According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment prospects for CPAs are expected to increase by 22% between now and 2028. Earning a CPA accreditation signals to accounting firms that you’re dedicated to advancing within the field, and gaining CPA expertise early in your career opens up a range of prospects, including higher income and opportunities for promotion.
In my case, passing the Uniform CPA Exam helped me advance from audit associate to assurance senior in a shorter time frame and earn about $25,000 a year more than I could have without a CPA. The prospect of preparing for (and passing) all four parts of the CPA exam in the mandated 18-month period can be daunting. Based on my experience, here are some tips for balancing work, life, and studying for the CPA exam.
If you’re like I was and are a working professional seeking a CPA accreditation, the first thing I did before diving into my studies was set up a realistic study plan. I would balance my work schedule with my study plan and I figured out the time of day I studied most productively. Whether you study in the morning or at night, it really helps to study every day at the same time.
I next needed to determine how long each study session should be. I found that studying for two hours in a row was a little too much, but I needed a minimum of one hour to really get going, so I opted for an hour and a half. My schedule was to study at 8 or 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. I would take Friday off, then study on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Once you’ve found an effective time and duration for your study sessions, it’s all about sticking to the plan.
Once you pass the first part of the exam, it might be tempting to take a break from studying. From my experience, though, it’s tougher to get back into your exam prep once you take a break, and you only have a limited time to complete the four parts of the exam. For me, it was crucial to study a bit almost every day and continue preparing for the next session as soon as possible.
This can be especially challenging during peak season from January to April, when accounting professionals may work 60 or more hours a week. In my case, however, I continued to study daily, beginning later in the evening, and cutting the amount of time I spent each day. If family events or other activities got in the way, I would spend additional time studying the next night or on weekends.
Studying tools and tactics
Everyone has to take the exam alone, but you don’t have to prepare alone. Accounting firms often provide CPA exam preparation to their workers to encourage them to pursue certification and further their careers. While I worked at CliftonLarsonAllen, they gave us a few tools to choose from. I picked UWorld Roger CPA Review because it’s based on its engaging video lessons and its active learning approach, a learning method centered on the principle that we learn better by doing. For me, I’ve found this to be true.
The majority of the CPA exam is multiple-choice questions. So while I did watch lectures to learn and review concepts, what I focused on was answering hundreds and hundreds of multiple-choice questions before I took each part of the exam. Whether I got the answers right or wrong, each question came with a detailed explanation that helped me not just prepare for the exam, but retain the information that I would eventually need to do my job better. Working through the many questions also meant that, when it came time for the actual exam, answering multiple-choice questions felt routine rather than intimidating.
One of the most challenging parts of passing the CPA exam while working is avoiding burnout. After I had passed the first three parts and only had the notoriously difficult FAR left, I had a period of feeling helpless. The material was really difficult, and it felt like no matter how much time I spent on it, it wasn’t making sense. It was the last test and I knew I should be motivated, but at that point I was burnt out.
Passing FAR was my No. 1 priority and my 18-month period was almost up, so I decided to take some time off from work in order to finish it. The timing worked out well: the firm where I was working got acquired, so there were a lot of changes going on. Everything was going to be brand new, so I felt like it was a good time to leave and focus on passing FAR. This way, I didn’t have to worry about working and also fitting in time to study.
In the end, the whole process was worth it. I passed FAR with a few weeks to spare, and found a new job where I now use the skills I learned along the way. My final bit of advice for those considering the CPA exam is this: The process of getting officially licensed is a long one, so being patient throughout is key.
About the author:
Nishil Akbari earned his accounting degree from Cal State Fullerton. While working with CliftonLarsonAllen, he passed his CPA exam in January 2021 and is a licensed CPA in California. He is currently an assurance senior working for Moss Adams. He can be reached at [email protected]