How to pass the CPA exam: tips from successful chartered accountants

How to pass the CPA exam: tips from successful chartered accountants

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam is one of the most challenging professional exams, and passing it can open doors to lucrative careers in accounting and finance. However, the exam demands rigorous preparation, discipline, and a deep understanding of the test structure and content. If you're planning to take the CPA exam and wondering how to prepare effectively, you're in the right place. In this article, we've compiled insights and tips from successful chartered accountants who have passed the exam, so you can learn from their experiences and boost your chances of success. Whether you're a fresh graduate, a working professional, or returning to the accounting field, these tips will help you create a robust study plan and build the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to ace the CPA exam.

How to pass the CPA exam: tips from successful chartered accountants

1. Understand the Exam Structure and Content

Before starting to study for the CPA exam, it is important to understand the structure and content of the exam. The CPA exam is made up of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Each section is four hours long and consists of multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks.

1.1 Familiarize Yourself with the CPA Exam Format

Familiarizing yourself with the format of the CPA exam will help you prepare effectively. You can find free resources to help you understand the format of the exam on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) website.

1.2 Know What Topics Are Covered and Their Weightage

The AICPA provides information on the topics covered in each section of the CPA exam and their weightage. Knowing what topics are covered and the weightage of each topic will help you prioritize your study plan.

2. Create a Study Plan and Stick to It

Creating a study plan is essential to passing the CPA exam. Here are some tips to help you create and stick to your study plan.

2.1 Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Before creating your study plan, take a practice exam or review your past accounting courses to determine your areas of strength and weakness. Focus your study plan on the areas where you need the most improvement.

2.2 Set Realistic Goals and Deadlines

Set realistic goals and deadlines for each section of the exam. A realistic study plan will help you avoid burnout and remain motivated throughout the study process.

2.3 Plan Your Study Sessions and Breaks

Plan your study sessions and breaks in advance. Take regular breaks to avoid burnout and keep your mind fresh. Stick to your schedule and avoid procrastination.

3. Utilize High-Quality Study Materials and Resources

High-quality study materials and resources are essential to passing the CPA exam. Here are some tips on how to choose the best study materials and resources.

3.1 Recommended CPA Exam Review Courses and Providers

Consider investing in a CPA exam review course or working with a tutor. There are many review courses and providers to choose from, so do your research to find the best fit for your needs.

3.2 Effective Study Techniques and Strategies

Effective study techniques and strategies can help you retain information and prepare for the different sections of the exam. Flashcards, practice exams, and visual aids can be useful study tools.

3.3 Tips for Self-Study and Revision

Self-study and revision are crucial to your success on the CPA exam. Make sure you have access to high-quality study materials, a quiet study space, and a support system to help you stay motivated.

4. Practice with Mock Exams and Past Papers

Practicing with mock exams and past papers is one of the most effective ways to prepare for the CPA exam. Here are some tips on how to make the most of this practice.

4.1 Importance of Taking Practice Tests

Practice tests can help you identify areas where you need more study time and help you get familiar with the types of questions you can expect on the exam.

4.2 Reviewing Your Mistakes and Weaknesses

When you practice with mock exams and past papers, make sure to review your mistakes and weaknesses. Take note of the questions you got wrong and spend extra time studying those topics.

4.3 Where to Find CPA Exam Practice Materials

You can find CPA exam practice materials on the AICPA website or through your review course provider. Make sure to use high-quality materials and seek help from your study network or tutor if needed.

5. Don’t Overlook the Importance of Time Management

Time management is critical for success in the CPA exam. The exam covers an extensive amount of material, and it can become overwhelming if you don't manage your time efficiently. Balancing work, study, and personal life is often challenging, but it's crucial for a successful CPA exam preparation.

5.1 Balancing Work, Study and Personal Life

It's essential to have a plan that balances work, study, and personal life. You should assess your schedule and allocate your time accordingly. Set achievable goals and deadlines, prioritize your tasks, and maintain focus. You may have to sacrifice some personal activities initially, but remember that it's a short-term sacrifice for long-term success.

