If you decide to take a stab at passing the CPA exam, it is important that you purchase a CPA study guide. This is the first step to passing the exam. Your school text books alone are not enough to pass. School text books are a great reference, but are not focused enough on what is included on the CPA exams. The exam is broken up into 4 sections and the CPA study guides are designed to specifically address each. Your old text books have bits and pieces of information needed for each section, but are not specific enough. I repeat you MUST get a study guide. It is nearly impossible to pass the exams without it.
When studying for the CPA Exam I used the Gleim study guide with some extra questions I purchased from Ninja CPA Review. I found Gleim to be one of the cheaper study systems, but it was still high quality. I think overall I paid about $1,000 for all the CPA exam material from Gleim. I was able to pass all sections on my first attempt and I am not a genius, so I truly believe they cover everything you need without breaking the bank. Their study system includes videos, text material, multiple choice questions, and simulation questions. The videos are entertaining enough and the professors teaching try their best to keep you focused. You are also given a personal counselor that you can call or email. I didn’t use the personal counselor much, but it was a nice extra feature to have. One small feature that I really liked that was included was the study calendar that tracked if you were on pace to take your exam as well as helped you set up a study schedule.
You can study all of the Gleim material online from any computer, so there was no need to have one computer with all of the study material downloaded on to it. This was especially nice for study sessions at lunch while at work. I was also able to access the Gleim material from my Kindle and Iphone as well. The Gleim website was formatted well for each device. If you commute into work with public transportation this can be extremely valuable.
How I Studied for the CPA Exam with Gleim: My recommendation for taking the exam is to take one section every 3 months. The goal would be to be done within about a year. Remember that you only have 18 months to pass all four sections, so if you follow my test pace of one every 3 months, you can only fail twice before you need to double up on tests in one window. The CPA exam schedule consists of a two month window to take the test and then testing is closed for a month. For example, you can take the test in either January or February and then in March, testing is closed. The window starts back up in April again. Below is my specific high level study schedule for the exam using Gleim as my study guide:
December (no testing) – AUD
January – AUD
Feb – AUD/Test
March (no testing) – BEC
April – BEC
May – BEC/Test
June (no testing) – REG
July – REG
Aug – REG/Test
Sept (no testing) – FAR
Oct – FAR
Nov – FAR/Test
I scheduled all of my exam dates for Saturdays toward the afternoon and usually took the Friday off of work. I used this Friday as an all day review. I wanted to make sure I was only focused on the exam and didn’t have any work related issues on my mind. I wanted tunnel vision on this exam.
Each CPA exam section is broken down into 20 units with the Gleim study system. My goal was to finish a unit every 3 days, so I would have a lot of review time at the end before the final exam. I would take the first multiple choice quiz, watch all of the videos, and then take the Focus Questions test. The second day I would review the Knowledge Transfer Outline in its entirety and then take the second multiple choice quiz. The third day I would take at least two of the CPA test prep quizzes and then do the Tasked-Based Simulations. If there was a unit that was not as heavy with information I would try and get a head start on the next unit. Usually this meant just getting the next unit’s multiple choice questions completed. At times completing a section every three days can be very overwhelming and I sometimes didn’t complete a unit every 3 days, it was only my goal. There will be some units that will take you more time to study and understand. I also came up with some studying techniques that are not in any of the CPA exam study guides, but I felt were really effective. Some of these techniques took a little prep work, so they would occasionally eat up some study time.
How much time to spend studying for the CPA: When I was studying for the CPA exam I tried to get at least two hours of studying in every day. Most days I actually studied for about 3 hours, but Fridays were my break, so I only studied during lunch. I highly suggest taking advantage of studying at lunch. I also suggest taking advantage of weekends for catching up on studying. You can probably expect to have a few Saturdays where you study 8 – 10 hours, especially as the exam draw closer. Try and get into a routine with the studying. Set aside a specific time of the day that you are committing to studying. In other words make the time to study, don’t find time to study. Be prepared to make the exam your number one priority for your free time. You will be forced to sacrifice quite a bit during this time. On average I spent about 130 – 160 hours studying each section. In my personal opinion FAR will be the biggest time consume and with BEC you will probably get away with less studying. Depending on when your busy season, it may be beneficial to schedule BEC during your busy time. There will be some people that don’t need that much time to study, but I believe these people are rare.
