1,000 Study Hours Later – I Passed!

March 06, 2009 NINJA Hall of Fame

cpa exam I am amazed and humbled that there are people who pass this exam the first time and study less than 100 hours a section. My experience was not so pleasant. However, I believe it’s just as important to share the struggles and the horror stories as it is to share the heroic success stories. When people ask me for advice I reply that I can tell them all about what not to do when it comes to the CPA exam.

I passed my first section (BEC) in May of 2007. I spent the rest of the summer studying for FAR whenever I had free time at work. But every night when I got home, there were friends at my house and I didn’t have the discipline to go to the library and study. Almost every weekend I was at the lake wakeboarding instead of locked in my room with the books.

My FAR date went from July 7th to August 7th to October 17th before I finally got tired of procrastinating and decided to go ahead and take it. 67. It was the first of three failing FAR scores. At this point I had already put in at least 100 hours of studying,but it wasn’t focused, productive studying. By the time I reached chapter 3 I had forgotten chapter 1.

Oh well, FAR was behind me for the time being. I decided to squeeze Audit in by November 30th because I’m an auditor and thought it would be easy. Three weeks of studying for 4 or 5 hours a day. Fail. I received my 64 on Christmas Eve. Not happy.

Before I knew it, busy season is in full swing and I’m in California for a 6 week audit. Sure I could have studied in the hotel on the weekends but how many times is a TN girl in CA, right? When I returned from Cali in April I decided to get serious. I gave up TV for five weeks (except for The Office) and studied during every spare second I had.

I took the exam on May 22nd? 72. Ok, this sucks but I’m not ready to give up yet. Study all June and all July. FAR take 3 on August 5th. I walk into the room, sit down at the computer and start scribbling down some mnemonics and formulas before I press go. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of entering my launch code in the midst of my scribbling. I’m about to press begin when a box comes up saying my session has been terminated.

There is nothing the Prometric people can do to get it started again. A $130 seat fee and 3 weeks later my launch code is reopened and I can schedule a new testing day. The only day available is August 21st, three days from now. I take the next 3 days off work and studied about 15 hours a day.

Sometime in mid-September I received my score- 69. I was at work and I couldn’t fight back the tears. It was awful. For those of you keeping track, it is now September of 2008. I have one section passed and my 18 months expire November 30th. I was so close to giving up. I thought, this is not meant to be, I need to consider a new career path, I’m not smart enough?

I decided to give everything I had for the next 3 months. Having been out of school for 5 years, I was having trouble understanding the concepts and hoping that I could get by on just memorizing lists.

The CPA is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It took me almost two years and over 1000 hours of studying. This is my advice:

1. Do not give up! If I can do it, anyone can. No matter how many tries it takes, do not quit.

2. You have to make sacrifices. Be prepared for friends to be mad at you. The worst part isn’t the studying, it’s knowing your life is going on all around you and you’re not a part of it. If you make the commitment and sacrifice at the beginning then the period of having no life will not last as long.

3. Don’t be in a rush. If you’re not ready it’s so much better to pay the $35 and give yourself a few more weeks than to pay $190 and have to wait 2 or 3 months.

4. Make your own flashcards. Determine what you need to have memorized cold and put it on a notecard. This is the best way to be sure you have something memorized.

5. When you read the text or your notes ask yourself what the examiners could ask you about this topic. When you answer a multiple choice question, think about how the question could be turned around to try and trick you. The examiners know what your CPA Review Course has told you to know cold. They don’t want to know that you can regurgitate, they want to know that you understand the concepts. Which means they will ask you in a way that tries to trick you and makes you think outside the box.

6. Use current CPA Review Material. I was using a 2006 FAR book in 2008. It does make a difference.

7. Take the exam as soon after graduating as you can. It is so much harder if you wait because you have to re-teach yourself the concepts instead of just memorizing them.

8. Seek support from others who know what you’re going through (like Jeff) and offer support to others when you can.

Don’t get frustrated. Almost everyone finds it to be harder than they had expected. Be confident and positive. Good luck!

