How to Turn CPA into CP-Yay!

by Jack McCracken, CPA, Nisivoccia LLP

I passed all four parts of the CPA exam on the first try with room to spare. I attribute this to smart study habits, hard work and a little bit of luck. Below, I will highlight some of the study habits and tricks that benefited me most on exam day.

Decide in advance when you will study. The hardest part of every study session is simply sitting down and start­ing. There will be hundreds of things competing for your time and attention. If you only study when you feel like it or happen to have time, nine times out of 10 you will choose not to study. Set yourself up for success by choosing ahead of time when you will study.

Location, location, location. Strategically picking a location to study has a huge impact on how productive your studying will be. It is important to study in a place associated with productivity and least likely to lead to distraction. During the week, I chose to study at my work office. On weekends, I alternated between my local library and a desk in my bedroom. Bottom line, find an atmosphere that works for you, and be consistent.

Stay focused. On the topic of quality studying, limiting your distractions is crucial to studying well. Take away as many distractions as possible. Don’t allow yourself to text, look at social me­dia or play any kind of game while you study. This is one of the most difficult parts of studying for the CPA exam. Limit your distractions.

Always pick quality over quantity. A couple hours of quality, focused studying is worth more in the long term than several hours of distracted or tired studying. Some days you will be in the zone absorbing new materi­al like a sponge. If the ball is rolling, don’t force it to stop. On the flipside, you are going to hit walls during your study time, but don’t be discouraged. It’s unavoidable. When this happens, try taking a short break: Grab a snack, refill your coffee, take a short walk, or if it’s late, consider going to bed so that you can be rested up for some more studying the next day.

Set small goals with rewards. Even the most studious of CPA hopefuls are go­ing to be frustrated at points. Concepts won’t click, you will get easy multiple-choice questions wrong, or maybe you’ll simply struggle to retain any new information. If you’re not careful, you might burn out. Set small goals such as making it through half of a chapter’s multiple-choice questions or simula­tions. Be creative with your rewards. It can be anything from letting yourself check Instagram to having some of your favorite candy.

The final countdown. The last two weeks before your exam are critical. At this point, you should be taking practice tests. These will include most, if not all, major concepts you are likely to see on exam day. These mock exams are difficult and designed to expose weaknesses. For this reason, don’t think of your results as an indication of how you will do on exam day. Rather, con­sider them guides for where to allocate some of your remaining study time. In the last few days before the exam, I would strongly recommend not trying to learn anything new. It is okay if you don’t know every detail. Use this time to review and reinforce what you have already covered.

Judgment day. When exam day finally comes, relax. Be confident in the time and effort you put in leading up to this day. Could you have studied more? Sure. But the past is in the past and, at this point, the best thing you can do is keep your mind fresh. Don’t do much more than glance over the major concepts and overarching themes. Walk into the exam room with your chin up. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your Notice to Schedule… like I did.

With some smart studying habits and perseverance, you too can not only add the letters CPA to your resumé and LinkedIn profile, but receive a designation that will benefit you for the rest of your professional life.