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How to Pass the CPA Exam | Do's and Don'ts

Posted by Haylie Parkhill on Dec 4, 2017 4:05:00 PM

Congratulations you’ve decided to take the plunge and start studying for the CPA exam. Successfully completing the CPA exam can seem like a daunting task, especially with the publically posted (low) pass rates. However, the end result is well worth all the time, struggles and sleepless nights. Earning a CPA designation should result in higher earnings potential and additional career opportunities.

Need some advice on how to get started? Below are some of the “Do’s and Don’ts” that I've found helpful while registering and studying for the exam.

How to Pass the CPA Exam - Do's and Don'ts

Do Read the Candidate Bulletin

The CPA Exam Candidate Bulletin can be found on the NASBA website and provides a significant amount of information regarding the process of the CPA exam. Covering topics such as:

  • How to apply for the exam.
  • What to do once you receive your notice to schedule.
  • Examination content.
  • How to schedule your exam.
  • How to how to receive your score.
  • Scoring the exam.

This guide is an essential tool for all CPA candidates to read and take advantage of.


Don’t Overload YourselfHandsome frustrated student studying his books in library.jpeg

  • Register for only what you can handle.
  • Remember NTSs (Notice to Schedules) expire after six months.
  • Take a look into what you have coming up in your home-life and work-life and schedule your exams appropriately.
  • You don’t want to crash study (not effective).

Do Use Study Materials

Research how the study materials work and figure out what would work best for you (self-study, online classes, in-person lectures).

High performance in college does not necessarily mean you will pass the exam without the aid of study materials

My Personal Recommendations:
  • Becker (self-study option).
    • Able to personalize the study schedule.
    • Can re-watch lectures as many times as needed.
    • Numerous MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions) with option to re-set so answers are blank.
    • Numerous Task Based Simulations, like MCQs have the option to re-set so answers are blank.
    • Many payment plan options if you are not able to pay up front.

Keep your personal learning style in mind.  The above is what has worked for me so far but do your own research as suggested above.


Do Plan the Order in Which You Want to Take the ExamBusiness man with the text A Goal without a Plan is Just a Wish in a concept image.jpeg

The exam is comprised of four, four hour long sections (16 hours total). They are as follows:

  1. AUD - Audit and Attestation.
  2. BEC - Business Environment and Concepts.
  3. FAR - Financial Accounting and Reporting.
  4. REG - Regulation.

The Candidate Bulletin provides more information regarding the length and formats of each of these sections. There's no required order for you to complete these sections in.  Below is my recommended order and reasons for that order.

My Recommended Order:

FAR first

  • Building blocks to the rest of the sections
  • Covers many of the basics of accounting, thus gives candidate a solid foundation going forward when studying for the rest of the exam
  • Has the greatest amount of “suggested” study time
  • 18 month clock does not start until the first exam is passed, thus if you take this part first and pass there won’t be that added pressure in the end to study and pass the “hardest/longest” section
AUD Or REG next
  • Depending on your area of focus.
  • If auditing was your focus in school and you work in the auditing field take auditing and vice versa.
  • There's really no right order to which one to take next, they both have roughly the same amount of “suggested’ study time and also overlap nicely with FAR.
BEC last
  • Uses information from all three sections.
  • Has the shortest amount of “suggested” study time.
  • If getting close to the 18 month time limit, could be a plus.

Don’t Procrastinate!

  • Stick to your study plan.
  • When you first set up your study plan your test could be up to 12 weeks away.
  • Early in the process, it might be easy to replace your study hours with other things.
  • Try your best to stick with your study plan so you don’t have to cram in the end (added stress).
  • Don’t take too much time in between tests.
  • It's hard to get back into the study routine, so try to avoid taking too much time off.
  • Consistency will help you avoid potentially having to restudy materials you already learned.

Do Get Rid of Distractions

  • Find a good place to study that works for you.
  • Don’t study at home.
  • Leave your phone in the car.
  • Try your best to stay off social media.
  • Identify what it is that keeps distracting you from studying and get rid of it.
  • Avoid TV, phone, music, things you need to get done around the house, other people, distracting noises, etc.

Bonus resources: 
7 clever mobile apps to beat procrastination | PCWorld
10 Scientifically Proven Tips for Beating Procrastination | Forbes


Do Your Research for Testing Day

Know how to get to your testing center.
  • If you're unsure how to get to testing center, it might be a good idea to do a practice run before your exam day.

Bring the correct documents:
  • Prometric (testing center) will expect you to provide your current Notice to Schedule and TWO forms of identification when you arrive to take exam.
  • Refer to the candidate bulletin for correct forms of identification.
  • Name on NTS must match EXACTLY to both forms of identification (i.e., if middle name is present on identification must be present on NTS)
Arrive Early:
  • You must arrive at Prometric at least 30 minutes before your scheduled exam time.

Do Stay Motivated and Don’t give upHand Drawn Time for Transformation Concept  on Small Green Chalkboard. Business Background. Top View. 3d..jpeg

  • Remind yourself why your studying in the first place
    • Raise, promotion, competition between coworkers/classmates.
  • Feed off of that drive.
  • Remind yourself that the CPA exam isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon and that it takes time to pass
  • If you do fail a section, look at it as a learning experience that had made you more prepared for the next time around

Topics: The CPA Exam, Studying Accounting

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