-Karen from TN



  • qualler

    Great story Karen! I’m in the same boat as you were, so it’s great to hear about somebody who had those same frustrations and persevered through it.

  • Jen

    Excellent job Karen! Thank you for sharing and congrats on passing. I am in the journey now. I have passed 1 section and failed the other. I am scared to get my FAR results back, but thanks to your story I will stay motivated

  • Anonymous

    Well it is nice to actually hear from someone whom like myself had many struggles with the exam. I get a little discouraged when I hear of people passing the first time around. It took me multiple times and trying to juggle with work and time for studying was an enormous hurdle. The CPA exam is not to be taken lightly and for many working adults, especially ones with families to also take care of, getting the exam behind you is a feat that takes major commitment and focus. Good luck to all whom feel like they are in CPE mode – “Can’t Pass Exam”.

  • sashool

    amazin story karen…. congratulations on passing. can u tell me which material was better becker or yeager??/ i vent been in otuhc wid studyin for a long time too. wt wud u suggest?

  • Karen

    sashool- It really depends on your situation and your study habits. Becker is a great program, However, Yaeger was better for me because I had been out of school for awhile and I needed to relearn a lot of the concepts. Becker is great if you understand the concepts and really just need to focus on memorization.

  • Jill

    Thanks for your story Karen.

    Does anyone know if you fail a part of the exam if you receive a status report breakdown?

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on the state you take the exam in but if you fail you will receive a general analysis of the areas that you were tested on and where you ranked compared to the individuals whom passed the exam. It is not comprehensive by any means but it has improved compared to in the past. It should be on the back side of the fail notice from NASBA.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing the story. I just got the result for my AUD…another 71!!! :( This is my 3rd time taking the AUD. (56,71,71) I’ve been using BECKER 2007,2008,Final Review. I think I will get a Yaeger CRAM for that extra 4 points now…Also, great thanks to JEFF…I felt a lot better after viewing this website.

  • Anonymous

    I only had one more to go- FAR. I’ve taken in four times and got my fourth failing score notice today- another 70. This means I lost credit for BEC so now I’ve got to pass FAR and BEC by May 15 or else i’ll lose AUD! I do not know if it is meant to be for me. I’ve already taken so much time away from my family. It makes me feel selfish. I will give it one more shot.

  • Anagha

    Wonderful story, good do’s and don’t to be learnt from your experience. I’m happy for you.

  • Do Hyun

    Thanks for sharing your story. Congratulation on passing the CPA exam and you surely deserve it. I so far passed BEC and REG at the first attempt and failed Audit at the first attempt. I just took Audit again yesterday and I am hoping that I pass it, but I will never know until the score is released. I feel touched when I read your story as I felt so worthless and discouraged when I failed Audit exam at first. I know how the failing a part of the CPA exam is like–after studying very hard and sacrifice things i like to do and people I love to spend time with. For those people, who pass all parts at their first attempt, they may show their pride but they will never know how it feels to fail a part. On the other hand, when you finally pass the fail part at second attempt or so, it is rather sweet and a valuable experience and more importantly it become a story to tell how hard you tried to be a CPA.

    I am now studying FAR and I really hope that this is the last part I need to study. It will be challenge for me and I hope to stay in focus until then.

    Thank you.

  • Becca

    You mention using Gleim. That is the one that was recommended to me. What did you think about their study guides.

  • Ann Vish

    Great story Karen. I am struggling too; have not passed any parts yet. At the moment my job is very demanding, plus CPA makes life so hard. On top of that I gave BEC exam on 2/27/10 and I just received notice from qualifications division saying that my testing window for BEC has expired–meaning they did not receive my exam that I gave on 2/27! I do not know…..has this happened to anyone yet?
    On 2/27 when I submitted my exam, there was an error message…I asked the prometric people and they said that they are resending the exam and that all will be good. Please share you experience if this has happened to anyone…..

    TX Board.

  • Maria

    Thanks Karen!! You deserved. Thanks for being honest with me and share your frustrations and persevered through it. I really like to read when somebody fight to get something as many times and finally you got it. Amaizing history from heart to heart!!