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CPA Exam Tips from an Elijah Watt Sells Award Winner

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elijah watt sells award 2014The NINJAs recently caught up with Matt Durette – an Elijah Watt Sells Award Winner, to get his take on the CPA Exam, winning the EWS Award, and find out about his future plans.

Tell us about yourself – what is your educational and work background?

I received my B.S. in Accountancy from Arizona State University in 2010. I then went to work as an accountant for a real estate services company for about 3 1/2 years.

I knew I wanted to get into tax, so I decided to go back to school at night and did the Master of Taxation program at ASU from 2012 to 2014. After graduation, I started working at a top-10 public accounting firm in the tax group.

I am also a married father of three: ages 8, 5, and 2. My family has been a tremendous support during work, school, and CPA exam preparation.

Which CPA Exam section did you take first? Any particular reasoning for your choice?

My exam process was:
1. FAR
2. AUD
3. REG
4. BEC.

I started with FAR because I heard it was the most difficult, and wanted to get that one out of the way. I think that's a decent order to take the CPA Exam.

Which section was your best study experience (i.e. least-painful) and which section was your worst?

I am not sure that I had a least-painful CPA Exam study experience, but I would say that BEC was the hardest for me. I had about five weeks to prepare, and I was never very comfortable with the concepts covered in BEC in school, particularly managerial accounting and economics.

How many hours/week on average did you study? What was your study routine?

Financial Accounting and Reporting (96)

I started FAR in mid-March and took the exam at the end of May. I did 1 to 1 1/2 sections from Becker each week. I was studying during my last quarter in the MTAX program, so the amount of hours I could dedicate to the exam varied week by week. On average, I would say I put in 15-20 hours per week for FAR.

Typically, I would watch the video lecture one night after work, then reread the chapter and take detailed notes the next night, then work through most of the problems on the 3rd night. I graduated in mid-May, so I spent the last two weeks of May in a detailed review of the material, which included retyping my notes, making flash cards, memorizing journal entries, and working as many MCQs as I could.

Auditing and Attestation (99)

I started AUD the day after I took FAR. I wasn't sure if I had passed or not, but I decided to move forward anyway. I spent about 20 hours per week on Audit; usually 2-3 hours per weeknight and 5 hours on Saturday.

I followed the same strategy as FAR — video lecture one night, rereading the chapter and taking notes the next, then working through the MCQs the third/fourth. I had about 3 weeks of time to review before the exam, so I spent it working on my weak spots. I took Audit towards the end of July.

Regulation (95)

Next was REG, which I started studying for right away. I felt pretty good about the tax chapters (after having recently completed the MTAX program). There were still a number of things I had to work on, but they came a lot easier to me. The business law chapters were pretty tough.

I spent most of my time studying these sections. Same strategy as before; same amount of hours each week. I was working in public tax by this time, so I had to scrape a bit more to find time to study. I took REG a few days after the 10/15 deadline.

Business Environment & Concepts (95)

Last was BEC, which as I mentioned above was probably the hardest section for me. I had always heard that BEC was the easiest one. I really focused on the managerial accounting and economic sections.

Same strategy as the others — video lecture one night, reread the text and type detailed notes, then work through the MCQs. I took BEC right around Thanksgiving.

Which NINJA products did you use? How did you incorporate them into your study plan?

I used NINJA MCQ for each of the exams as a supplement to Becker, which was provided by my work. I asked advice from my brother, who had passed the exams a few years prior, and he suggested to work through as many MCQs as I could, so I did just that.

I worked through all the Becker MCQs, then did about 50-60% of the NINJA MCQs. I thought the NINJA ones were more difficult than the Becker questions, which was a good thing.

I was trending about 7-10 points below my actual exam scores for each of the sections. The NINJA product was great because it showed me where I was weakest, and I was able to focus on that section until I felt really comfortable with it.

I would say the NINJA MCQ were essential to my success.

Was the Elijah Watt Sells Award a goal from the beginning, or was it something that became a goal along the way as you progressed through your exams?

I knew of the Elijah Watt Sells Award prior to taking the exams, but it was not a goal of mine until I received my first score. I was expecting to score in the 80s on FAR, but my result came back a 96. I refreshed my screen a couple times sure it was a glitch, but it stayed there. At that point I knew I could continue to score that well on the remaining exams if I put the same effort into it.

How nervous were you during the final score release – knowing the EWS Award was hanging in the balance?

I would be lying if I said I didn't care. I think I had to score at least a 93 on BEC in order to qualify. I was pretty excited to see that I had surpassed that.

What advice would you give to a CPA candidate who is just starting on their journey?

I would say to read the first half of Stephen Covey's “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” — just read the first three habits for now. You can knock this out in a day or two.

These habits are:

1) Be proactive
2) Begin with the end in mind
3) Put first things first

Really internalize these principles as you read, and think of how you can apply them as you take the exams. The CPA Exam process is a huge time commitment, but as you prioritize and strive to maintain balance, you can be successful in this and all of your other commitments.

What's next for you – any additional certifications or education?

No plans on additional certifications or education. I want to get back into my hobbies, such as reading, playing guitar, and spending time with friends and family.

Thank you for your time!

You're very welcome. Thanks to the NINJA community for your support of one another. If you have any questions for me, let me know and I'll do my best to answer them.

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12 comments on “CPA Exam Tips from an Elijah Watt Sells Award Winner”

  • Congratulations! I hope things are going well. I have terrible handwriting, but after seeing your success is encouraging to me. I can probably learn as much typing as handwriting. I should probably be doing more of each because that’s part of what I love about the N.I.N.J.A. framework.

  • Congrats! I did not know about the EWS award until after I took BEC on 10/2/2015. I was reading posts on another71 and came across a thread about this prestigious award. I scored a 94 on Audit back in August and have yet to find out BEC. I have a shot at qualifying, but my next 3 scores will have to average around 96.5%. It’s a tough goal to shoot for, but it’s motivating me in my studies. It’s easier to push myself to study for a 96.5 then a 75, at least in my mind.

  • Not able register for forum I already
    have Far MCQ Ninja and purcurche notes.
    Keeps kicking saying about not human.

  • Mr. Durette,

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    My last accounting class was in 1998. I am now awaiting my BEC score (5th attempt)!!! I feel better now that someone else agrees that BEC is an ultimate nightmare for some of us. Nontheless, your score does not reflect that. I simply pray this will be the last time since I will lose my credit for AUD. This score determine whether I can now wear the name CPA.

    All the best!!!

    All

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    Would You Hate It If I Gave You $162.12 Of Free CPA Review Material That Will Help You…

    1) Study Less

    2) Avoid Common CPA Candidate Mistakes

    3) Get Higher Scores

    4) Spend More Time with Friends and Family

    5) Finally Pass and Get On With Your Life?