After each exam I took a week off before starting to study for each section. I believe it is a good idea to take time off and give your brain some time to rest.
How I studied for each CPA exam section: There is a lot of cramming for this exam, so the more time you give yourself the better. It is very important that you are committed to your study schedule. I would try and give myself two weeks to review all the units again and take the practice exam. The first week of the two, I spent recovering all of the units, 3 units per day. I would try and do 50 multiple choice questions from a combination of the 3 units being reviewed that day. Once I finished the questions I would look over the questions I missed before moving on to re-taking the simulations for those questions. After finishing the review of the 20 units again, I would take the practice exam. The practice exam should be treated as if it was the real exam. My real CPA exam scores were always a little better than my practice exam scores. I would take the practice exam seriously because of this fact. Gleim will give you feedback after you complete the exam. It will show you where your strengths were as well as your weaknesses. I then used this as my foundation of what I would study for the last week leading up to the exam. I would spend the next week focusing heavily on my weaknesses. Most days I would spend 80% of my time studying my weaknesses and then 20% of my time reviewing all units again. It is very time consuming but, commitment makes or breaks a lot of the candidates. This is one year of your life where you will need to learn to sacrifice. Plan to do some fun things during the year, but understand that your day to day fun is going to be studying. It will be well worth it when it is all over and you see that final passing score let alone your certificate in the mail.
Is there a best order to take the CPA sections: There is no evidence that one is suggested over another. I would highly suggest starting with a section you have the most real life working experience in. For example if you are an auditor, I would start with AUD. Starting with a section you are familiar with makes it easier to understand the material and allows you to spend a little more time familiarizing yourself with the test format of the questions and not on the material itself. BEC is statistically usually the easiest every year and some people have decided to save it for last. FAR is considered by many to be the toughest because of the breadth of subject matter covered and this has caused some candidates to want to get this one out of the way first. The thinking way is that if you can pass the FAR exam, then the other exams will be easier. However, they are all tough. Personally, the order I took them in was, AUD, BEC, REG, and FAR.
Are there other study guides besides Gleim? I didn’t talk much about the Ninja CPA Review, but I used it for extra multi-choice question help once I got through all of the Gleim study units and was in review mode. I purchased their multi choice question bundle for FAR and REG. The one feature I really liked about the Ninja multiple choice questions was the progression tracker that basically kept a running average of what you have been scoring on the tests you have taken. I found out about Ninja CPA Review while studying for REG, my third exam. I believe I would have used their multiple questions test bank as a supplement to all of my sections if I would have known about them sooner. The Ninja CPA Review is also associated with Another71.com, a website devoted to test takers to ask questions, vent frustrations, share “exam war stories”, and find motivation. The website is both informative and encouraging. Many students post their struggles with the exam as well as their success stories. It is a great site to scroll through when you need a break from studying. If anything at least make sure you check out the Ninja CPA Review rap videos on Youtube, they are really entertaining as well as informative.
I couldn’t talk about CPA study guides without mentioning the Becker CPA study program. Becker CPA is a very popular choice for many candidates. It is one of the more expensive study guides, but it has proven successful for many candidates. I have not used the system personally, so I can’t give a personal opinion about it, but it is a staple for a lot of exam candidates. Most of the study guide review systems include the same types of study material. Becker is no exception to this. Becker has study books, good notes, multiple choice and simulation questions, and online content. You are able to access the study material through the Becker login just as you are able to with Gleim. One unique option that they have that was not available with Gleim was the opportunity for live classes. I have heard though that the classes end up being a classroom full students sitting in front of a DVD. The live class is option though and not required. Like Gleim, the Becker study guide can also be self-paced, which is what I preferred.
Regardless of what study guide you use it is important to have one. If you are working while you begin studying for the exam ask your employer if they have any deals worked out with any of the CPA study guide companies or if they pay for you to get your CPA. You would not want to leave any free money on the table, especially when study guides range in price from $1000 -$4,000.