CPA Exam Tips from an Elijah Watt Sells Award Winner

    elijah watt sells award 2014The NINJAs recently caught up with Matt Durette – a 2014 Elijah Watt Sells Award Winner, to get his take on the CPA Exam, winning the EWS Award, and find out about his future plans.

    Tell us about yourself – what is your educational and work background?

    I received my B.S. in Accountancy from Arizona State University in 2010. I then went to work as an accountant for a real estate services company for about 3 1/2 years.

    I knew I wanted to get into tax, so I decided to go back to school at night and did the Master of Taxation program at ASU from 2012 to 2014. After graduation, I started working at a top-10 public accounting firm in the tax group.

    I am also a married father of three: ages 8, 5, and 2. My family has been a tremendous support during work, school, and CPA exam preparation.

    Which CPA Exam section did you take first? Any particular reasoning for your choice?

    My exam process was:
    1. FAR
    2. AUD
    3. REG
    4. BEC.

    I started with FAR because I heard it was the most difficult, and wanted to get that one out of the way. I think that’s a decent order to take the CPA Exam.

    Which section was your best study experience (i.e. least-painful) and which section was your worst?

    I am not sure that I had a least-painful CPA Exam study experience, but I would say that BEC was the hardest for me. I had about five weeks to prepare, and I was never very comfortable with the concepts covered in BEC in school, particularly managerial accounting and economics.

    How many hours/week on average did you study? What was your study routine?

    Financial Accounting and Reporting (96)

    I started FAR in mid-March and took the exam at the end of May. I did 1 to 1 1/2 sections from Becker each week. I was studying during my last quarter in the MTAX program, so the amount of hours I could dedicate to the exam varied week by week. On average, I would say I put in 15-20 hours per week for FAR.

    Typically, I would watch the video lecture one night after work, then reread the chapter and take detailed notes the next night, then work through most of the problems on the 3rd night. I graduated in mid-May, so I spent the last two weeks of May in a detailed review of the material, which included retyping my notes, making flash cards, memorizing journal entries, and working as many MCQs as I could.

    Auditing and Attestation (99)

    I started AUD the day after I took FAR. I wasn’t sure if I had passed or not, but I decided to move forward anyway. I spent about 20 hours per week on Audit; usually 2-3 hours per weeknight and 5 hours on Saturday.

    I followed the same strategy as FAR — video lecture one night, rereading the chapter and taking notes the next, then working through the MCQs the third/fourth. I had about 3 weeks of time to review before the exam, so I spent it working on my weak spots. I took Audit towards the end of July.

    Regulation (95)

    Next was REG, which I started studying for right away. I felt pretty good about the tax chapters (after having recently completed the MTAX program). There were still a number of things I had to work on, but they came a lot easier to me. The business law chapters were pretty tough.

    I spent most of my time studying these sections. Same strategy as before; same amount of hours each week. I was working in public tax by this time, so I had to scrape a bit more to find time to study. I took REG a few days after the 10/15 deadline.

    Business Environment & Concepts (95)

    Last was BEC, which as I mentioned above was probably the hardest section for me. I had always heard that BEC was the easiest one. I really focused on the managerial accounting and economic sections.

    Same strategy as the others — video lecture one night, reread the text and type detailed notes, then work through the MCQs. I took BEC right around Thanksgiving.

    Which NINJA products did you use? How did you incorporate them into your study plan?

    I used NINJA MCQ for each of the exams as a supplement to Becker, which was provided by my work. I asked advice from my brother, who had passed the exams a few years prior, and he suggested to work through as many MCQs as I could, so I did just that.

    I worked through all the Becker MCQs, then did about 50-60% of the NINJA MCQs. I thought the NINJA ones were more difficult than the Becker questions, which was a good thing.

    I was trending about 7-10 points below my actual exam scores for each of the sections. The NINJA product was great because it showed me where I was weakest, and I was able to focus on that section until I felt really comfortable with it.

    I would say the NINJA MCQs were essential to my success.

    Was the Elijah Watt Sells Award a goal from the beginning, or was it something that became a goal along the way as you progressed through your exams?

