The guiding lines of, “If it was easy, everybody would do it” has been with me since my childhood. Never did I fully understand what that phrase meant until I embarked on the pride swallowing (ego suspending/shattering) journey that is the Uniform CPA Exam.

Regardless of if you are someone who is in the thick of test taking, or even just one that is still dabbling with the idea of sitting for the exams, you probably have at least some fundamental knowledge of as to what makes up the components of the CPA exam sections. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Regulation, and Audit and Attestation, make up the exam’s four sections.

I have sat and passed all four sections of the exam myself, and have been a CPA tutor for quite some time. After spending much time teaching CPA, and sitting for the exam, I always get asked the same question: "which exam should I take first?” The truth is, there is no magical formula to passing these exams, and each exam requires dedication and significant study time. Receiving a 75% is not about putting in “X” amount of study time or purchasing “Y” review course. Receiving a 75 % is about relentlessly reading material, relentlessly doing nonstop multiple-choice practice questions, and writing down all the acronyms and concepts that aren’t always so simple to commit to memory. Receiving a 75% is about having down cold 80% of the required concepts, and giving yourself a 5% room buffer for fatigue and error. Personally, I seem to continually carry with me the, incessant paranoia of failure. The little voice that’s telling me on test day that I still don’t know enough. At the end of the day I’d rather not have it, but that little voice keeps me humming.

There is a reason that the majority of people who study hard sit right between a 70% and 80%, and that’s because the exam is designed this way. It doesn’t test your ability to memorize concepts, or cater to those who are “good test takers.” It tests the candidate’s ability to absorb and understand concepts, and subsequently apply them to real life simulations, and complex multiple-choice questions. In addition to helping you pass your CPA exams, our team’s goal is to shell out weekly-ish blog posts of common questions, and an overview of things to keep in mind. We also intend for them to not be as dry as the material you are studying.

So, you ask me, “What do I need to do to pass?”

The answer is that every candidate is different. That being said, the exam is passable for any student. This is accounting, not biomedical engineering, or mastering Mandarin Chinese. Yes It it is hard, but it is doable — and far from impossible.

  1. Can you pursue this designation while working through busy seasons? What about your social life?

The answer to this question isn’t easy, and the truth is, there is no one-size fits all to this question, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Some of the smartest candidates I know, who work for the most prestigious firms in New York City, deal with the reality of failure, and letting exam sections roll over. However, passing the exam is completely attainable, but you must make sacrifices for it to be so. There are three large key components to a working CPA candidate’s daily life, and they must be managed properly in order to pass:

  1. Study time
  2. Work
  3. Friends

From my experience, I have realized that in order to get it done, the majority of people, that means you, will only be able to sustain two of the three items listed above. Thus, you’re going to have to sacrifice one of them. Assuming that studying will remain a priority, (and assuming getting the CPA designation is what you actually want for your career), this obviously is not going to be the sacrificial component.

So, therefore, you’re left with either taking time off work, or going entirely MIA from your friend group. I think you know where this is heading. In addition, presuming that the majority of us have to earn a living, sacrificing number two is often times, not feasible, making eliminating number three the easy answer.

It is paramount to your success, that you don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can manage all three of the above listed items, nor that you can cram for the five days prior to the test like you did before college exams. The harsh reality is that the CPA exams are designed to slap you right across the face with a 72%.

If you are serious about passing these sections, I am sorry to say, but sorry everybody, the fun is over — (for now).

Photo by rawpixel / Unsplash