When it comes to passing something as challenging as the CPA exam, success can lie in the details. Embrace the smart techniques and tactics, and you’ll dramatically improve your chances of passing the exam with a high score.
Reality Check: CPA Exam Pass Rates
When people say the CPA exam is difficult, they aren’t kidding. It’s arguably one of the most difficult professional exams in the world – regardless of the industry. All you have to do is look at the pass rates (which are published on a quarterly basis).
For the first quarter of 2021, the pass rate for each of the four sections of the exam was as follows:
- AUD: 48.56 percent
- BEC: 62.16 percent
- FAR: 46.64 percent
- REG: 59.29 percent
And guess what? Those numbers are significantly better than the historic average for each section. (Due to COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdowns, people had more time to study for the CPA exam.)
Under normal circumstances, CPA exam pass rates tend to hover in the 45 to 50 percent range for each section. The most difficult part is that once you pass the first exam, you have only 18 months from that point to pass each of the remaining three parts.
If you want to be successful in obtaining your CPA charter, you can’t waltz through the process. You have to buckle down and take it seriously all the way.
4 CPA Exam Prep Hacks to Boost Your Results
If you’re going to pass each of the four sections within a span of 18 months, you have to push steadily forward. And though a few high-level strategies may help you along, sometimes the simple little hacks deliver the most profound results.
Here are a few you may find useful.
1. Choose the Right CPA Exam Course for You
The first step is arguably the most important. If you want to pass the CPA exam, start by selecting a course that’s going to set you up for the months-long study process. Dozens of online course providers claim to be the best, though, so how do you narrow down the options and home in on the best one for you?
Though there are dozens of features to look for in a CPA review course, we recommend filtering through them by looking at how the content is structured. Avoid stagnant, cookie-cutter courses where every student receives the same curriculum and coursework.
Instead, look for options like the Wiley CPA Review Course from EfficientLearning.com, which has dynamic and adaptive technology that adjusts the difficulty of questions to fit your individual needs. (Otherwise, it’s easy to get caught up in the false security that comes from reviewing information you already know to the exclusion of concepts you haven’t encountered.)
2. Get Mentally Prepared
Mental preparation is a vital factor in passing the exam. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:
- Always know your why. If your only focus is on passing the CPA exam for the sake of it, you could lose momentum and interest, and your focus will fizzle out. But if you know why you want to become a CPA – e.g., to show your kids it’s possible to be an engaged parent and still have a successful career – you’re more likely to stay the course.
- Prepare ahead of time for the fact that you could fail the exam (and have a game plan for how you’ll handle that).
- Maintain the proper perspective. Understand that while you’re making short-term sacrifices, there are long-term gains on the far side.
3. Create a Detailed Study Plan
The individuals who are most successful with the CPA exam are the ones who intentionally carve out time to study. They don’t just log into their review course every couple of days and spend 30 minutes randomly studying various topics.
They actually plan an entire study calendar several months in advance. This might seem like overkill, but the reality is that whatever gets planned gets done.
4. Schedule Time for Deep Work
People often think they’re studying when they’re really just spending time with the study materials. There’s a big difference between reviewing information and engaging in deep work.
That happens only during periods of total and absolute focus. And the only way to reach a state of deep work is to plan for it. You have to set aside dedicated periods for uninterrupted work.
You do this by scheduling time when you isolate yourself from others, turn off electronic devices, and silence all notifications. The goal is to achieve a zen-like focus in which you’re able to marinate in the information. (Hint: You can only do this for a limited period of time – typically one to two hours – before your brain’s capacity for high-level concentration evaporates.)
In addition to regular study time, you should aim to get at least five to six hours of deep-work study each week. It’s during those periods that you’ll learn the most.
Success is in the Follow-Up
If you’ve ever spent any time in sales, you’ve likely heard the saying, “Success is in the follow-up.” The idea is that you won’t always win the sale the first time you meet with someone, but if you follow up with prospects, you can consistently convert more of them into customers.
A similar dynamic may occur with regard to preparation for the CPA exam. As previously mentioned, pass rates are relatively low; on average, one out of two people will have to retake a couple sections of the exam.
Though you should never go into an exam expecting to fail, planning ahead for that possibility will prepare you for greater success in the long run. One way to do this is by conducting a brain dump immediately after each section of the exam.
As soon as the exam ends, take 10 to 15 minutes and “download” all of the data that’s floating around inside your brain. Jot down the items you weren’t prepared for, which concepts were heavily tested, which concepts were not heavily tested, what topics were difficult, etc.
Don’t assume you’ll be able to recall this information later. Your memory may not cooperate. By recording the details immediately, you’ll give yourself an advantage for the next round of testing, should you fail to pass.