    I knew of the Elijah Watt Sells Award prior to taking the exams, but it was not a goal of mine until I received my first score. I was expecting to score in the 80s on FAR, but my result came back a 96. I refreshed my screen a couple times sure it was a glitch, but it stayed there. At that point I knew I could continue to score that well on the remaining exams if I put the same effort into it.

    How nervous were you during the final score release – knowing the EWS Award was hanging in the balance?

    I would be lying if I said I didn’t care. I think I had to score at least a 93 on BEC in order to qualify. I was pretty excited to see that I had surpassed that.

    What advice would you give to a CPA candidate who is just starting on their journey?

    I would say to read the first half of Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” — just read the first three habits for now. You can knock this out in a day or two.

    These habits are:

    1) Be proactive
    2) Begin with the end in mind
    3) Put first things first

    Really internalize these principles as you read, and think of how you can apply them as you take the exams. The CPA Exam process is a huge time commitment, but as you prioritize and strive to maintain balance, you can be successful in this and all of your other commitments.

    What’s next for you – any additional certifications or education?

    No plans on additional certifications or education. I want to get back into my hobbies, such as reading, playing guitar, and spending time with friends and family.

    Thank you for your time!

    You’re very welcome. Thanks to the NINJA community for your support of one another. If you have any questions for me, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

    April 16, 2015 The Best of...

    Long Journey: Studying FAR + Moving to NYC

    sarah2Sarah is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    Sometimes it seems so FAR Away…

    I feel like I have been on this journey for so long. In reality it truly has been a few years now, but I’ve only been giving it a fair try for about a year.

    I bought my first FAR review book before I even graduated. That was all the way back in 2012, and starting out I had convinced myself that I had to read the entire thing cover to cover and soak up every word (because, hello, I’m a straight A student, and that’s how it’s done – or so I thought).

    Shortly after graduating I ended up moving to New York City to be near my then fiancé (now husband- see I did accomplish something in those 3 years!). This was the beginning of probably the most trying time in my life, and one of the most pointless, halfhearted efforts I have ever undertaken.

    If you don’t know this, moving to this city is an experience like no other. Let’s put it this way, I was on a Megabus here with a suitcase full of clothes after being hired at a coffee shop in the East Village, and I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep that night.

    I ended up crashing with friends and moving through every borough within 2 months before finally landing in Queens. Frazzled and overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    In the midst of all this I was supposed to be studying for FAR, carrying that massive book with me everywhere I went. I thought working at a coffee shop would be a perfect gig for this, I could save all my brain power for studying and just make ends meet, a true NYC story. I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong I was.

    Every time I opened that book I felt like I was trying to learn a new language. And to make matters worse, when I would study, I would find that I just truly didn’t care. I wasn’t engaging with the material whatsoever, and this was just me going to the next “step” that I had set for myself in life.

    I was so discouraged and uninterested, and just exhausted from the constant motion of the city and the endless hours on my feet serving snotty NYU students their frappa-latte concoctions, all I could do was fall into bed at night (in my kitchen-less studio in Queens that I could barely afford), and wait for my 4:30 am alarm to begin at the cafe again the next day. Could I have possibly set myself up for failure any more?

    Obviously this isn’t the end of the story, there is so much more to it (stay tuned!) but the main thing that I have learned here is how to set myself up for success.

    If I had been honest with myself and what I was going through, I could have saved myself a lot of stress and heartache, and this road to “CPA Freedom”, as I like to say (freedom to read for pleasure some day!), wouldn’t feel so endlessly winding.

    There is an end in sight, and now I feel that I’m truly capable because I’m being honest with what is required to EARN this incredible milestone in life.

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    Studying for the CPA Exam, then Life Throws a Curve Ball

    AshleyAshley is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    Curve balls. Life is full of them.  

    Often times we create these seemingly fool-proof plans and then life throws you a curve ball.  

    Sometimes we are good at navigating and dodging bullets or letting the balls bounce while other times we don’t see them coming and get knocked off our feet.  

