No Cutting Corners: How I Finally Passed the CPA Exam

11 Feb 2014

NINJA CPA Review, NINJA Hall of Fame

Katrina is a guest blogger sharing her journey to pass the CPA Exam.

It’s finally over. I just received my final passing score. It’s absolutely surreal.

This journey has been long, difficult, frustrating, annoying, expensive, humbling, angering, yet completely worth it in the end.

I’ve been a member of the Another71 Forum for a few years, but rarely posted. I was embarrassed of my journey. However, reading the struggles of others provided hope and promise. If they could conquer the exam and come out on top after so many attempts, so could I!

So many thanks go out to JoMarie, Kricket, MCKLT, Baxter, and so many others for sharing their stories. If it weren’t for them, I really don’t know if I would have kept going. So, I’m paying it forward now. I wanted to write this blog post to give other CPA candidates the hope that anyone can do this.

If you want it bad enough, you’ll work hard enough to get it.

I started this journey in June 2010. I took a live course. I ended up going to the live classrooms for REG and half of BEC. I just couldn’t make myself go anymore. It was too much material all at once, and my brain couldn’t handle concentrating for that long at one time. It was 8 hours every Saturday!

So, I thought it would be more efficient for me if I just watched the lectures at home, in smaller chunks. I ended up sitting for all 4 sections within 6 months and failed each one of them. Honestly, I thought it was going to be like college.

I thought I could read the book, work some MCQs, maybe read the book again, and pass the exam. I mean, I only needed a 75 right?! After the fourth failing score, I took nearly one year off from studying.

By the time I got my motivation back after failing 4 exams in a row, my software license was close to expiration. So this time, I decided to take a different route. I had heard great things about another self-study review course. It appeared to be more of a teaching course, than a review course….and I felt like I was having a difficult time grasping the material the first time around. After all, I was nearing 30 so I had been out of college for quite some time.

It offered exactly what it promised, however I quickly realized that the problem was me. I just didn’t have the patience to sit through those video lectures. They were so boring (not their fault, any accounting lecture is boring) and every lecture that I tried watching, I ended up counting down the minutes until it was over instead of paying attention.

So after many more failing attempts, I realized I needed to change my strategy.

I had worked in Internal Audit and decided to make the change to public accounting. I found a small firm which offered the experience of doing both tax and audit, and I made the leap. If I wasn’t busy at work, I was encouraged to study for the exam.

By the time my first tax season ended, I had sat for the CPA exam 13 times. Yes, you read that correctly. 13 sittings = 13 fails. Has anyone ever tried to tell you that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over, and expecting a different result? After so many failed attempts and so much time and money spent, I was ready to throw in the towel.

Then I read a post on Another71 by MCKLT, titled “How I increased my score 24 points”. Wow. That was it! She gave me the kick in the pants that I needed. Everything that she listed in her post were things that I had already tried: taking rigorous notes, re-writing those notes, re-reading and re-reading and re-reading those notes, thousands of MCQs, flashcards, NINJA audio, etc.

Except at that moment I realized that I was only half attempting to do each of those things. I would take notes, but then never look at them again. I would re-write my notes, but also listen to the TV at the same time. I did MCQ’s but maybe only a few hundred, not thousands, etc.

I wasn’t passing this exam, because I wasn’t giving it my all. I was cutting corners because I hated studying and I was so sick and tired of it. If I’m being completely honest, I was being lazy.

I had no one to blame but myself.

I thought I could pass these exams by doing the bare minimum. I decided that I couldn’t quit and I couldn’t give up until I did EVERYTHING possible to pass. And only then, if I could honestly say that I gave the exam everything I had and still failed, then maybe I wasn’t meant to be a CPA.

So this is what I did: I ditched the lectures. They weren’t doing me a bit of good anyway. I read a chapter of the Wiley textbook, worked ALL questions at the end of the chapter, and then started a notepad and took notes on all the questions that I got wrong.

Then I re-read that chapter, then re-read the notes I just took. I did this for each chapter, and at the end of each chapter re-read all the notes I took from previous chapters. After finishing all of the chapters in the Wiley textbook, I put the textbook away. At that point the textbook was no longer necessary unless I needed clarification on a topic.

Then, I took out the NINJA Notes and read all of the chapters. Next, I moved onto the Wiley test bank. I went chapter by chapter through the test bank, adding to my notes for any questions that I got wrong. After doing ALL questions in the Wiley test bank, then I moved to re-writing my notes and the NINJA notes.

This is really where things started to solidify and come together for me. This is very time consuming and your hand will cramp and ache, but I’m telling you that this step is crucial and totally worth the effort! First I re-wrote the NINJA notes for a chapter (in one legal pad), then re-wrote all of my own notes for that chapter (in a separate legal pad).

