10 tips & strategies to pass the CPA Exam

Man studying with books and tablet

Edriena Gee Cooper is a CPA, tax consultant and CPA Exam coach & mentor, providing exam candidates with tips and strategies to successfully pass their exams. Read on to hear some of Edriena’s best tips for CPA hopefuls when preparing for the CPA Exam.

CPA Exam preparation isn't easy. In fact, this will likely be the hardest exam of your career. Since you'll only want to take each exam section once, here are tips for how to pass the CPA Exam with Becker on your first try.

1. Determine your why

Before you begin any journey, it is important to determine why you’re doing so. While some people desire the satisfaction that comes with being called a CPA, others look forward to the new opportunities that may arise from passing the exams. Starting with the why keeps you grounded and helps to remind you why you started this journey in the first place. You may desire better job opportunities, an increased salary or a sense of satisfaction for completing such a difficult exam. Whatever your why may be, it is worth understanding beforehand so that you do not lose sight of the bigger picture when things become difficult.


2. Set your desired timeline

Setting a timeline for completing the CPA Exam allows you to prioritize your time, since all 4 parts of the exam must be taken within 18 months. Therefore, establishing a timeline for yourself and factoring in unforeseen circumstances, like retakes, could help to ensure that you do not run the risk of losing credit for any section. The only thing more heartbreaking than having to retake an exam is retaking a part that you successfully completed!

One way to set your desired timeline is to take into account your other obligations (work, family, school, etc.,) and develop a reasonable timeline that does not lead to burnout.


3. Determine a study schedule that works for you

Are you a morning person? If so, studying in the morning as opposed to the night might be a better way for you to be as efficient and productive as possible. The common mistake candidates make is trying to convince themselves that they will suddenly become a morning or a night person. Studying for the CPA Exam is not the time to develop new patterns. Stick to a routine that is proven to work for you and work to  improve upon it for greater efficiency.


4. Get a review course

If you’re like the 99% of candidates who take the exam, you’re going to need a good review course to help you prepare. It is advisable to shop around and do your research when it comes to review courses. My personal favorite review course to use is Becker’s CPA Exam Review course. With a reported pass rate of 94%, Becker’s review course is proven to be successful. Becker also offers expert instructions and powerful practice tools to help candidates perform their best on exam day. Becker also allows candidates to register for a 14-day free trial to try the course and determine if it is the right fit for them.


5. Get a CPA mentor/coach or join a CPA study group

Your CPA mentor/coach should be a CPA who preferably has some professional and industry knowledge. For many candidates, this can be a college professor, a former manager, or even a close friend who has successfully passed their CPA Exams. This individual should be able to guide you through your CPA journey and be available for anything from tutoring on complex content areas to recommending exam strategies for test day. Many candidates also join a CPA study group to maintain their morale and share exam resources with other candidates. As a Becker user, you’ll have access to the Becker Facebook groups for each section of the exam (AUD, BEC, REG, FAR). Remember, you’re not alone. This exam was designed to be hard – but, it will be extremely rewarding once you become a CPA.


6. Stick to your study patterns

I often say that how you study is how you tend to perform during exam day. Make sure that you are creating a simulated study experience that reflects the exam setting you will be in on exam day. For example, I found that studying in a quiet area during each study session allowed me to become comfortable with the testing center environment on my actual exam day. Another way is to use a timer each time you take a practice exam. This will help to relieve the anxiety come exam day where you will have a timer counting down on your screen.


7. Limit the distractions during your study hours

Many candidates only have few hours a day to invest in studying for the CPA Exam. If this is you, you cannot afford to allocate that time to other distractions like social media. It is advisable to let your friends, family and employer (if you choose) know that you are studying for a major exam so they do not disturb you during your study hours.


8. Understand the CPA Exam structure and scoring

To do well on the CPA Exam, you must first understand how the exam will be scored. This will help you to allocate your time wisely on exam day so that you’re not spending too much time on one section, like multiple choice questions, and run out of time to answer the simulations or written response questions. Here is a resource for understanding the exam's structure and grading system.


9. Understand the different types of exam questions

Most candidates go into the exam not fully understanding how to answer the different types of exam questions. Your CPA review course should reflect the actual exam that you’ll see. However, it is up to you to ensure that you understand the different types of questions and how to answer them.


10. Finish strong

Go into your exam knowing that you have put in the necessary work to do great and perform as such. Remember, this is a marathon and not a sprint. You have all the tools to be great and successful.

You’re already one step ahead of the average candidate by investing the time to read through these tips. And with a great course provider like Becker, you can rest assured that you will be ready come exam day. Consider each passing attempt as a sign of your determination and view each failing attempt as an opportunity for improvement, not perfection. You’ve got this!


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Interested in pursuing the CPA path? Explore Becker’s CPA Exam Review offerings.

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