Learn Rachel Binau's 6-step strategy to win the Elijah Watt Sells Award

Trophies representing 2022 Watt Sells award winners

Earning your CPA license is an incredible accomplishment, and everyone who does should be proud of passing. However, those who go the extra mile deserve special recognition. The Elijah Watt Sells Award is an annual award presented to candidates who meet three demanding criteria:

  1. Passing all four sections of the examination on their first attempt 
  2. Completing testing during one calendar year 
  3. Obtaining a cumulative average score above 95.50 across all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination

One of the 2022 winners is Rachel Binau, who shared the six tips she used to win the Watt Sells Award. 

Choosing to take the CPA Exam

I was inspired to take the exams in the first place because of my mom. She has her CPA license and told me that if I get an accounting degree, getting my CPA on top of it will open up many doors for me. 

If you are thinking about getting your CPA, it isn’t easy, but if you do decide to go for it, you will set yourself apart from other accountants and create better career opportunities for the future. A CPA license brings a level of trust with the public that others won’t have. Plus, you gain all kinds of obscure knowledge that you can forcefully share with all your non-CPA friends in the form of “fun facts.”

6 Tips for winning the Watt Sells Award

I am a firm believer that I can break everything down into steps. Work through the steps, and I can accomplish anything I want. If you want to pass the CPA exam with flying colors, win the Elijah Watt Sells award, and brag about being the ultimate nerd, here are the steps that worked for me. 

1. Get Becker

When I asked people who had already passed the exam, “How do you recommend studying for it?” almost all of them said, “Get Becker.” That was it, and after taking and passing the CPA Exam, that was incredibly solid advice that I will now be passing on. 

Becker takes a huge amount of material and breaks it down into consumable sections. The instructors walk you through everything you need to know, and there are plenty of practice problems to apply what you learned. Plus, there are simulated exams that have the same look and feel as the real thing. If you are a person with test anxiety, like me, having a practice test that is as close to the real exam as you can get is a wonderful thing. Becker will set you up for success on these exams. 

2. Gather plenty of sweet treats

For me, this is by far the most essential step in the process. 

Studying for the CPA Exam is not the most exciting thing in the world. I know we didn’t sign up for a profession known for its thrills, but a sweet treat and a study environment that works for you can make this process much more bearable. For example, I need the pressure of people around me to keep me focused. I need to feel like people will silently judge me for being on my phone when I am clearly supposed to be studying. This meant that coffee shops were the perfect place for me to stay focused and get a sweet treat all at the same time. 

I would set aside blocks of time and get through as much information as I could while enjoying an iced caramel latte. People have congratulated me on getting this award, and I always give a shout-out to the coffee for getting me through it. 

3. Study like crazy and process the information as you go

I don’t know if you have seen the books that Becker will send you to study with, but they are thick, and passing the exams is easier if you can make it through the entire thing. I’m not saying skipping huge sections and passing is impossible, but it certainly wouldn’t have worked for me. 

By the time I made it through a book, I’d forgotten everything at the beginning. This is why the third step was to find a way to process and then recall the information as I went. I would create a short summary sheet after each section, write what I had just learned in my own words, create steps for each complicated problem to solve and then do the multiple-choice questions. 

After that, I would wash, rinse, and repeat on the next section. By the time I made it through the entire book, I would only have to study a few short pages instead of looking at the book and crying about how much I had to review before the exam. 

4. Do a final review

After you make it through the entire book, take a simulated exam to see where your weak areas are, and then complete the final review. Becker is a wonderful tool and has a final review booklet you can work through. I did these the week of the exam, and it was a great refresher on everything I had gone over. 

There is also a final simulated exam you could take. However, it is incredibly important that you know how you best retain information and study accordingly. For me, this was writing it down. 

When I tell people what I did to prepare for the exams, they look at me like I am crazy. I used all the summary sheets I made throughout my initial review and made stacks on stacks on stacks of flashcards. 

Becker does have flashcards you can use if you don’t want people to look at you weirdly when you keep pulling bag after bag of flashcards out of a backpack. Becker also has a great feature where you can design your own practice quizzes that focus on whatever section you want. I would review my flashcards for a section, take a practice quiz, create new cards for things I missed, and then do it all again for the next section. As you identify your weak areas, you can focus on those and maximize your preparation for exam day. 

5. Take the exam

My favorite Becker instructor was Peter. Whenever he would give steps to approaching a problem, he would always say that step one was to pray, but if you prepare enough, no praying is required. When I walked into the exam, I felt like I was about to vomit. Then I left, certain I had failed. 

I did not fail. I scored really well. So, if you walk out feeling terrible about yourself, know that you can always surprise yourself. 

6. Celebrate 

After taking the exam, I had to wait several weeks to find out my score. When score release day would finally arrive, I would check constantly to see if scores were magically released early. Finally, after ages had passed, my Reddit-loving friend would see that people were posting their scores to the CPA thread. 

Every time, I would sit there obsessively refreshing my screen, and when that little number finally popped up, I would shout with joy and open the $12 bottle of sangria I splurged on and celebrate. Until I took the last exam, my celebrations would only last one night, and I would go right back to studying. 

On the last one, when I realized I had won an award for studying way too much, I went crazy and got a bottle of sangria and a $14 pizza. Knowing I had gotten that CPA license was incredible, and it made all the studying worth it. 

Plus, I got ultimate bragging rights over all my friends with the Elijah Watt Sells award. Of course, in the majority of the states, that CPA license is also pending an ethics exam because the tests never want to let you go. 

You can pass the CPA Exam, too

This six-step process makes passing seem easier than it is because I compressed hours and hours of studying into one step. But, if you can commit the time and effort to this, passing the CPA exam will be a breeze. Well, it may be a very strong wind that knocks you down multiple times, but I’m from Kansas and winds like that happen all the time. You can get back up, hope nobody saw you fall over, and then keep on studying.  

And if you don’t pass, know that it’s okay to feel discouraged. Plenty of people don’t pass on the first try - just go back, keep studying, and get ready to take it again.

Start your CPA Exam prep with Becker

We are so proud of Rachel and her incredible accomplishment. Over 90 percent of all Elijah Watt Sells Award winners relied on Becker to help them reach their goals. 

Ready to start your exam prep? Sign up for a free 14-day CPA exam demo and see why more people have trusted Becker for over 60 years.

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