Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Should CPA Exam Candidates Crack Open College Textbooks?

It’s a valid question and we haven’t answered it yet so let’s give it a shot, shall we? Here’s the specific reader inquiry:

I graduated in 2008 with an accounting degree, but I’ve not really pursued anything in accounting since then. Without talking too much about my personal life, I’ll just say I had better opportunities.

Anyways, I’m considering getting back into public accounting, and I plan on beginning taking the CPA exam in 2011, after busy season. If I order a CPA review course, will that be enough, or should I spend some time reviewing my books/notes from college?

Yeah, we’re with you on the “better opportunities,” be that foaming lattes or harvesting certain medicinal plants (depending on your state, of course), so let’s forget about what you’ve been doing since you graduated and focus on the task at hand: passing the CPA exam.

As we’ve told you plenty of times, it’s always best to knock the exam out as soon as you graduate since you likely still have some sort of study habits left over from college and aren’t yet tied down with family and a career but things don’t always work out that way for whatever reason. That’s fine, my professional experience has actually been that those who take some time off after school do better once they do start to tackle the exam simply because they are older, wiser and usually slightly more dedicated than a 22 year old fresh out of college. No offense to the dedicated 22 year olds out there, of course.

But please, whatever you do, don’t bother with your college textbooks. Chances are your cheap, lazy and overworked accounting professors used the same textbooks year after year while the CPA exam changes twice a year. Sure debits still went on the left even in 1903 but keep in mind the CPA exam isn’t necessarily a test of how good of a CPA you will be but a comprehensive skills test that identifies your shallow knowledge of a broad range of subjects. Think of the exam as a lake 15 miles wide but only an inch deep; some of your college texts may delve into some areas in detail that aren’t really tested on the exam or they could skip entire areas completely, especially since you graduated just as the economic crisis was hitting. Things have changed since then and with international standards hitting in 2011, the chances are even lower that these areas were covered in school.

For you, the best thing to do is find a review course that will help refresh your knowledge based on what you learned in school but also give you a general outline of topics that you may have forgotten or never covered when you were in college. I know it’s called “review” but a good review course can teach you as if you have no prior accounting experience whatsoever… assuming you do remember which side to stick the debits on.

Skip the textbooks and spend your time focusing on a review product that will give you exactly what you need to pass the exam. Good luck!