    At times, we even think we have prepared for all of the potential outcomes only to find out that all of our plans are quickly thrown to the wolves.

    This is basically where I have been the past four weeks.  At the beginning of the year, my husband and I discussed that I would study for, and pass, these exams as quickly as possible.  At that time, we would reevaluate my current position and potentially put my job search on full throttle.  

    Well, as life has a way of uprooting plans
    , and that’s exactly what happened.

    About four weeks into studying for FAR, I had a recruiter locate me on Linked In about an opportunity in my area. This opened up the idea that maybe I don’t have to be a CPA to move into a better role.  So I started to dream about the possibility of changing companies altogether, without being a CPA.  

    Another opportunity came up, and another. Then, I received a job offer; I’m now in the midst of negotiations for a new position.

    I don’t know how any of this season is all going to play out, but here is what I do know:  we can’t count on our plans.  And when they don’t work the way we originally hope, we have to be willing to roll with it.  

    Some of our best character is built when we are willing to let go of some of the things we may be holding onto a little too tightly and become willing to see a new opportunity for not only what it is, but also what it may become.  

    Maybe it is a healthier environment, more work-life balance, more money (equaling less student loans, of course!), more responsibility, or a new industry.  Maybe it will be a more relaxing place to study for the hardest exams of your life.  

    Maybe it’s the opportunity to build your dream job or help an organization come into the 21st century with all of the tech-savvy automation you’ve learned to do so well.

    Whatever it may be, know that it will always work out
    .  Life has a way of working itself out.  Sometimes the biggest risks turn into the best laid plans.  And even when they don’t, it gives us an opportunity to grow, to become a better version of ourselves.

    So, needless to say, I’ve been distracted by opportunity.  And FAR will be rescheduled as soon as these negotiations close.  But, in the waiting, I’ve been reminded how valuable I am, with or without passing the CPA exam.  And you just can’t put a price or a timeline on that.

    So, NINJAs, wherever you find yourself on this crazy journey to passing the CPA Exam, know that you aren’t alone.  And you will get there.  

    It just may not look like you originally planned.  And that may just be okay.

    HIYA!

    April 24, 2015 NINJA CPA Review

    BEC in the Books: My First Good Exam Experience

    Rollie SRollie is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    Hello NINJAs!

    Took BEC on Saturday the 4th and actually had my first good exam experience. I was much better prepared after studying for BEC and I was more confident.

    On the flipside, I will never schedule a 2:30 PM appointment again. Waiting all day and not wanting to tax your brain before the exam made for a much higher anxiety level. I remember watching a Nicholas Spark’s movie with my wife that morning.

    A little before 2 PM, I took my very long drive to Prometric and arrived around 2 PM I sat in the car just committing the 50 formulas I had on flashcards to short term memory.

    It was very helpful and I did a fist pump when I used one of the formulas on the first testlet. 2nd testlet got harder and I remember mouthing the F-bomb at a question because it was out of left field. On the writing SIMs, I did not know some of the topics, but I am a very good writer if need be.

    I figured that writing style played a good factor into the scoring of writing simulations. Overall, I am very hopeful this time! What did I do in the last couple days?

    Well, I decided to take a few days off before I move to AUD in May as my NTS expires. I have to be careful that a few days does not turn into weeks because I was horrible with auditing in college. I watched college basketball and unfortunately DUKE won.

    Really, who likes Duke? I have also watched mindless TV on Netflix such as Cutthroat Chef and random documentaries. It reminds me of what I have to look forward to after all the exams are done. I really enjoy going home at 3:30 and turning my mind off.

    BEC Exam Results: Coming to Terms with Failure + Moving On

    dustinski 2Dustin is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    I finally am getting myself to come to terms with those words… I failed.

    I didn’t totally bomb it, which I suppose makes me feel a little better, but I still didn’t pass. I was three points away from passing the BEC exam. So, I am back to square one.

    To be honest, it was partially my fault, I crammed it in there, and only had a few days to review. I think that my studying may have been inefficient. I am using a combination of NINJA and the CPA review course that my firm paid for.