As I re-wrote my own notes, I reorganized these notes by topic, because I’m super Type A and anal and also because it helped to organize my thoughts if all topics were grouped together. I used the NINJA notes as a framework for the topics within the chapter for cohesiveness.

Immediately after re-writing all the notes for a chapter, I would then re-work all Wiley test bank MCQ’s for that chapter. I did that for each chapter until all chapters were complete.

Then I concentrated on re-reading my notes, over and over and over again. Switching back to the Wiley test bank, I worked 10, 20, or 30 MCQ for all topics over, and over, and over again. I literally worked thousands of MCQ’s (nearly 5,000 each for FAR and REG, and over 3,000 each for BEC and AUD).

And if I memorized the question/answer, I still worked out the problem and would tell myself out loud why the answer was correct and why the other options were incorrect—to make sure I knew the logic behind each question and what it was asking.

If I felt weak on one particular area, I would work that area until I was proficient. Then move on to the next area and work those questions for a while, then come back to the weak area the next day and make sure that the information was sticking.

Most evenings after crawling into bed, and nearly every weekend morning, I watched the NINJA Blitz videos using Apple TV. These were great because they are short, to the point, and kept my attention. If I had free time like waiting in line or sitting my car, I went through my NINJA flashcards. The flashcards are awesome because it jogs your brain in a different way than the notes or MCQ … they make you THINK to come up with an answer vs. just simply reading.

And lastly, anytime I drove anywhere, I listened to the NINJA audio. By the way, Jeff is not paying or bribing me to say all of these great things about the NINJA products; I really did buy them, used them, loved them, and highly recommend them!

Some people will tell you that doing practice Simulations are a waste of time. I disagree. I found that working practice simulations helped to get me familiar with all of the different formats that I could be asked on exam day. For me, simulations gave me a lot of anxiety.

I spent so much time working MCQ’s that sometimes it’s difficult to process the information in a different format, like a simulation. If for no other reason, working the simulations is helping to re-enforce the material and helps me to think and process the material in a different manner.

One important thing that I learned is that if I was weak on a particular area or just hated a certain topic, I could bet money that I would see that topic on exam day. It took 13 attempts (remember, insanity?!), but I finally learned that it would be much less time consuming for me to just suck it up and learn the material that I despise, then to re-study for another 4-6 weeks and have to re-take the exam again.

Listen, Stockholder’s Equity and Bonds (or whatever topic happens to be your worst enemy) are the worst topics ever, but there is a good chance that you won’t pass the exam if you don’t have a firm understanding of them! Just study it now and be done with it!

This is the plan that I used to finally pass Audit in May 2013 (77), FAR in October 2013 (75), BEC in November 2013 (75), and REG in January 2014 (86). Boom! See that final score? Yeah, I do some tax work at my current job during tax season and I despise it! How does that score even happen?

Busting your ass and not cutting a single corner, that’s how!

For anyone who has sat for this exam many times and can’t seem to get a passing score, I know where you are and I understand the feeling. There were so many times that I wanted to give up so badly. But I didn’t because I knew I was capable of passing.

The reality is that I was lazy in the beginning. The thing you have to remember is that anyone can pass this exam — If you are eligible to sit for the exam, you have the qualifications to pass. You just have to put in the work that is necessary in order to pass. If you’re still not passing, then you are not studying enough! That’s the harsh reality.

There is a huge difference between quality of study time and quantity of study time. Yes, it is true that some people pass on the first try with what appears to be minimal study time. But that is not typical and everyone is different. Everyone retains and absorbs information differently. Some people need more time than others.

Just don’t ever give up!!!!

Leave a Reply


Wanna_B_TX_CPA_2014 10 years ago

Congrats on passing the exam! After reading how you studied, I am curious as to how long it took you to prepare for each sections. Your study plan was very intense and I think I would like to adopt your method.

Katrina 10 years ago

@wanna_b_tx_cpa_2014:disqus Thank you!! I studied about 35-40 hours per week for all sections. This is do-able with Jeff's ELL plan if you work full time and can devote weekends to studying. It took me 4 weeks each for BEC and AUD, 5 weeks for REG and 6 weeks for FAR. Good Luck!!!! -Katrina

ruggercpa2b 10 years ago

Congratulations! I really needed to read this because I have been half ass studying since 2011. 2014 will be my year. And like you I am giving up on the videos and am just reading the Wiley book and religiously using my Ninja products.

BaxterCPA 10 years ago

Your post is very inspiring and and your picture is too much cute! Congratulations on slaying this beast. (and thanks for the shout-out!)

Nancie 10 years ago

Thank you for this and congratulations. I am just starting out new. I am currently in graduate school and now that I have a break...I am thinking about starting my journey. You basically gave me an idea of how things might be. I see you mentioned below that you studied 34-40 hours per this possible for me? I work full time and go to school. Thank you!