How to Pass a Section of the CPA Exam in 20 Days

August 3, 2014 Featured, The Best of...

Jeff-A71-2014Disclaimer: This is not a best practice, but if you’re under the gun, it can save your butt – and your 18 month credit that is expiring. I personally used this strategy to pass Auditing in less than three weeks.

You wake up one sleepy Monday in August. June is a distant memory. July was a blur. In your groggy state, something begins to nag at you.



What happens in August?

Mental inventory: Car tag renewal … kids go back to school …

… and then it hits you.

“AHHHHHHHH – I have FAR in 20 days!!!”

Your significant other pauses while brushing their teeth; tossing a weird look at you.

You’re slightly embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as the time you thought you could sprint to the end of the driveway in your underwear to grab the newspaper, only to find your retired neighbors from three doors down are walking their poodles at 6:15am and they’re in your yard.

“Why are they letting their dogs drop bombs in my yard?”

“Why is this moron in his boxers? Kids these days…”



How to Pass a Section of the CPA Exam in 20 days:

  1. Ditch your CPA Review videos. I understand that you dropped a small fortune on your video course, but hey – you procrastinated (we’ve all been there) and you have a lot riding on this next exam, so we’re down to only the absolute essentials over the next two weeks or so.
  2. MCQs, MCQs … and More MCQs. Set aside those long CPA Review videos and instead hammer out multiple choice questions until you abhor NINJA MCQ. Then, do some more.
  3. Take Notes. As you work a ridiculous amount of MCQs, know that each question presents four learning opportunities – why one option is correct and why the other three are wrong. If you get the question wrong, or if you think you’ll forget it over the next fortnight, write it down. Your grueling MCQ sessions should last 7-10 days.
  4. Re-Write your Notes. You are now approx. ten days out from your exam. Take the next three days and re-write the notes you took during your marathon MCQ sessions. Some people like to take the NINJA Notes and re-write them because they don’t like the set of notes that they created for themselves. Granted, this is tedious, but here’s the deal: you will absorb the material much better if you re-package it and re-consume it mentally that if you just glance over the material.
  5. More MCQs. You’re now approx. a week out from your exam and it’s time for some MCQ sprints. Think about what topics you hate their worst and pray you don’t see them on exam day and start with those. Do a random set of 20 of these questions to start. Let’s say that you are absolutely lost on Not-For-Profit Accounting (FAR), then do that first set of 20 and just click around on the answer explanations. Then, do another set of 20. Rinse & Repeat until you’re scoring 70-80% and then move on to the next topic you hate.
  6. Notes, Notes, Notes. You are now carrying your study notes or the NINJA Notes with you everywhere you go. Every spare second is spent studying. Driving somewhere? You’re cranking your NINJA Audio so loud the Cops will pull you over (this actually happened to one candidate).
    You also continue to do problem-spot MCQs leading up to the morning (I’m a big fan of the 1pm time slot at Prometric, btw) of your exam.
  7. PASS. You’re rolling into the exam center and instead of throwing a Hail Mary – you’re prepared. It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t fun – it was 3 weeks of study hell, actually. As you sit there and dominate on exam day – it was worth it.
  8. Do a better job of scheduling your study time so that your next section of the CPA Exam isn’t this stressful.


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29 Responses to "How to Pass a Section of the CPA Exam in 20 Days"

  1. Dawn says:

    How do you do this with a child? It is so hard for me. I have a 16 month old at home. Yes, I am married and my husband is very helpful but I can rely on him solely to take care of our little boy. I would appreciate any advice!!

  2. Dawn says:

    I meant CAN’T rely on him solely.. : )

  3. Dawn – I had 2 or 3 kids (I can’t quite remember) :) at the time I was studying for AUD and executed this strategy.

    My wife was a saint and she let me stay late at work to study, which was crucial to my success.

  4. Dave says:

    You are like a mind reader or something. I am studying FAR, I have about 20 days left to sit for it and I am freaking out. Thanks for the advice, I am going to take it. You may have just saved me.

  5. JoMarie says:

    Jeff –

    You must have thinking of me when you wrote this. I have a funny feeling this will be me with FAR after I sit for REG next week. I’m already stressing about FAR.

  6. The post was inspired by a call I got on the NINJA Hotline Monday … the person had 20 days to prepare and I laid out what they needed to do.

    I thought “I bet there are other people in a similar situation…”

    Glad it helped!

  7. Valentina says:

    Can you say MIND READER!!!! I am 17 days left till FAR and I am like what do I do now to better prepare!!! I am taking your advise!! THANKS SOO MUCH!

  8. Erica says:

    Totally doable! Due to a scheduling snafu, I had 7 days to study for Audit, and passed with a 92. I agree with ditching the videos, each MCQ is 4 learning opportunities. Study advice gold!

    I only got away with this because audit is total gulp-and-vomit (swallow it in, spit it back out on the test).

    I think for far you would need at least the 17 days, though. Way more calcs and detail! ;)

  9. Jim says:

    When you talk about doing MCQ’s do you suggest practice exams? For example, Becker divides the sections into chapters and MCQ’s within each chapter. There are also are practice tests.

    I’m at the point of wondering should I focus on sims since that was my only weak spot last time or MCQ’s. If MCQ’s, then practice exams or from start to finish with all the Becker questions?

