How to Study for the CPA Exam in 5 Steps
Step 1: (N)INJA – Nail the Concepts
Read your NINJA Book for two weeks max. Create a per-day study budget according to how many days out of the week you're going to study.
Are you going to study five days a week for those two weeks?
Great. That's ten study days.
Just using a nice round number, assume a book has 500 pages. That's 50 pages per day.
By 50 pages per day, I mean reading … skimming … going over examples … skimming some more … application questions.
Make sure you hit your daily budget!
This is where you deploy two other NINJA weapons: NINJA Notes and NINJA Audio.
You want to consume each of these as many times as possible between now and exam day.
Have a 30-minute commute each way? That's 5 hours of NINJA Audio per week, which is at least one listen all the way through, depending on the section.
Load it onto your phone and listen as much as possible.
At the grocery store? Earbuds (Airpods) + NINJA Audio.
Doing laundry? NINJA Audio.
At the gym? NINJA Audio.
Going to sleep at night? NINJA Audio (a side benefit is that you'll fall asleep faster than ever before).
People tell me all of the time, “I kept hearing your voice on exam day.”
(They also tell me that their kids hate the NINJA Audio because it's always on. #winning)
Similarly, load the NINJA Notes onto your tablet, phone, and if you want to – print them out.
Read them constantly.
Some people don't like the fact that sometimes they are listening/reading material in the notes or audio that they haven't yet covered in the book.
Two things here:
1) When you do cover it, it will make more sense.
2) The repetition over time will pay big dividends, I promise.
Notes Notes Notes.
Audio Audio Audio.
Your kids and significant other will be sick of my voice, which will cause them to celebrate even more once you pass and they chant, “no more ninja!”
Step 2: N(I)NJA – Intense Notes
If you've already plunked down a few thousand on a CPA Review course, you likely had study videos, and you probably took notes.
When the instructor said something interesting, you wrote it down.
Same thing here.
As you see things in bold, or something in an example that catches your eye – write it down.
I recommend buying a big stack of legal pads and going to town on them.
Keep in mind that taking notes is still part of your daily budget. Using 50 pages as an example – you still have to hit it even though you're taking notes in addition to reading.
Very Important: If you find yourself getting bogged down and can't quite get through the book at the budgeted pace: That's ok. It's normal actually.
After your two weeks are up, punt the book and move on to the MCQ. You can make up lost ground there.
Step 3: NI(N)JA – Non-Stop MCQ
MCQ. MCQ is the most critical step in your CPA Exam prep. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either confused or has another agenda.
You can read the NINJA Book all day long. You can watch XYZ review course videos about ABC topic, but one thing is for sure:
The multiple-choice questions in NINJA MCQ are from actual exams.
Yes, they are theoretically retired questions (but come on, you can only ask a question about Bonds or Leases so many different ways), but these are actual concepts that the AICPA has tested on in the past.
Concepts are wonderful.
Concepts that have been tested are wonderful-er. That's a word.
What I mean is this:
NINJA MCQ is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. You must know the concepts in your software.
I recommend camping out in this middle stage 2-3 weeks.
If you miss a question: write it down.
If you get it right but think you'll forget it in 3 weeks: write it down.
You can make up for a lot of lost time by cranking on the MCQ.
You need to have a “Trending” score in NINJA MCQ of at least 81%.
Why? That's the average.
81% also gives you some breathing room.
People who have a passing Trending Score in NINJA MCQ pass the actual exam 94% of the time (sample size: 600).
What about the Simulations?
Good question. Let's talk about that.
I have never been a huge proponent of spending a lot of time on the Simulations.
I know some people disagree, and that's fine.
Here is why.
You can study 20 SIM topics and get none of them on exam day.
You are guaranteed to see your MCQ topics on exam day, and those same topics will be tested in the SIMS.
Consequently, I believe that if you are conceptually-sound enough to master the MCQ, then you can apply that knowledge to the SIMS.
Let's face it: The SIMS are simply MCQ concepts tested another way.
Sure, they have a different look and feel, but that's why it's important to do the AICPA Sample Test.
