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...

    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 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

    Cancer Sucks—More CPA Review Distractions

    dustinski 2So, I am sitting here at 11:30 trying to focus on Business Law for the Regulation exam I am taking soon, but I can’t help but think of my grandfather. He is not doing well. Stage 4 Cancer that quite harsh. I am no guru with medical terminology, but it is a malignant nerve sheath tumor with high grade sarcoma.

    They sent him down to Boston to get further results and the tumor has grown drastically these last couple of months, so he is back in Maine (staying at my Aunt’s home, with my grandmother, for the time being as it is closer to the facility he needs to go to). Surgery is not an option due to the tumor being attached to one of the main arteries of his heart. So, radiation starts this week, and we can only hope for the best from this point on. He is incredibly tired, has lost a lot of weight (isn’t eating), and is not motivated and bubbly like he always was. Hard to see him this way.

    I guess the reason I am writing about this isn’t to depress you, but it is to motivate all of you to remain positive, because the CPA exam is what I like to call “situational distress.” Nobody is holding a gun to our heads to make us study ridiculous hours and have phases of triumph and failure, but there are worse things in life than the CPA Exam. We need to remember what is truly important in life. I have been to visit him multiple times in the last few weeks and it makes me realize that I am done complaining. I think that as bad as we think we have it, it could be worse. Remember that this exam will be worth it in the long run, but also remember that your job is only part of who you are, and in my book, family comes first.

    In my case, I am in good health, am motivated, have a mind that functions well and a body that works, I am not facing depression (though I often joke that CPA review may send me there), am not facing alcohol/drug addictions, etc. As rough as we think we have it, there is no duress, this is on us. We chose to do this, and we can get through it.

    Keep on track, but be grateful for what you have. It could be much, much worse.

    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.

    April 10, 2015 Keep Moving Forward

    Career Adjustment: CPA Study Plan Hits Speed Bumps

    Joshua GraunkeJoshua is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    I knew at the beginning of the CPA review process that there would be some speed bumps. Life rarely allows you uninterrupted continuity to complete something so long and draining as the CPA Exam without hitting you with a curveball.

    My original thoughts on the CPA were “get it done as soon as possible and try to join a public firm,” figuring that it would be the best progression for my career. So when I got a LinkedIn message from a recruiter at a public firm 2 weeks ago, well let’s just say it changed things up a bit.

    I put my studies on hold to interview, and I am currently awaiting a decision, but indications are that I’ve done well enough to land a job in public accounting. The game plan I so intricately laid out for the next 8 months was promptly thrown into the shredder.

    Everything from the review course I was planning to buy as well as the timetable for my studying could be reshuffled with the biggest opportunity of my career.

    I would like to get this experience over with as soon as possible, but if I achieve my goal of getting into public accounting, there is a little less pressure to finish before the end of the year. Which, in turn, would allow me to blog for a while longer. So in essence, everybody wins!

    It’s a little unnerving to be sitting here hoping for a call that may not come for a day a week or even a month, but it is also exciting to think about making a jump from private to public, an event that does not appear to happen very often if the messages on the CPA Exam Forum are any indicator.

    I am trying to keep my head in my textbook, but have found myself wondering what things would be like if this opportunity works out and my career could start down the path I’ve wanted to pursue ever since I found out the CPA was an achievable goal for myself.

    It’s amazing what starting down the path towards the CPA has yielded already, I can’t wait to see what the next plot twist will bring.

    April 09, 2015 NINJA CPA Review

    BEC Exam Prep: Study Plan in Place

    Christina FChristie is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    Study, study, study. That’s what I keep telling myself.

    I set my exam date for BEC the other day, April 20th. I think, no I KNOW, I can do it!

    In order to keep my kids and husband happy, I’ve come up with a study plan that should get me roughly 130 hours of study time, but still allows for me to spend some time with them. After all, they are one of the reasons I’m so determined to pass.

    I get up early in the morning and run on the treadmill. I read so I don’t get too bored (I’d much rather be outside). I’ll either read my BEC Book, or go through my NINJA flashcards. Once it’s warm and I can go outside, I’ll listen to audio. That’s at least half an hour of study time, maybe an hour.

    I could study on my lunch break each day, and then at least 2 to 3 hours a night once the kids are in bed and my husband is doing his own homework. Saturdays and Sundays, I’ll take five-hour chunks and study. With this plan, I know I’ll be able to pass.

    With the two tests in 2014 that I took and failed, I never had a set study plan and I know that’s why I failed. I wasn’t focused. This time around, I’m completely focused and determined to pass the CPA exam. It all comes down to having a plan.

    Not having a study plan was leading me to failure. I need to know what I have to do and how many hours I need to sit down and do it so I can focus.

    This time, I’ve got a plan, and I’m determined to make it work!


    Welcome New NINJA Blogger Sarah!

    sarah2Sarah is a NINJA CPA Blogger.

    I would love to introduce myself to everyone out there in CPA-Land! My name is Sarah, and as a 25-year-old non-profit accountant in New York City, I thought that I would have had my CPA license for some time now.

    I always got amazing grades in college; so honestly, having to try so hard for something academic is a completely new experience for me. It’s also the first time I’ve ever wanted something to badly.

