Before working in my current position as a senior tax associate, I was helping people to make the world a better place in a different way, as a manager for a Montessori preschool. I valued my relationship with the staff and children, but my interest was continuously drawn more into the business side of the school, and I began to have this sinking feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do with my life. Then my sister-in-law, a CPA, inspired me by suggesting that I should go back to school to obtain a degree in accounting.
After my first class, I was hooked, but I knew if I wanted to avoid student loan debt, I would need to get started in the accounting field ASAP. It wasn’t easy finding a company willing to hire a student, but my company gave me a chance, and I wasn’t going to let them down. While working full-time, I completed my bachelor’s degree in accounting and my master’s degree in business.
I decided to tackle the CPA exam, starting with the beast known as FAR. It took me roughly five months to get through the material and an additional month for review. I sat for the exam in 2019, feeling very unprepared. It was almost as if I had studied for the wrong material. I left the exam confident I had not passed and, sure enough, my concern was confirmed when I received my results shortly after. I found resources online that suggested I start again from the beginning, so I took another five months to prepare for the exam to ensure that I passed the second time. Then I sat again. I left the Prometric center feeling so optimistic that I told my family that I was sure I passed! When I found out that I failed again, with only a few points higher than my last attempt, I was devastated and embarrassed. But I put my ego aside and decided to attack it again.
After a couple of months of studying for the third time, by random chance, two people in the same week recommended UWorld Roger CPA Review, telling me that they had a good experience with it. By this time I was willing to do anything to not have to study using my original material again. To help me pass the FAR exam, I ultimately decided that I would use UWorld’s FAR Review.
I couldn’t believe how much more quickly I got through UWorld’s program. After experiencing two non-passing scores and having my exam rescheduled twice, I finally conquered FAR in June! Along the way, I learned several lessons about how to study for the CPA exam. Here are a handful that I hope will be helpful:
1. Pick software that works for your learning style.
I spent hours looking for the perfect CPA review course. Unfortunately, that first choice didn’t work out for me. I paid well over $2,000 and was overwhelmed with the amount of material and never-ending amount of questions that I needed to get through. With a full-time work schedule and plenty of responsibilities outside of work, I needed something more efficient. Just know that if you’re not jiving with a particular CPA review program, it may be much easier to switch to something that aligns with your specific learning style than to continue to struggle.
2. Set boundaries so you have the time and space to study.
I value family time and always make it a priority. Every phone call, every request to drive over for a quick visit, all the family dinners—I’m your gal. Unfortunately, this gal had to learn the hard way on how to set boundaries. Having to tell my family I’m not available over and over again felt like pulling off a Band-Aid slowly. When I decided to set a firm study schedule, things became much easier. I leave my phone in my bedroom while studying, so I don’t look at it or respond to a text or email while I’m in the middle of learning something valuable. I currently put aside approximately 22 hours a week for studying. I was worried that seeing my family and friends less would hurt our relationship, but to the contrary, it has made the time that we do spend together more precious and enjoyable.
3. Review, review, review.
If it has been a month and I haven’t reviewed a topic, I tend to only retain about 35% of the content (at best) at that point. That’s not good enough and not a good use of my time. For me, what has been effective is to use Fridays through Sundays to move forward in the material and Mondays through Thursdays to review old material. I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of my scores and the last time I reviewed each chapter. (I know, typical accountant!) I use the UWorld performance reports to record my score per chapter onto my spreadsheet, with the goal of scoring 85% to 90% before I sit for the exam. Is this necessary? It’s a bit aggressive, but it keeps me from wondering if I did enough to prepare before going in to sit on exam day.
4. Understanding is more useful than memorization.
As you work through practice questions, ask yourself, “Do I understand this question, and why is this the correct answer? Do I know why the other responses are not right?” You may see a question on the exam that pertains to one of the incorrect responses. I have found it especially helpful to carefully read UWorld’s answer explanations in “tutor mode” to understand what other material could potentially be tested in relation to the particular question or chapter.
Most importantly, lean on your support system. From my sister-in-law’s advice and encouragement to my husband and larger family’s respect for my study schedule, I could not have stuck with it so long without the help of others. Sometimes the love and support of those around us is the difference between pushing through a difficult challenge and walking away from it.
About the author:
Laura Davis is a senior tax associate and CPA candidate. She works and studies in Boise, ID. She enjoys contributing meaningful work to her community by helping her nonprofit clients make the world a better place.