Exam Day: What you Should Expect

April 12, 2009 CPA Exam Strategy

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There are many people who read this site who have already sat for at least one section of the CPA Exam. However, there are many people who are getting ready to sit for the first time and don’t know what to expect. This is a list of things that I learned over the course of my (long) journey to being a Certified Public Accountant. Hopefully you can gleam at least one useful bit of information from my experience.

-Jeff

CPA Exam Tips for Success – What to Expect on Exam Day:

1. You will find that the exam questions for the most part are not as “wordy” as the questions you have practiced and seem a little more straightforward. Chances are, the practice MCQs in your materials are a collection of the more-difficult questions that you can encounter on the CPA Exam. I’ve always left the testing center feeling like the actual exam is easier than the practice questions.

2. It will be the fastest 2.5 to 4.5 hours of your life.

3. You cannot be a perfectionist on your exam. If you get stumped and sit there stubbornly for 10 minutes trying to figure something out, that’s 8 minutes that you just cheated yourself on your second simulation.

4. If you’re stumped and can’t get any number to work out, choose B or C – you have a 30% chance of getting it right. A and D are correct 20% of the time.

5. Don’t take breaks. Exception: If you are extremely sleepy – take a break. Go into the bathroom and literally do jumping jacks. Grab a Starbucks “Frappachino” thing (store it in your locker or better yet – your coat pocket and grab it as you walk down the hall) that you get at a convenience store (cold, glass bottle) and slam it and get back in there.

6. Don’t forget your NTS and two IDs that are SIGNED. One needs to be a picture ID like a driver’s license and the other can simply be a signed credit card. Don’t make the mistake of having all of your credit cards say “see photo ID” like I did. It might be a good idea to make a copy of your NTS and stick it in your glove box. The worst than that can happen is if you arrive for check-in at the testing center and don’t have your NTS or IDs.

7. Once the facilitator at Prometric gets your computer up and running and you sit down – don’t assume that you have all day to start writing mnemonics on your scratch paper. One candidate who reads this site sent me an e-mail saying that he sat for BEC and decided to write out all of his formulas before beginning the exam. He found himself locked out due to time expiration (you get something like 10 minutes – READ THE SCREEN) and not only did he not get to sit for his exam that day – he forfeited his exam fee and he had to wait until the next testing window to take the exam. Talk about a nightmare exam experience.

8. When you get to the simulations – do the memo first ~ this is especially important on the 2nd simulation when time is scarce. The simulations combined are worth 30 points and the memos are 10 of those points. To put it another way – the memos are worth ten percent of your grade. Make them your number one priority on the simulations. If you have to skip something on the 2nd simulation because time is running out – skip the research tab. LEAVE NOTHING BLANK. If one minute is left on the exam and you have a tab with a bunch of blanks, fill in something – anything. A wrong answer and a blank answer give you the same number of points – zero. You may get lucky if there’s a drop-down menu for the answers and you’re guessing.

9. If you haven’t practiced the research function online at cpa-exam.org…DO IT. You will spend 10 minutes trying to figure it out on the exam if you don’t.

10. Get at least 6 hours of sleep the night before and if you’re a coffee drinker, drink your normal amount of coffee – but don’t pound a gallon 15 minutes prior to the exam. You will have to pee and you may be on question 15 of the 30 question testlet and you can’t leave until the testlet is complete.

11. Relax. People take this exam every day (or at least they do eight months out of the year…you know what I mean). Give it your best shot and to use a sports analogy … “leave it all out there on the field”. You may be tempted to get lazy and rush through your 3rd testlet because you’re bored to death or because you think you’re doing miserably. Don’t. There will be plenty of time to go drink a beer (or whatever) after the exam. Focus focus focus while you’re in there. Stay alert and work your tail off. The extra focus and extra attention to detail on the final 5-10 questions of testlet three could be the difference between you passing and having to re-take (and re-study) your exam section.

12. If you fail – congrats…you’re a normal candidate. It take an abnormally strong effort to pass the CPA Exam. The average candidate fails their exam (historical pass rate of around 45-50%). Your study prep and exam performance needs to be above average. You need to adjust something – and only you know what that is. Don’t make excuses…just identify it…change it (i.e. – starting LOST Season 1 on Netflix is not the right thing to do while you’re preparing for FAR)…and execute.

13. Good luck.

Clock photo courtesy of Flickr user Matt Callow under this Creative Commons license.



  • http://www.accountingtips4you.com Mike Harmon

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

  • http://another71.com Jeff – another71.com

    Thanks Mike – good luck on your site as well!

  • Anonymous

    I’m taking FAR for a second time. Passed first try…but like 20 months ago…did you study as hard the second time you took it…i feel like I still remember a lot of the material…even though it was like 20 months ago.

  • sun

    awww…you are always so helpful…im being extremely ambitious hoping to finish my prep for all four parts in three months(iam a graduating senior with no job offer, so i will have lots of free time this summer)…ill def write an essay about my experience if i succeed(or fail TT)!

  • hamidnd

    I just took the FAR yesterday. I had expected to see one or two simulations but I got 3 of them. I got so nervous when I saw the 3 LONG simulations that I lost my concentration and couldn't get it back. I pretty much left 2 of the simulations blank and answered as much as I could on the last simulation. But I made sure to write the memo and answer the research problem.

  • MsA

    Reading this post the day I'm taking my first CPA exam part – it's really helpful.
    Thanks a lot!

  • another71

    I hope it goes well for you!

  • MsA

    Thanks;) everything went just like you said. One more piece of of advice I could give – travel to your test location before the day of the exam. I thought I knew where the building was, and I actually got it slightly wrong and spent some time looking for it. I was fine with timing, but got a bit nervous. Other than that – it was much more straightforward than Becker sample final exams. And I had plenty of time. (my strategy was to leave more time for last testlet cause I knew I'd get tired).

  • MsA

    Oh, And I took BEC today. Auditing is next – Aug. 28th. Will be reading this website for more helpful info:-)

  • MsA

    Thanks;) everything went just like you said. One more piece of of advice I could give – travel to your test location before the day of the exam. I thought I knew where the building was, and I actually got it slightly wrong and spent some time looking for it. I was fine with timing, but got a bit nervous. Other than that – it was much more straightforward than Becker sample final exams. And I had plenty of time. (my strategy was to leave more time for last testlet cause I knew I'd get tired).

  • MsA

    Oh, And I took BEC today. Auditing is next – Aug. 28th. Will be reading this website for more helpful info:-)

  • anuj

    guys this is very helpful. i have my BEC test tom. morning at 11am and i cant wait to get ova with it. Thanks and good luck to ya all.

  • Dylan

    Thanks for the advice. I’m taking FAR tomorrow and have spent tons of time studying, but feel like there’s so much I do not know. Still scoring 60-65 percent on the practice tests. Hope this converts to 75% tomorrow.

  • henry ngoge

    good materials

  • Mike

    best luck to everyone!

  • Harline Oliver

    I took cpa exam for the first time today. It was really awesome to find so much tips from this website. I literally did the jumping jacks when I took my first break after the three testlets, I grabbed a can of soda and chugged before I went back for simulations. It wasn’t a bad experience for a first timer, I think? I felt confident after the exam, i found the questions and simulations easier than what I practiced with Wiley testbank.