The CPA exam has been the bane of my existence for the past 7 years. I am wondering if I am the only person who took the exam under the “old” method. However, if I can pass it, you can too. If you are one of those amazing students who passed the exam on the first try right out of college, then you probably don’t want to hear what I have to say. Regardless, here is my “success” story:
I graduated from college in Illinois in May 2002 with my 150 credit hours. Ten of those credit hours were for a CPA review course that I took my last semester. Unfortunately, I was too busy having fun with my friends, anticipating graduation, and moving to Chicago to start a job in September to do any actual studying. Back then, the exam was still under the old format where you tested for two days straight in a huge room with proctors walking around. I took the exam the week before graduation, and needless to say, I bombed. I am looking at my exam score history right now, and they don’t even show scores back that far.
I started the new job in Chicago, and didn’t even consider taking the exam again. Boyfriends, going out with friends, the gym, or work always came first. In 2003, I moved to Baltimore, MD for a new start and to be closer to my family. Again, taking the exam was not a priority.
I started noticing my coworkers taking the exam, so I took REG in the fall of 2004. I bought Bisk software and I got a 62. I think I barely cracked a book. Luckily, my company did not pressure me to take the exam. I was still progressing in the firm, and learning a lot of new skills. Getting practical real-world experience definitely helped me eventually pass.
Even though I knew I wasn’t taking the exam in the next couple years, I was still feeling pressure from myself to do so. I didn’t know why I couldn’t just get serious and get it over with and why other people around me seemed to pass it with ease.
In early 2007, I ordered some updated Bisk books and took AUD (67). In August 2007, I sat for BEC and scored a 63. Again, studying was usually the last thing on my list, and at this point I was just going through the motions of taking the test and not taking it seriously at all.
Around Thanksgiving 2007, I got lucky. I took AUD and got an 82. I was ecstatic! I told myself that this would give me the momentum to pass the other parts and that I had proven to myself that it could be done. Never mind that auditing is 75% of my job and this definitely helped me pass with just a little cramming.
In early 2008, tax season had arrived so there was no way that I was studying for the next four months. After tax season I wanted my free time back, which meant ? again, no studying. Besides, I had passed my first section! I had 18 months to worry about the last three.
In May 2008, I took BEC for the second time and scored a 67. I took BEC again in July 2008 and got a 72. I was not studying nearly enough, and I still never turned down an opportunity to hang out with friends or do something fun. In addition, my boyfriend and I were doing a complete renovation of our house, which I always used as an excuse.
I decided that I needed a break from BEC, so I took REG in August 2008. I had already planned a weeklong vacation with friends at a lake house in Michigan, but I still scheduled the exam for right after the vacation. I figured I would be able to study at a relaxed pace while we were at the lake. What a joke! I studied maybe an hour the whole time, even though I brought all my books and study materials. I scored a 50, my new all-time low.
In October 2008, I decided to attempt BEC again since I was 3 points away last time. I ended up scoring a 71. I questioned if I really wanted to pass the CPA Exam and was thinking that maybe public accounting wasn’t for me. Just the mention of “CPA” would put my stomach in knots. My parents even told me if I passed they would give me a nice bonus. It sounded like a sweet deal, but it would be irrelevant until I put my mind to it and got really serious about passing.
At this point I realized that I could potentially lose credit for AUD, so I had to come up with a plan. It was November 2008 and tax season was quickly approaching. Plus, my credit for AUD expired at the end of May 2009.
Most of my coworkers were using Becker software with success, so I borrowed the final review for REG from somebody. Using just the final review, and doing a good amount of cramming, I managed to pass REG with an 84 in November 2008.
Celebrating ensued, the holidays were here. Now that I had two sections under my belt it meant that the promotion they had promised me at work was attainable.
I did have enough foresight to realize that I would have to study during tax season if I wanted to pass the last two sections without losing my credit. Renovations at our house were complete, and I had a nice desk and study area set up and ready to go. About this time is when I discovered Another 71. I read Jeff’s story and finally felt like I had someone I could relate to.