    I think the other review course I’m using goes way too in-depth on the first three chapters and makes it seem like astrophysics. I spent so much time on those first three chapters that I barely had time for the rest. I was displeased with that, but what can I do?

    I got stronger on the written communication portion, so that is not my issue. MCQ just didn’t swing my direction. I am the one who tried to cram it in three and half weeks, and only failed by a few points….so it IS DOABLE! But, regardless of a few points or 40 points, I am still shy of the 75.

    I am going to be a CPA. I keep telling myself that.

    My dad is a CPA, which might put a tad more pressure on me, since he is very invested in my journey. Both of my parents are incredibly supportive, but this exam is not meant to be easy, and nobody else truly understands. So, what to do?

    Well, I have moved on to REG. Everyone tells me to restudy for BEC and kill it the 2nd time. Yea, that would be great if NASBA didn’t have ridiculous rules. The communist-style rules don’t allow me to reapply for any NTS until I graduate.

    I couldn’t find any information on it, so I called. They were quick to inform me that I am allowed one, JUST ONE, NTS application during my final semester. Luckily for me, I applied for all 4 at once. Unreal.

    I am shocked by how much of a money game it is. Can’t sit during blackout months for an electronic exam? Application fees are out of this world, and I just paid $35 more to move my exam back by a week (got pretty sick last week and missed a few solid study days). End rant.

    Now time to get back on the grind. I find that getting ‘angry’ can help. I just hate the look people give you when you tell them you didn’t pass. In fact, if it is not close family or friends, I am now bypassing the conversation completely and telling them that I didn’t get the grade back yet, or that I have moved on to the next portion, or whatever else I can throw in there to avoid the conversations.

    I don’t think we need the negative encouragement. We can’t dwell on our failures. Just need to keep the eye on the prize.

    You need to try to make this studying ‘fun,’ if that is even a thing? You can’t get depressed every time you need to study-because at that point you may as well not study at all. This process can be Wiggidy Wiggidy WACC. (Anybody who knows the song Jump by Kris Kross will pick up what I just threw down there) and anybody that has studied BEC will understand the WACC (weighted average cost of capital) reference.

    Study hard, stay on track and I will try to do the same. You’ll look back on this and laugh. Actually, no you probably won’t. You will probably say that it sucked and was awful, but you only have to do it once.

    Keep working.

    -Dustin

    Conquer the CPA Exam, Just Don’t Forget to Breathe

    AshleyAshley is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    The past couple weeks have been a bit discouraging for me. Transitions at work have been intense and it has been taking its toll on my energy and motivation at the end of the day.

    Then I had a bout with the stomach flu. My studying fell behind and I ended up pushing FAR out. This week, a girl in my department had a baby, thus causing my workload for the coming weeks to increase. I am glad I gave myself a little more time because rushing through the rest of the material would most likely be unfruitful.

    With all of that, my husband was playing in a good old Midwestern alumni rivalry basketball tournament in his hometown this weekend. I was stressed to the max and not sure how I was going to fit my much needed study-time into the tournament schedule. It resulted in some tension at home and by Saturday morning, I had to give myself a reality check.

    If there is one thing I learned from my husband’s approach at CPA exams, it is that if your life revolves around work, studying, and leaves no room for anything else, more likely than not, you and everyone around you will be miserable.

    So, I had to ask myself two things: “What do I need to get out of this funk?” and “Is getting through the rest of my FAR book really what I need to accomplish this weekend?” I decided I needed yoga. After yoga, I decided I needed to watch my husband play some basketball.

    Instead of burying myself in my iPad for the weekend, I spent some time on the drive pounding in the NINJA Audio. I ended up spending some much needed time with my niece from Nashville coloring Minnie Mouse and eating gummy worms. I watched my husband’s team take home the first place trophy in their first annual tournament. I was able to see both of my brother-in-laws (one currently in Seattle, the other in Nashville). And it was all so very refreshing.

    Though I have many hours of studying left, I can tell you without a doubt, I will be tackling them with more energy and tenacity than if I had not taken a few moments to breathe this weekend.

