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How To Pass the CPA Exam With a 20 Year Old Accounting Degree

It seems like after all these years together, we’ve answered just about every question possible. Plus, with the addition of Open Items, you can now post your questions directly and have them answered immediately by the GC faithful versus sitting in our inboxes for however long it takes for us to get around to it. But since it has been so long since we’ve gotten an inquiry in the Advice Box, we figured hey, why not? If you have a question for us — big or small — get in touch.

Hello Adrienne,

I ran across your article “Do you Really need to Buy That $3,000 CPA Review Course?” from 2013.  I do have a few questions and hopefully you can help.
I live in California and got my BA degree in accounting in 1994.  I’m now interested in taking the exams and getting certified.  I’m very rusty obviously and I think it will probably be a 2 year project.
Here are my questions.
1) Should I take the CPA review courses and exams first, and then take any missing university courses that’s now required in the state of CA after?  Does it matter which comes first?
2) If my friend wants to lend me her CPA review materials from 2012, will it be enough to pass the exams?  Do I really need the most current materials?
Any advice would be much appreciated.
Geez. 1994? We could judge you for putting it off for 20 years or we could congratulate you for biting the bullet and getting this done now. We’ll go with the latter as judgment doesn’t necessarily motivate people.
As everyone and their mother is fully aware, a lot has changed since 1994. Your accounting textbooks are so old they could be featured in a BuzzFeed Rewind post about Things Only 90s Accounting Students Would Understand (slap bracelets, Dunkaroos, and pre-SOX oh my!).
Do you need a refresher? Might not hurt if you shelved your degree for 20 years and have been working in a completely different field in the time since. If you’ve been exercising that atrophied accounting muscle in any capacity and keeping up on the latest rules and regulations since ’94, even if you’re just doing payroll, then you may not need that extensive of a refresher but it can’t hurt either.
If you are short a few accounting courses to meet the requirement to sit for the CPA exam in California, you will want to do those first. Not because you are rusty but because you won’t be able to sit until you have those courses under your belt and you don’t want to start studying for the CPA exam too long before you are eligible to sit. I’m sure you’ve already found this but here’s a handy list of what you need from the California Board of Accountancy as of January 2014. You might also want to check out the CBA’s CPA Exam Handbook here.
SO, get those out of the way first. That’ll also help you figure out if you need more courses to “brush up” before you get into studying. Remember: they call it “CPA review,” implying you have the foundation already. The benefit of any “review” is that it is packaged in such a way to teach you the material you will be tested on, versus your accounting degree which is supposed to teach you the concepts you will encounter as an accountant.
Now, let’s get to the issue of old materials. Those fine folks who peddle CPA review materials (I am one such recovering CPA review pusher) will tell you the material changes twice a year — it does — and you will be doing yourself a major disservice studying from outdated materials. This is sort of true. The reality is that a large chunk of CPA exam content does not change year to year, or ever really. Journal entries are journal entries, whether or not FASB regs have been codified or not.
In your case, you will want at least a basic set of the most up-to-date materials, be that textbooks or software. Honestly, though, taking a full review might really help you nail some of the foreign concepts that you weren’t exposed to 20 years ago.
Could you pass with materials from 2012? Technically? Probably. Would you want to? Probably not.
Is there anyone out there who has tackled the exam 20+ years after graduation? Go ahead and drop some wisdom on this person in the comments. Good luck!