The CPA Exam Process
Welcome back to the North Carolina State University Master of Accounting Student Life blog. This blog post will focus on my experience with the CPA exam. Disclaimer, there is a lot about the exam I can’t tell you because of signed agreements. Content, for example, is off limits. What I can share is the process of registering and preparing. I hope you learn something useful for your own CPA process.
Choose Your Path
For many of the students in the MAC, the winter break was a much needed chance to recharge those batteries and take a break from the studying. For many others, the time between Fall ’15 and Spring ’16 was a golden opportunity to study and sit for one of the four sections of the CPA exam.
I chose the latter of the two options for fear that a heavy course load this spring would prevent me from devoting enough attention to studying for the exam. This is on top of the MAC faculty’s advice to take the Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) section right after you finish the MAC classes that cover relevant material. In my opinion, the faculty is exactly right. At least half of my Fall semester classes prepared me for the BEC, which was very comforting. Every time a classmate would say they were stressed because they had not started studying yet, a teacher would tell them that by being taking [that class], they were already studying without even knowing it. Here is my plan for what to take and when:
- January – BEC after Fall Applied Managerial/IT Risk & Control/ERM (elective)
- May – AUD after Spring Advanced Audit
- July – REG after Spring Advanced Business Law/Fall Tax
- July/August – FAR after Spring Advanced Financial Accounting
Becker and Other Study Programs
As far as study methods go, there are three categories that everyone falls into: Becker CPA Review, Roger CPA Review, and independent studying. I highly recommend spending the money to use one of the professional study plans. It is a lot of money, but your chances of passing are statistically MUCH higher than studying alone. If you really want to pass the first time, do Becker or Roger. Not to startle you, but the CPA exam has approximately a 50% pass rate. At last check, Roger claims that 88% of those who complete its program pass. Both Becker and Roger will provide you with the material and format of the actual exam so you feel very familiar when it is time to take the real thing.
I used the Becker CPA Review program because the firm I accepted a job with paid for it. It is not uncommon for an employer to pay for most, if not all, of your CPA exam preparation. I used a code when I ordered my prep books and they arrived in the mail a week later at no cost to me. There are a lot of other perks from firms because it is in their interest for you to become a CPA. Some firms will reimburse candidates for the exam fees if you pass, which for four sections is a nice chunk of money. Many firms also offer cash bonuses and/or raises to employees who get their CPA license.
Live and Online Material
Becker gives you the option of watching online lectures or sitting in a physical classroom. The live classroom lecture course was held over a three day span the week after NC State’s semester ended. Attendance was good because many students wanted to be able to ask questions. I did a mixture of live and online lectures. Becker has software to install on your computer, but I highly recommend the app. I commandeered my wife’s iPad for the entire break and had it at my side at all times. It was great because it tracks your progress and you can easily pick up where you left off. Once I was hooked on the app, I barely used my book. All of the recorded lectures (which are nearly identical to the live lectures) can be downloaded onto your device prior to leaving home. We made a road trip to Georgia for Christmas and I played the lectures through the car speakers while my wife read multiple choice questions to me out loud. I owe her big time for that. Everything is broken down into sections and subsections, which I liked because it was less daunting. I felt good every time the progress bar moved closer to 100% done and I patted myself on the back once a section was green and I could move to the next.
Since faculty recommended early January for the exam date, I ordered my books in November, and did my Notice to Schedule (NTS) in early December and sat for the exam in January. A NTS is valid for 6 months, so by submitting it in December, it ensured that I could sit for my first two exams from January and May. When my NTS was approved in mid-December, I registered for the BEC in January. Do this as soon as you can because time slots fill up and you do not want to have to drive to another city to take the exam just because you waiting too long to register.
The actual time I was sitting down and studying was probably 3 1/2 straight weeks. The biggest advice I have for you is to keep your studying a routine. For me, 4 hours a day was all I could do before I needed to close the book and do something else. Do not study late into the night and turn your brain into mush over this. If you start early and study routinely, this is not a hard test. It is a lot of work but when I walked out of the exam feeling confident about my performance, it was well worth it. I am now in that painful waiting period before my score is released.
If you have a question about something I said or the MAC Program in general, feel free to comment or contact Cindy, or myself, on Twitter: @NCStateMAC
Good luck and go Pack!