    There are just some things in life that can’t be replaced: seeing the excitement on my husband’s face while rebuilding camaraderie with old teammates; coloring with my almost four year old niece; watching her crash and then reload with a sugar buzz; seeing my 6 year old nephew look so grown up while following his older second cousin around; more hugs than I can count – those moments are priceless!

    I am beyond thankful I took the time to just be present. Life is short. Studying for these exams is brutal. Please don’t become so lost in the task that you forget all of the reasons you are doing it in the first place.

    So, I encourage you. If you are feeling discouraged and haven’t taken time to do the things you enjoy for a while, can you sacrifice an afternoon or evening to spend some time with your family? Or take your dog to the park? Or maybe even watch some alumni basketball?

    If you cannot, then don’t; it will just stress you out and you will regret it. But if you can, it just might be the most productive time you have all week.

    Keep conquering NINJAs! Just don’t forget to breathe. HIYA!

    April 21, 2015 NINJA CPA Review

    A Million Things to Do: Need to Focus on the CPA Exam

    Christina FChristie is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    What did I get myself into???

    I’ve been good about studying, but it seems like all of a sudden everyone else needs me for something. I’ve got a million other things I have to do in addition to study.

    My husband says I’m obviously studying enough when the other night I couldn’t sleep because I kept dreaming about selling Girl Scout cookies and the CPA exam and everything I’d studied that day. I even took my book to read and review while at the cookie booth and things were slow.

    I’m committed. I am completely committed to this exam. I just need everyone else to be as committed as I am; which isn’t likely, but a hopeful dream.

    My husband, as supportive as he is, keeps asking me to go help plant in our vegetable garden and go through the house and get things ready for a yard sale. I told him I was going to not take the exam and just quit.

    I can’t do everything he wants me to do AND study for the test at the same time, I need to focus. He finally got it, CPA exam first. I don’t mind taking an hour to plant in the garden here and there, that gets me outside, but the yard sale can wait until I take the exam mid-April.

    It’s hard for others to realize how much you need to focus and how much time you really need. I hear all the time, “oh you’re so smart, you’ve got this.” They don’t get how much I feel as though I don’t have this. I drill NINJA MCQ as much as I can and I read and review notes constantly.

    The Another71 forum has helped so much, having a group that knows what you’re going through, or even to vent to. This process can be a lonely one when nobody else understands, having the CPA forum is a great tool to help know you’re not alone and you CAN do this, you just have to focus and trust that you’re doing everything you can to pass.

    Here’s to the second quarter and passing the CPA Exam!

    April 16, 2015 NINJA CPA Review

    Practical Experience: Studying BEC with NINJA MCQ

    Rollie SRollie is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    Hello NINJAs!

    BEC studying is going well, however I miss my time at home. Repeat after me: “Never take 2 months off from studying!” It is so hard to get back into the routine, but the looming fear of losing REG in December 2015 keeps me somewhat motivated.

    In regards to studying, I have almost hit the adaptive learning phase with BEC study questions in NINJA MCQ. I skipped a lot of videos due to remembering the information from practical experience.

    Plus, due to my learning problems, etc., I learn best when an item/concept is tangible. Thus, hammering as many MCQs as I can so I learn from my mistakes.

    I usually study after work around 3:35 PM. Since I work for a non-for-profit, I CANNOT go over 40 hours. For accountants in the middle of busy season, please do not kill me out of jealousy! With BEC, my attention tends to decline rapidly around 5:30ish…

    If it was test week, I would be sure to power through until the late evening. I am sure many of you have concentration issues after a long day of work and dealing with lovely clients.

    With that, I have the following goals for the upcoming warm weekend (might get to 50’s!):

    • Get to 40 percent complete in the NINJA MCQ
    • Rewrite notes from past week to reinforce ideas that I got wrong
    • Make flash cards of all the ratios (I know I could buy, but I will learn better if I make them)
    • Clean the interior of my car before the wife kills me
    • Clean the half-bathroom before my wife kills me
    • Maybe take wife on dinner date on Saturday and catch up on the Big Bang Theory ☺
    April 14, 2015 NINJA CPA Review
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