The Working Mom’s Guide To Surviving the CPA Exam

Update: Alysson is now a licensed CPA in Florence, South Carolina, and owns her own CPA firm.

Working mothers are in a category all their own when it comes to passing the CPA exam. We not only strive to balance work and family, but when you throw the CPA Exam in the mix, you're going down a road only a few can fathom.

We are the rock of the family. We provide financial support, comfort, nutrition, stability, refereeing, homework checks, matching socks, boo-boo kisses, clean toilets, chauffeur service, etc.

We give everything our absolute all, and no one notices when we skip a beat because we are that good. That's why it was so difficult for me to accept I could not reach my unattainable level of perfection while I tried to pass the CPA exam.

Something had to give. For instance, I had a semi-decorated house at Christmas, and at another time, I was 3 points shy of passing this exam. Being successful at it all is unrealistic, but rejoice in the small triumphs. Your children are absorbing your every reaction.

cpa exam working mother

Jeff's site has wonderful tips for studying the material, but here are some things I've learned in the last two years to help along the way:

1. This exam is a temporary situation.

It may be miserable now, but suck it up, study, and finish it as quickly as possible. Prioritize studying. My house is not as spotless as I like, but livable.

2. Make a study schedule and stick to it.

Keep in mind you will need extra days for emergencies. If you think AUD will take you five weeks to prepare, schedule 6. When Junior gets head lice and can't go to school, you know YOU are the one who will stay home with him, collecting those lice eggs and sterilizing the bedsheets.

3. Learn to say “No.”

When you are asked to be the Cub Scout treasurer or tutor some college kid over accounting basics, or your in-laws want to visit the weekend before your exam, say, “No. I'd love to, but I have to study for a very important exam”. I'll miss the excuse when I'm done. Unfortunately, I've had to decline fun stuff too. Remember #1. This is not forever.

4. Take full advantage of kid-free time.

Study when they are at school or asleep. If someone offers to keep your kids, let them. Make deals. For example, agree to take your sister's kids to the zoo after your exam if she takes yours right now.

5. Flashcards or portable notes are a must.

Those unexpected times when you are stuck at the pediatrician's office, car line, or at some lame birthday party. For BEC and AUD, I had cheat sheets that I made copies of and left in the car, my purse, and on the mantle, so I could always look at the pure memorization topics. Just looking at it for a few minutes a day helps.

Jeff has some Free NINJA Notes that you can check out.

6. If you love to shop like me, use the Internet.

Nothing beats a study break where I can go online and buy tiger-printed platform wedge heels and then go right back to my review. Now, where will I wear them? To Prometric, of course.

7. Don't stress about dark roots and/or gray hair.

Embrace a ponytail. Focus on comfort and convenience and not so much appearance. Put the People StyleWatch down for now.

8. Find support from someone who knows what it is like to take the CPA exam.

I don't know anyone I can talk to about the exam except my cyber friends at Another71. If it weren't for all of you, I'd be alone in this and would have given up a long time ago. There is an incredible amount of support here.

9. Allow yourself little splurges.

I keep dark chocolate in my desk and am on a frozen coffee drink kick right now. Reward yourself for achieving your daily goals. I sound like a cheesy magazine article but it's true.

10. Give yourself some alone time.

Find out what makes you relax and focus. It could be a few minutes of meditation, a bubble bath, or watching a movie alone. I like spin classes. My instructor says during class, “Take advantage of this time for yourself. If you don't, someone will steal it away from you”. Amen, sister. Health clubs usually have childcare too. Bonus.

11. Immediately after you sit for an exam, get a pedicure, facial, massage, or nap with your baby, or whatever makes you REALLY happy.

I appreciate those after-exam treats more than any other time. It helps me to let it go and not immediately pull out my text and beat myself up for all the wrong answers I picked.

12. When someone asks what you want for Christmas or your birthday, refer them to a gift card for #11.

13. Stock up on easy-to-prepare box foods.

We go through an embarrassing amount of taco kits and jar spaghetti sauce. Remember this is temporary. We can be the Barefoot Contessa when this is over.

14. Husbands who are new to this process will need time to adjust.

They cannot read your mind, so tell them what you expect. For example, if my husband needs an anniversary hint, I refer him to #3. When he asks, “What's for dinner?” I refer him to #5. It won't take him long to figure out things have changed, but always remind him it won't be like this forever. If your marriage is struggling with the CPA Exam, hang on to it!

15. Don't get obsessed with how many hours you study but focus on what you absorb.

It is a tedious task to get an accurate number when you are constantly being interrupted at work or home. The one time I decided to keep a tally of every minute I studied for FAR, I developed a false sense of security. How could I fail if I put in 100 hours of study time? I did fail. The next time I realized I needed to truly understand and feel comfortable with the material.

16. When I am feeling unmotivated, I take out baby pictures of my kids.

I realize how precious time is and how quickly it flies by. The sooner I finish this exam, the sooner I can spend more time with them.

17. The night before an exam, cook a big family meal.

Make sure it's NOT FROM A BOX or go out for dinner with them. The point is not to cram, study, or get stressed. If you don't know it the night before, you won't learn it. Stick to a light review.

I can't say that I have followed this religiously, but I wish I had. Live and learn.

I look forward to all this hard work paying off and being among those who get to shop at an actual mall, nap, and read fiction.

To Working Moms Everywhere,

Alysson O'Steen Scott, CPA (SC)

PS – Share this with a Future CPA Mom who could use some encouragement