CPA Exam Success: Big 4 Paul

19 Oct 2010

Club 75 Candidate Bloggers

Jeff – thanks for having a place for all of the anxious CPA exam candidates to vent their frustrations and to band together in what is probably one of the most stressful periods of our life.

Your score predictions are inspiring, and I really enjoy the support you give to stressed out candidates.

I just wanted to share with you my story about the CPA exam. I joined a Big 4 accounting firm after graduating from a Big Ten Business program in 2007. Almost immediately after I started, my firm changed to a policy that before getting promoted to Senior Associate, you had to be credentialed. Since I was employed just before the rule went into effect, I was told that I would be exempt from adhering to the new policy.

I was under this impression for the first two years with the firm, and then last fall during a coaching session, I was basically told that I should have the credential done within the next year. At this point I already had Senior level responsibilities including staffing meetings, client deliverable coordination, and several new staff members underneath me to help out with the detail work.

I found as my responsibilities increased at the firm, it wasn't entirely realistic for me to be able to pass all four exams within a year, when I'd never sat for a single one before.

I began getting serious in November of 2009, and decided to forgo my Christmas holiday in order to study. I scheduled both AUD and BEC in January, spent the entire month of December preparing after work, and took the entire week between Christmas and New Years off of work to study for the first two exams.

I alternated days between studying, so I was able to alternate days when reviewing chapters so the material really sunk in. I went through the Becker CPA Review, and after each lecture I would take extensive notes over each chapter's most important information. I worked every multiple choice question, and for the ones I missed the first time, I make sure that I marked the question for further review. Finally, I made an important decision to not waste time on the practice simulations and the flip cards.

Going into the exams, I felt very confident about my preparation, as I had been able to completely unplug from work for an entire week. Yeah, my family and my girlfriend hated me, but it was a worthy sacrifice.

When I sat for the exams, I had a very specific strategy: focus on scoring well the multiple choice, give my best effort (without wasting time) on the simulations, and focusing on the writing selection before attempting any other section of the simulation. For the multiple choice questions, if I didn't see the answer right away, I made sure to immediately eliminate two of the four incorrect answers, which meant that I had a 50/50 shot on those that I guessed on.

Secondly, I attacked the writing section because of what I perceived as free points. If you use the technical guidance section to support your writing, and present a clear and concise argument, you're almost guaranteed 9 or 10 free points. I basically left the simulations up to chance, and if I didn't know the answer, I just guessed and moved on.

After the aforementioned preparation and strategy, I was rewarded with an 93 in AUD and an 86 in BEC. As busy season hit, I had no time to study. So for the months of January – April I really put in no significant study time. I decided that my next challenge would be successfully completing the Boston Marathon for my 1st time in April, and sitting for REG at the end of May.

During busy season I was able to balance approximately 40 miles running per week with 60+ hours of client work. Once things wound down in April, I started to study using the same techniques noted above while still working normal 40 hour weeks and maintaining my running schedule.

I made sure to schedule my REG exam on a Tuesday afternoon so that I could take a four day cram block to review my notes/marked multiple choice questions before the exam. Again when sitting for the REG exam, I employed the same test taking strategy above and scored an 84.

After the REG exam, I was completely burned out. I could barely make myself do anything at work, and I didn't even feel like running anymore. Luckily this lull did not last too long as I scheduled my final exam, FAR, for the last week of August. Also during that same week in May, I registered for the Chicago Marathon to be ran in October. All summer I basically, worked, studied and ran.

I found the preparation for the FAR exam to be far (excuse the pun) more difficult than all three of the other tests combined because the sheer volume of material. I only got through all of the Becker multiple choice questions once, and didn't really get a chance to rework any of them. Though I watched lectures for all 9 of the chapters, I was only able to take notes over 5 of them due to my own procrastination. I was trying to balance all of this with my regular work load, and the 40+ miles per week I was running for the marathon preparation.

When I sat for FAR I utilized the same strategy as above, but I was seriously in doubt about my performance. Luckily, my strategy paid off again, and I received an 82. A few weeks later I finished the Chicago Marathon for the 4th time.

I guess the moral of this story is that if you have the discipline, anyone can pass the CPA exam, run two marathons, and have Senior Associate responsibilities at a Big 4 firm in just over 9 months time. Just study smarter, not harder, and be sure to execute a test taking strategy when you're sitting for the exams!


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