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5 easy strategies to help your candidates pass the CPA Exam

CPA Exam prepAs a recently licensed CPA, the long study hours, time commitment and life balancing I did to prepare for the Uniform CPA Examination is still fresh in my mind. After reading the Journal of Accountancy article in which members shared their personal exam experiences, I started thinking back to my own journey as a candidate.  

I can remember the moment I finally received the results of my last exam section. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief and, of course, pride. My commitment to accounting had paid off. But one thing that stands out to me is when I prepared for the exam, I focused on a few strategies for success. 

I know your firm’s CPA candidates will each have their own way to tackle the exam. But as someone who has been through the experience, I think it’s helpful for you to share your knowledge and personal experience. Don’t hesitate to talk about what worked and what didn’t. Let them know you understand what they’re facing.

So, where to start? Ask your candidates a basic question: “What’s your exam strategy?” If you get the long, awkward pause, here are five quick tips to share:

  1. Understand the candidate requirements

For anyone pursuing the CPA, this is where it all starts. The exam process requires quite a few steps, so it’s best to know the lay of the land ahead of time. My journey began with a seminar hosted by the New Jersey Society of CPAs. I learned all about what I needed to do, what the requirements were and which exam partners I needed to turn to for guidance. The key is doing your homework before you jump into testing.

  1. Know the exam content and how it’s tested

If you don’t know the subject matter and what you’re expected to do, how can you pass the exam? There are four sections of exam content and various concepts to study. The exam is not about memorization.

I started with a review of what was then known as the Content and Skill Specification Outlines, which gave a broad overview of what the exam tested. Today, your candidates have access to the CPA Exam Blueprints, which provide far more information to help them prepare. This should be the foundation of their study tools.

I also used several other resources, such as the AICPA’s sample tests, and paid review course providers. I even listened to audio exam prep whenever I was driving.

  1. Manage time wisely

I cannot stress enough how important this tip is. Eighteen months can go by pretty fast. I found it challenging to balance the exam, family, friends and work. Before I began testing, I created a study plan. This helped me stay on track. I worked my calendar backwards from test day, giving me plenty of time to learn the material. Along with filling the calendar with specific study topics, I peppered in work and personal commitments. This helped me better manage my time.

When it came to an actual test day, I had my own personal routine: schedule an early test time, wake up refreshed and avoid last-minute studying. This kept me focused on the task at hand: getting through each of those testlets. Once I was done, I spent the rest of the day doing something special for myself to celebrate all my hard work.

  1. Form a support network

I recognize that the candidate is the only one who can take and pass the exam, but that doesn’t mean the journey has to be a solo act. Friends, family, colleagues, professors and, most importantly, you, can be a valuable support network for a candidate.

Testing began for me after my firm’s first busy season. Fortunately, two coworkers were also starting their exam journey, so we teamed up for nightly study sessions. This was a huge motivator because we knew how the others were feeling and could lean on one another for support.

I also surrounded myself with people who supported my goal of getting the CPA license. One such person was my career coach at my firm. She kept tabs on my progress, offered guidance and gave me the encouragement I needed along the way.

Being a part of your candidate’s journey is a must for you. You have a vested interest in each candidate earning their CPA and the value they will continue to bring to your team. So let them know you’re there to support them.

  1. Rely on exam partners

It’s common sense that your candidates should be familiar with the AICPA and our other exam partners, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and Prometric. We give candidates the most up-to-date and accurate information they need to get through all four parts of the exam. So make sure your candidates bookmark our website (aicpa.org/cpaexam) and follow us on social media.

You can also tell your candidates to join our CPA Exam candidate group on LinkedIn. This is a forum where we share information and announcements, and candidates can connect with others taking the exam.

Early in 2018, the AICPA will introduce a new toolkit to help your firm support CPA candidates throughout their entire Exam journey. You’ll find tips to help them develop test-taking strategies, a tracking sheet to stay up to date on candidate progress through each section and an event guide to help you plan engaging Exam-related activities for staff pursuing the credential. If you want to receive news of the toolkit release, email us at pcps@aicpa.org.

Whether your firm or office has one candidate or 100, they are all facing the same challenges that come with embarking on the CPA exam journey. You’ve been there, done that. Now it’s time to share wisdom and offer the support you received when you were working your way through the exam.

These five simple strategies are not only helpful, but they can be a great icebreaker with a candidate first starting their journey. With these tips in mind, and any others you can provide, your candidates will be well-positioned to join the ranks of our profession. 

Elizabeth Burkhalter, CPA – Manager of Examination Content, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

CPA Exam prep courtesy of Shutterstock.

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