  10. MOYALE says:


  11. Hi Jim – I wouldn’t do any practice exams. Instead, I would do topic-focused MCQs.

  12. Jim says:

    Thanks Jeff. I think I’ll do just that and go for round three of completing all the MCQ. If time allows, I’ll do practice tests and sims…

  13. Jonathan says:

    How timely. I have exactly 20 days until BEC.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Sounds a lot like studying for my first exam in Intermediate Accounting..the only difference I would do all the exercises and problems since there were no…

  15. A Jaime says:

    Well I have 20 days to review… This gives me hope. So I will close the book, stop doing more additional studying and focus on just reviewing, rewriting, reinforcing my weak topics and do hundreds and hundreds more of MCQs. I’m already exhausted… Thanks for this!!!!!

  16. Kim T says:

    I have 2: one is 6 and the other is 3, and I’ve been out of college for too long. My husband is helpful (help me to get groceries or take care of the kids at bed time), but he can’t cook, he can’t clean right, and so I get about 2 hrs of study per day if I’m lucky. And I’ve never had a babysitter LOL. I’ve passed FAR and BEC at the first try, waiting for REG result at the end of this month and will take AUD right before the testing window closes. I just hope by the end of the month I will be done with this forever. It’s miserable…I have 20 days to prepare AUD, and I am not even half way done. Thanks for this…I’m gonna go through video very briefly, and focus on MTC questions :)

  17. Brent says:

    I’m about to try to pass audit after studying for a weekend, we will see how my MCQ cram session works out. I will let you guys know and possibly rewrite an article that is how to pass a section of the CPA exam in 3 days (holiday weekend)!

  18. Tim Hogan says:

    Thanks for the tips Jeff. I am going to use a slightly modified version of this. I am using the Becker Prep software and am about halfway through AUD and FAR…

    See, I have apparently lost my mind and decided to take both AUD and FAR on the same day. I didn’t realize my NTS was due to expire and am now forced to take both exams before the end of Feb (or lose the money..either way, at least I have a shot if I take the test). Since I am close to halfway through, I am hoping that I can use this method on the second half of the material and complete it in the next 14 days…here’s hoping!

  19. Nina says:

    Sounds good to me. My biggest concern is the timing because English is my second language. The Becker came to our school and told us that they have the higher success rate, but it was costly to me, over 3k. Did anyone know other ways around for this?

  20. arcadia2uk says:

    I actually tried your 20-day method on all four exams consecutively on my first try. The first three are in the pocket, while the fourth, REG, NASBA will release the result tomorrow, if your prediction is correct. What nags me a little though is that I missed the 80-day goal with 6 days, as I pushed out REG for a week.
    Anyway, if you really are up for the challenge, I can confirm that it is a feasible method, even if English is not your first language, but your third. What I can say is that I think it’s worth it, I can’t imagine going through the material for 6- 12- 18-months or more.
    Now it’s straight on to the CFA, but in a slower tempo, as there are no exams during July and August. However, from what I have seen the first part is very similar to BEC, while the second is close to FAR, with exception of all the extras that goes into FAR and REG, type IT, SOX and Governmental accounting, the parts I disliked the most. The CFA exam might go a little more in depth of the material, but the structure is all the same.
    I realize that the CFA is not necessary since you can get the CGMA (Euro-version of CMA) “for free and w/o exam” through a merits only program by AICPA, but I kind of enjoyed the study part, so why not?
    Good Luck and God Speed too all of us.
    P.S. Did I mention that I feel kind of excited to find out my final result tomorrow? Well, I am.

  21. Mazen says:

    I have scheduled my first exam in August 2014 and it’s three months from now but after reading this I’m thinking hey maybe I can do that but I’m a slow learner and English is my second language… Do you think I can do it and if I can how many hours a day do I need to study

  22. my coworker is insane says:

    my coworker scheduled all 4 CPA sections to take in the same month. studied 20 days. and just got word he passed……….

  23. Van says:

    Hi Jeff, Thank you for the advice. I am using Roger CPA Review course. I have watched most of the videos but I feel that I have to do double work and read all the chapters after, as Roger suggests. Since I have more than 20 days, My question for you is: _Should I finish reading the material, and include MCQs within, or only focus on the MCQs and notes? I kind like very much your advice, just wondering what the most efficient way to use this free time I have now to complete these exams.As many here said, English is not my first languge, and I coness I am a bit a slow reader. Thank you so much for your advice!!!!

  24. maranda says:

    hi, jeff. may i ask you when will establish 2015 edition CPA materials?

    Best wishes


  25. Should be early December – thanks!

    As always, the NINJA materials come with free updates until you pass, so it doesn’t matter *when* you buy them (except for the MCQ, which has an access timer).

  26. Help says:

    So how does this help with sims? Or does learning everything via incessant MC prepare you for the sims?

  27. futurecpa says:

    Hi Jeff
    I just failed auditing with a 65. I was stronger on the mc but weaker on the sims.what do u think I should do to better prepare for the sims?
    I believe I can pass it this time with a little help.

  28. Victorien says:

    Just bought flashcards and have not received the link yet. Do I will receive a package through my regular mail? Please advise.

    Best, Victorien

  29. Igor says:

    Jeff, you said MCQ. If I don’t know the concept or formula, how will I be able to answer mcqs. Do I go to the book and dig for answers or read the answers that were given? I’m going insane please help. Thank you.