    I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’ve gone through countless highs of “I’ve totally got this” and lows of “Seriously, this time I’m quitting, who needs a CPA…?” But here I am a year after seriously beginning this journey, and I have had some serious life changes that have brought me to this point.

    When I was in college, I remember the first time I ever seriously considered sitting for the CPA exam. I was taking a final exam in my second semester intro accounting course freshmen year, and it was a long test (by my 19-year-old freshmen standards).

    I remember making a comment to the professor, whom I was friendly with, about how grueling it was. “You think this is bad, wait until you have to sit for a test 10 times this length with no breaks!”

    She was referring to the dark ages of the CPA exam, when they took all the sections in the same day or during a two day time frame (and I think she was exaggerating about the no breaks thing).

    I remember thinking “no thank you… I won’t be needing that,” then immediately realizing how much of a waste it would be for me to invest countless hours and dollars into my degree in accounting and then NOT top it off with a CPA license.

    That has been sort of my reason for starting on this journey for a long time, and I think it’s why I haven’t had much success yet. Doing this because I feel like I have to is not a good enough reason to get me through the endless days and nights of studying that are required to conquer the CPA exam.

    I’ve only recently realized this, so now here I am almost 3 years after graduating, without passing a single section. But I’m close, so close – like a 74 on FAR close, and I’m not stopping here!

    April 06, 2015 NINJA CPA Review

    Introducing NINJA Blogger Carolina: CPA after MBA


    Strangely, my love for accounting started when I was a child. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an accountant.

    When I was fourteen years old, I met an accounting teacher of a local high school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She explained to me that the school that she works for has an accounting clerk program for students and also what a Certified Public Accountant is.

    At that moment, I knew for sure that I wanted to become a CPA. Therefore, I applied and passed the entrance exam and was admitted to that high school.

    In May 2006, I graduated from high school with honors and was thrilled to about my future. I was happy because I was also accepted in the accounting program of one of the most prestigious universities of the Caribbean. However, my life changed when my Mom decided to move to Orlando, Florida.

    I had a lot of emotions and a lot of thoughts going through my mind. How am I going to become a CPA in a country I don’t know? How am I going to study in a country I barely speak the language?

    Although the CPA exams are in English, in Puerto Rico all the accounting classes are in Spanish, so moving to another country not knowing the language was something I never expected to do so quickly.

    In July 2006, my twin sister and I moved (my mom moved a month a later) to Orlando. We were scared. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to be here; however, we wanted to pursue the American Dream.

    The first year was hard. The first six months, we had to work as housekeepers because we didn’t know the language. We couldn’t afford to pay college because we were being charged out state tuition, for we didn’t meet the Florida residency requirements.

    During the second year, we finally were able to qualify for financial aid and meet the residency requirements, so we started taking English classes.

    To make the story short, a lot of things happened during my college journey. It was a struggle to finish school (worked and studied full time, got married, moved to another city without my sister, etc.), but I finally graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting.

    It was hard, but I did it. Many times, I thought about quitting and just work as an accounting clerk or something similar. I’m glad I never quit.

    Right after college, I sent my application to the FL Board of accountancy and graduate school. I started studying for FAR in June 2013 and graduate school in July 2013.

    Everything seemed to go well. However, at the beginning of July, I started to feel sick and awful. I was in a lot of pain, so I went to the ER, where I was told I was pregnant. Once again, I had mixed emotions.

    I was happy, but at the same time I was nervous, scared, and worried. “What should I do with my plans? This shouldn’t stop me from meeting my goals”, I thought. Therefore, I decided to keep doing everything as planned.

    However, my pregnancy was tough, I was sick the entire 40 weeks. So I studied every time I could, but this wasn’t enough to pass FAR and BEC, which I failed miserably.

    Luckily, I was passing all my graduate courses because I forced myself to study and pass. I didn’t want to lose more time and money in graduate school.

    In March 2014, I had the most precious little boy ever. He changed my world. The first three months after his birth were rough, for I entered in post-partum depression.

    My depression was mostly due to not knowing what to do with a newborn and my future (plus my grandparents got sick and I had to move from the apartment my husband and I was renting because our landlord went on foreclosure).

    One day, I realized that I needed to take a break and relax a little, so I took a break from the CPA journey and focused on graduate school and the baby.

    In June 2014, I graduated with a Master of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. After completing my MBA, I took a break from studying until September 2014, when I started studying again for FAR.

    This time I ditched the CPA review course I was using, which cost me a lot of money, but I couldn’t stand it.

    I went full NINJA with the Ten Point Combo. Even though I haven’t passed FAR yet, my scores increased tremendously since using NINJA. I have taken FAR twice since I started studying in September 2014, so I have 3 FAR fails, the last two are mostly due to my lack of commitment to the exams.

    I know my life is busy and rough, but I need to force myself to work on my CPA exam review and do what I have to do.

    If I have overcome a lot of my fears and hard situations, I know I can pass these exams. From not knowing English and moving to a new county to accomplishing a lot of my goals, I believe the CPA exams will not make me quit. If I didn’t quit before, I will not quit now.

    April 03, 2015 NINJA CPA Review
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