is telling you
that nine out of 10 of its students pass at least one part of the exam.
As a CPA candidate, you are interested in the data regarding the number
of students who pass all four sections in your local area.
Once you have chosen a review course that best meets your
needs, your primary goal for taking a course is to absorb as much information
as you can in a short period of time. The following tips should help you
In-class lectures are designed to re-introduce past information
from accounting courses. Therefore, it's important to strive for a perfect
attendance record so that you don't miss critical information. The chances
of passing the exam are greatly enhanced if you attend classes and complete
the homework. If you know ahead of time that you will have to miss classes,
choose a course that offers make-ups.
The in-class lectures should be the easiest part of a review
course and will be very helpful as long as you attentively follow the
lectures and highlight items you are unclear about. After you go home,
it's important to take a look at the items that were unclear and review
them. Don't just review the items once, but come back to them at later
Multiple-choice questions are a tricky yet essential part
of the CPA exam to master. Flashcards are a great method for preparing
for the exam. After each lecture, set aside a few minutes to create flash
cards of the key points and definitions you learned in class. Also, make
flashcards for the difficult concepts and definitions. Once you've done
that, set them aside, take a break, and come back to them later. Also,
take this time to clean up your notes. Make sure your notes are complete
and easy to read.
Your flashcards should go with you everywhere for the next
couple of months. Whenever you have free time---whether it is on a bus,
in between classes, or eating lunch---take out your flash cards and review
the information. The more times you review concepts, the easier they are
to remember and understand.
Homework problems are an important step in the review process.
Answering previous exam questions is an excellent way to understand the
content and to simulate the exam. Make sure you not only understand the
explanation for the correct answers but also the explanations for the
incorrect answers and distracters. Reviewing material outside of class
can help to ensure a full understanding of concepts before the exam. Invest
in software that has old exam questions. Make sure the software scrambles
the information so you look at a "fresh" question each time.
Reading your notes is one of the best ways to remember what
was discussed days or weeks before. Set aside a couple of hours every
Sunday to review notes from prior classes. You'll be surprised at how
quickly you will recall old concepts.
Learn the tricks
Review courses offer simulated exam conditions and exam
taking techniques. Review the techniques to quickly eliminate distracters
and to assure at least partial credit, even when you are at a total loss.
Take time for a final review
Set aside the last week before the exam for an intensive
final review. This time needs to be dedicated solely to reviewing for
the exam. Take time off from school or work if at all possible. Most courses
will provide a format for the final review, but in general you should
memorizing mnemonics and exam formats
understanding all subject areas
reworking multiple-choice questions
answering essay questions in an outline format
Passing the CPA exam takes time, effort, and organization,
but with the right attitude and dedication, you should pass the exam with
Tom Vucinic is the general manager of Becker CPA Review.