In the past, I recommended people do an 80/20 split between MCQ/SIMS. That was when SIMS were 40%. They're 50% now … So, I can see someone doing 70/30.
(Although, I'm still a fan of 80/20 … 75/25? Sure. I'll give some ground there.)
“NINJA MCQ – A must! Solving through all of the MCQ, understanding solutions, and adding new information nuggets to your notes — absolutely critical.
With the NINJA Notes, I printed out the notes and used as a knowledge check closer to the exam. Information is high-level, so you can quickly run through and get a comfort level on what you should go back to review in detail.
NINJA Audio is nice to use during the commute or if you are an auditory learner. The Audio MCQ are nice to keep you engaged.”
– Olga Timirgalieva, Elijah Watt Sells Award Winner
(Passed the CPA Exam on the first try with an average score of 95.5*)
* Disclaimer – Not a typical result … Only 1 out of every 1,000 CPA Candidates win the EWS Award each year.
Step 4: NIN(J)A – Just Re-Write Your Notes
(hmmm…sounds vaguely like the CPA Exam itself…)
Two weeks out from your exam, re-write your notes.
What if taking notes along the way wasn't for you, or you didn't have time, or whatever?
No worries. Re-write the NINJA Notes.
In the decade-plus that I've been recommending this, I can count on zero fingers the number of emails from people who were upset that they spent all of that time re-writing their notes.
I have received many emails over time from people thanking me for recommending that they do it.
There's nothing magical about it. It's simply this:
Taking your furious note scribbles and re-writing them into little fact nuggets causes you to think about the material and let it marinate in your brain.
It's why highlighting is terrible and taking notes is good. Your brain absorbs the information better.
Again, only do this if you're two weeks out…because it will take a week to do this step.
Step 5: NINJ(A) – All Comes Together
You made it! Review time. It's your final week of exam prep.
Your Notice to Schedule is printed out (multiple copies – including one in your glove box), and it's t-minus seven days.
Start doing 20 question mini testlets in the MCQ, starting with your weakest topic first.
Picking your weakest topic is easy.
Sure, you have the analytics showing your deficiencies, but think about which topics you HOPE they don't test you on.
The ones that scare you to death keep you up and night and paralyze you with anxiety and fear to the point that you can't even utter their names.
Those are your weakest topics. Start there.
Do 20 question sets until you're scoring in the mid-70s and move on to your next-weakest topic.
If you're especially weak in an area, it might be a good idea to watch a NINJA PLUS or Hot Spot video over that area before continuing.
As you review during this final week, you only have time for three things:
When you're not cranking on NINJA MCQ, you're reading NINJA Notes.
When you make a quick run to the grocery store to grab cat food for Fluffy, you listen to the NINJA Audio.
When you're walking through the store to the cat food aisle, you're listening to the NINJA Audio on your phone.
When you're in the waiting room at the dentist: NINJA Notes.
When you're at work, staring at spreadsheets: NINJA Audio.
Utilize every last study second and cram as much info as you can.
As you do all of this, you'll ask yourself, “Hmmm … What if I listened to the audio non-stop during week one of my next exam as intensely as I am week seven for this one?”
This is where you take an afternoon and watch the NINJA BLITZ videos, preferably the afternoon before your exam for maximum cramming impact.
The Night Before The CPA Exam
Some people say, “Go watch a movie. What's done is done.”
I say, “Pffft” to that.
I am a big fan of 1 pm exams so that you can study late the night before and then get up the next morning and hit the weak areas one more time.
Crank. Crank. Crank.
Cram. Cram. Cram.
Notes. Notes. Notes.
Read the NINJA Notes so many times that you hate me, the word “NINJA,” and the state of Kansas in general.
(There's nothing to do here, except head West to Colorado, so we're not offended.)
Listen to the NINJA Audio up to the millisecond that you get out of the car to walk into Prometric, and give your exam a spinning back-fist to the face.
Take several days off from studying after your exam. If possible, go on that Road Trip (and send pics to your co-workers who are still studying).
To Your Success (and getting your LIFE back!),
Jeff Elliott, CPA (KS)
Another71.com & NINJA CPA Review
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