I called Yaeger that day and ordered the cram for BEC and the Home Study for FAR. I scheduled BEC for the Friday after April 15 (our office is always closed that Friday), and I had a plan. I started cramming in mid-March for BEC, and it was the hardest month of my life.
Working 60 hour weeks and then trying to find 15 hours or so per week to study was not easy. I was not confident when I left the exam, but I had to step right into FAR, as I was taking that on 5/23/09 ? 3 days before my credit for AUD was due to expire, and 1 day before my boyfriend and I would leave for vacation for two weeks in Turkey. After all, I needed a reward for all the studying I was doing, and something to look forward to!
I didn’t plan on checking my BEC score before taking FAR or leaving for vacation. If I failed, I just didn’t want to know and I would deal with it when I got back home. I had so much anxiety about checking the scores online, that I had my boyfriend change my password so I wouldn’t have to worry about it and wouldn’t get distracted from studying for FAR. Neurotic much?
He logged onto my account to change the password, and called me at work. He said ?I don’t need to change it, because you passed!? I can’t describe the euphoria! I got a 75, and now the end was actually in sight. If I could just pass FAR I had a chance at actually being done with the CPA Exam forever.
I planned out each day of studying and how many hours I would need to get in based on what Yaeger recommends for FAR, which is around 100 hours.
I scheduled out enough hours to allow myself approximately 75, but I ended up studying only 50 hours or so. I would usually do a couple hours of studying after work, and then 5-8 hours each day on the weekends ? more than I had ever studied before.
I tried not to make plans with friends and basically shut myself off from the world for those few weeks. I figured it was a long shot that I would pass both sections before the 5/26/09 deadline, but it was now or never and the ball was in my court. After leaving the testing center on May 23, I did not feel confident because I finished FAR 15 minutes early. However, it was an immense relief to go away on vacation and not have to worry about the test until I got back.
Fast forward to last week: I knew from Jeff’s predictions that the FAR results would be coming out soon. My boyfriend ended up changing the password for me. Am I the only one who feels like I will have a heart attack waiting for the web page to load with my score? I just couldn’ do it. Well, I ended up with an 80! It still doesn’t seem real – that I FINALLY passed the exam after 7 ridiculously drawn out years.
For what it’s worth, I do have some tips that helped me finally pass:
1. Do not underestimate BEC. Everyone I know has scored the lowest on it, even though at first glance it looks to be one of the easier sections since there is no simulation. I am ashamed to admit it took me 5 times to finally pass it, and I only got a 75. I kept taking it thinking it was the “easy” section.
2. You can pick ‘A’, but only if you’re sure. I never knew this little secret until picking up Yaeger. ‘A’ is the most frequently chosen wrong answer on the exam.
3. Don’t take the exam until you are absolutely ready to devote your free time and commit to a study plan. It’s a waste of time otherwise. I wasted money and time taking sections of the exam when I had not studied adequately, and I was just going through the motions.
4. Don’t compare yourself to the people around you. I felt so much shame that all these new college graduates were passing the exam on their first try. Everyone is different, and works at their own pace.
5. Develop a study plan and stick to it. I made an excel spreadsheet with my study hours on it to keep track. It felt good to know that I was staying on track, or that I could get my 2 hours in at night and then have a little relaxation after that. If I hadn’t done that, I would have felt overwhelmed and would be thinking that I needed to study every waking hour (which would not have happened).
6. Note cards are helpful, but I also made a ?cheat sheet? for the last day or two of cramming before the test. If you don’t have a photographic memory (I don’t), I found this to be very useful. I would get into the exam and scribble down formulas I had memorized from my cheat sheet, and this definitely helped me during the test.
7. Celebrate with your family and friends when you pass, you earned it. We went through two bottles of champagne the night I found out! The best thing about passing is that you never have to take it again!
Have you passed the CPA Exam and would like to share your experience? If so, e-mail it to email@example.com. Please include a picture if at all possible.