How I Did It: A CPA Exam Success Story

It’s been a little over a year since I completed the difficult journey that is the CPA exam.  Once you finish the exam, it’s easy to forget the periodic gut-wrenching stress as you are struggling to get through your material and exam time approaches.

You tend to concentrate on the highs- getting the passing scores, cheering on your friends, and mastering those tricky topics that seem to perpetually elude you in your practice exams.

For me, passing the exam was all about motivation. If I studied all of my material, I passed. If I didn’t, I would get those oh-so-painful 73 and 74 scores.

I figured out quickly that if I didn’t manage my studying time and had to skim the last 2 chapters of my study guide, I wasn’t going to pass. Fortunately I figured this out quickly.

I failed FAR once (didn’t have time to study Governmental/Not-for-profit) and REG once (studied about ½ the material due to lack of time, and went into the exam knowing I wouldn’t pass).

My exam journey was a long one. I sat for BEC in 2006 and passed, then “got busy” and didn’t take the rest of my sections. It wasn’t until 2010 that I had the money, time and motivation to take the exam again. I sat for FAR in January 2010 (see above) and didn’t pass.

I was planning to take AUD in late May, and in the last week of April I logged onto the Prometric site only to discover with horror that I only had one week left on my NTS. It was Monday, and the closest testing center with an opening was 3 hours away.

Instead of giving up, I decided to go down fighting and I decided to memorize and invent acronyms for everything in the Wiley AUD book I could come up with. I took a “gulp and vomit” approach and went for rote memorization of the audit/review/comp standards, standard audit report, types of evidence, etc.

I listened to some outdated, 2006 audios every time I sat in my car (only the ones that still applied, of course!).  On my way to the exam center, I listened to the standard audit report and variations over and over again. I walked out of the exam feeling that it was disturbingly easy, and cried thinking I’d had all easy questions.

I scored a 92.

That was the beginning of my trail to the CPA. Since Wiley served me so well for AUD, I bought all the guides for each section as I prepared to take them. I also utilized the NINJA Notes heavily for last-minute review, and numerous times found that some little nugget would stick and give me one more of those precious correct answers.

After AUD, I next decided to hit FAR again. Wiley didn’t let me down, and I scored an 82. After FAR, summer and wedding planning caught up with me and I blew off REG in late August.

That fall I was getting married in October, and due to a snafu with my new driver’s license, I had to reschedule my REG retake from late November to early February. I’d already scheduled BEC for early January and didn’t want to study for two sections at once.

I purchased the Wiley BEC book, and finding it a bit slim decided to take a chance and use my old 2006 materials as backup. While many of the practice questions were similar, having some additional pages to review made me feel like I had a bit more under my belt, and I passed BEC with an 84.

I think that BEC, of all the topics, is the section where outdated materials will hurt you the least as most of the material isn’t time-sensitive or subject to frequent change.

When what I hoped was my final test came around, I didn’t take any chances. I purchased a cram for REG, bought the Wiley book, and hit the NINJA Notes pretty hard. I nailed business law to death, memorized AGI modifiers and itemized deductions, and every limit I could think of. Fortunately, it paid off with an 82.

For me, one of the hardest parts of the exams was waiting for scores. In early 2011 when I took BEC and REG, the wait for scores until the end of the testing window was pure torture. I was working long hours at a CPA firm but could hardly concentrate in March as I waited for my scores.

My journey finally came to an end on March 31, 2011. After a month of pulling my hair out and several days of frustration, I was finally able to get my scores from NASBA on the very last day of the scoring window.

Due to some kind of computer glitch, NASBA showed my scores as available for viewing, however each time I tried to look them up I would get the dreaded “No scores available for this section.” In the end I posted several unhappy letters to their “contact us” form on the NASBA website and on their Facebook page and finally got the attention of someone who corrected the problem.

Voila, 84 and 82 on my last two sections! DONE!

Looking back, there were many highs and lows in my CPA exam journey. My lowest point on the exam was probably a tie between failing FAR the first time after months of study and of course waiting for my final exam scores.

Besides the obvious high of passing my last exam, I would have to say my other highest point was passing AUD with a 92 after only a week of studying. That gave me the confidence that if I devoted myself fully to the exam, I would be able to pass with flying colors.

And as all test-takers know, that confidence can be what makes or breaks you on exam day.

-Erica