10 Steps to Prepare for and Complete the CPA Exam

by Christina M. White, CPA, Traphagen Financial Group – November 12, 2019
10 Steps to Prepare for and Complete the CPA Exam

With passing rates generally between 45 and 55 percent, the CPA Exam is considered to be one of the most difficult professional exams. The minimum passing score is a 75 and candidates must pass all four sections within 18 months. This can be an enormous challenge, especially when juggling life, work and other responsibilities while studying. Here are some best practices for preparing for and completing the CPA exam within the 18-month window:

  1. Don’t make excuses. The best time to start studying for the CPA Exam is now. Don’t wait any longer! It’s never going to get easier. You’re never going to be less busy. If passing the CPA Exam is your goal, make it your priority and make it happen!
  2. Make a plan (and stick to it!). It’s vital to schedule your study plan before getting started on each section. Deter­mine how much time you can dedicate each day to studying and map out your expected progress on a calendar. For example, plan to study two chapters per week then allow one to two weeks of review time before your targeted exam date. Hold yourself accountable and stick as closely as you can to your plan. 
  3. Schedule sections early. Scheduling a section of the exam gives you a deadline and will help to ensure that you to stick to your study plan. This is especially im­portant if you want to take a section at the end of a testing window. Testing can book up quickly, so reserving the date early on will ensure that you are able register for the date that you want.
  4. Study every day. Flash cards are a great tool. You can make your own as you study with important items to remember from each chapter, like acronyms and formulas. Many of the study materials now also have an option to purchase flash cards. By reviewing flash cards every day, the information stays fresh in your mind even if you aren’t able to commit a lot of time on a particular day.
  5. Don’t skip any chapters. All of the infor­mation in your study materials is fair game for the CPA Exam. Don’t skip sections or chapters because you feel they may be weighted less than other chapters. Make sure you get through all of the chapters and all of the information that is provided to you. It’s okay to spend extra time on areas you feel you may be weaker in, how­ever allocate time from your one to two weeks of review time in order to do this rather than skipping something else.
  6. Set a realistic timeline for completing all four sections. Keep the big picture in mind. Each section passed is a step towards achieving your goal. If you are working full time while studying or studying full time before starting work this may look different, but figure out what timeline best suits your situation.
  7. Don’t let a failing score become a major setback. Getting a failing score can be a serious hit to your motivation and your confidence, especially when you are al­locating so much time to study. You may need to adjust your plan to sit for that section of the exam again, but keep your focus on the end goal and don’t let it stop you from moving forward.
  8. Reward yourself. You are working so hard! So much time and energy goes into studying for each section. Once you sit for a section, give yourself a break or treat yourself to something special before moving on to the next section. Maybe it’s a weekend getaway or a special purchase you have been thinking about. Don’t wait too long to get back into it, but you deserve to take some time off to recharge.
  9. Seek out a mentor. Rely on your fellow professionals to help you get through this. Talk to your friends and coworkers about their CPA Exam experiences and what advice they can give you. Share your experiences with others currently facing the same struggles as you.
  10. Get in the right mindset. Come up with a good test-day routine that works for you. This isn’t the time to learn new information, but you can roll through some sets of multiple choice questions or browse through your flashcards.

Keep focused, stick to your plan, and nothing can stop you from reaching your goal! You can do this!


Christina M. White

Christina M. White, CPA, MS, is a senior tax accountant at Traphagen Financial Group. She is a member of NJCPA's Emerging Leaders and State Taxation interest groups as well as the Student Programs & Scholarships Committee. She can be reached at christina@tfgllc.com.

This article appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.