5.2 Time Management Techniques for CPA Exam Preparation

Time management techniques such as the Pomodoro technique, Kanban boards, and time blocking can be of help. These techniques help you to allocate your time better and improve your productivity. Utilizing a CPA exam study guide can also help you structure your study time effectively.

6. Leverage Technology to Enhance Your Learning Experience

Technology has revolutionized the learning experience. There are various tools and apps available that you can use to enhance your CPA exam preparation.

6.1 Tools and Apps for CPA Exam Preparation

You can use flashcard apps like Quizlet, note-taking apps like Evernote, and productivity apps like Forest to help you stay on track and focused. You can also use CPA exam simulation software like Wiley CPAexcel and Becker CPA Review to get a realistic feel of the exam.

6.2 E-Learning and Online Study Communities

E-learning and online study communities like Surgent CPA Review, CPA Exam Club, and can be of help. These platforms provide access to additional study materials, exam simulations, and opportunities to interact with other CPA exam candidates.

7. Prioritize Self-Care and Mental Health

Preparing for the CPA exam can be stressful and exhausting. Therefore, prioritizing self-care and mental health is essential to remain productive and motivated.

7.1 Importance of Rest, Exercise and Balanced Diet

Regular exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate rest are vital to your physical and mental well-being. You should aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, drink plenty of water, and incorporate healthy foods into your diet. Exercise is also a great way to reduce stress and improve focus.

7.2 Coping with Stress and Anxiety during CPA Exam Prep

Stress and anxiety are common during CPA exam prep. It's essential to adopt healthy coping mechanisms such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and taking breaks. You can also seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed.

8. Seek Guidance and Support from Mentors and Peers

Finally, seeking guidance and support from mentors and peers can help you succeed in the CPA exam.

8.1 Finding a CPA Exam Mentor

A mentor can provide guidance and support and help you stay accountable. You can seek a mentor who has already passed the CPA exam, or find one through professional organizations like the American Institute of CPAs.

8.2 Joining CPA Exam Study Groups or Networks

Joining CPA exam study groups or networks can also be of help. You can find these groups through social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, or through professional organizations. These groups provide an opportunity to share study materials, ask questions, and exchange study tips.Preparing for the CPA exam requires a significant investment of time, effort, and resources, but it can pay off handsomely in terms of career growth and financial stability. By following the tips and strategies shared by successful chartered accountants, you can approach the CPA exam with more confidence and competence. Remember to stay focused, disciplined, and optimistic throughout the preparation process, and don't hesitate to seek help and guidance from mentors and peers. With the right mindset and approach, passing the CPA exam can be a challenging but rewarding achievement that marks the beginning of a fulfilling professional journey.


What is the structure of the CPA exam?

The CPA exam comprises four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Each section consists of multiple choice questions and task-based simulations, and the total testing time is 16 hours. The exam is computer-based and can be taken at authorized testing centers.

How long does it take to prepare for the CPA exam?

The preparation time for the CPA exam depends on many factors, such as your prior knowledge and experience, study style, and availability. However, most CPA candidates take between 6 and 12 months to prepare adequately for the exam. It's crucial to create a realistic study plan and stick to it consistently, balancing study time with other commitments and responsibilities.

What study materials should I use for CPA exam preparation?

There are numerous CPA exam review courses and providers in the market, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Some of the popular CPA exam prep providers include Becker, Wiley CPAexcel, Roger CPA Review, and Surgent CPA Review. It's important to choose a course that suits your learning style, budget, and requirements, and complements your self-study efforts.

What tips can you give for reducing exam stress and anxiety?

Stress and anxiety are common during the CPA exam preparation and test-taking process. It's essential to prioritize self-care and mental health, such as getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy food, and taking breaks when needed. Additionally, you can use techniques like deep breathing, visualization, and positive self-talk to calm your nerves before and during the exam. Finally, seeking support from mentors, peers, or therapists can help you cope with exam-related stress and anxiety.