How to Prepare for the CPA Exam

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Sep 28, 2018

Sep 28, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

So, you decided to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Well, you've made a good choice, because the average accountant makes over $75,000 per year.

But, it takes more than a four-year degree before an employer will seriously consider you for this position. In addition to completing schooling, you'll need to pass your CPA exam.

Not sure where to start? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Let's take a look at how to prepare for the CPA exam!

Research Your Potential Accounting Program

The first step to becoming an accountant is enrolling in a college-level accounting program. But, where you enroll can make a large impact on how well you perform on the CPA exam.

Take some time to research the CPA pass rates of students in the accounting programs you are interested in. Understand, however, that programs with higher CPA exam pass rates are going to be far more rigorous than those with lower rates.

While enrolling in a less rigorous program doesn't mean it will be impossible to pass the exam, you'll have to do a lot more work on your own in order to prepare yourself.

Still, though, it's in your best interest to get into a program that will extensively prepare you for the test (you're still paying for enrollment, so you might as well get a lot out of it)!

Understand The Format

Before you begin preparing yourself for the test, you'll need to take a look at what it's going to be like when you take it.

The CPA exam is comprised of four parts:

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Business Environment and Concepts
  • Auditing and Attestation
  • Regulation

Each of the four segments consists of multiple-choice, task-based simulation, and written communication questions.

Each section of the exam is a 4-hour test that covers a wide range of respective topics and concepts. Thus, it's a total of 16 hours of testing in order to complete the exam.

There's good news, however: you have 18 months to pass each section with a 75 or higher. If you wait longer than this time period, however, you'll have to start the test from the beginning (no matter how many sections you already passed).

The test is offered during testing windows, which are typically two consecutive months of available testing dates, and then one month of blackout dates.

You can find a list of testing windows here.

You can take the sections in any order you like. If you fail a section, however, you'll have to wait until the next testing window to retake it.

While not recommended, it's possible to take all four sections during the same testing window. This will allow you to complete the exam within two months (assuming you pass all sections on your first attempt).

Put in the Time

It will easily take you hundreds of hours to thoroughly prepare for the CPA exam. There's simply too much information to comprehend for your studying to be done in a shorter period of time.

This can't be stressed enough, so don't think you can sit down a couple weeks before your scheduled test date and try to study everything at once.

Since you need to spend such a large amount of time studying, it's best to start preparing at least six months before you're scheduled to take your test.

From here, you can break things up however you want. Study 10 hours on weekends, 2 hours each weekday, whatever works best for you. All that matters is that you give yourself enough time to comprehensively understand the information that will be on each of the four test sections.

As previously mentioned, you have 18 months to complete all four sections of the CPA exam.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can study only one section at a time, take that respective section during a testing window, and then begin studying for the next.

Use Exam Simulation

One of the best methods to make sure that you perform well on the day of your test is to practice in as similar of an environment as possible. Otherwise, you may not be prepared for the high level of stress that comes with an actual exam.

You'll take the CPA on a computer in a secure room within a testing center. As you can expect, you won't have access to your phone or any other materials during the duration of the exam.

You can learn more about what to expect a testing center here.

If you're taking practice exams at home, take them in a room with as few distractions as possible. Don't get up to make food, don't look up info you don't know, and definitely don't check your phone for any reason.

You should be taking the practice tests on a computer/laptop, and you should devote all of your attention to the test until you've completed it.

It's also important to make sure that the practice tests you're taking are offering plenty of case-based questions and not just multiple choice so that you'll be as well-rounded as possible.

Seek Help To Learn How to Prepare for the CPA Exam

It can be difficult to handle all of the test information on your own. There's no shame in using a CPA test prep company to help learn how to prepare for the CPA exam.

If you have the money for their service, these businesses can go a long way in making sure that you pass.

To learn more tips about how to become a more qualified professional, check out our career blog!