By: Evelyn Baker
Are you facing another round of CPA exams? Don’t know where to begin? Having personally gone through the process multiple times, I know it can seem like an uphill battle, and feel as if you are alone on the field. But there are strategies, resources and other people to help you boost your test scores so you can pass the exam the next time you take it.
We all invest time, effort and money when preparing for the CPA exam. That’s why receiving a failing score and knowing that you will have to re-test can be daunting. CPA exam review courses and other test prep materials do a great job for those who are beginning their CPA journey. However, there are no guidebooks for how to “re-study” after failing a portion of the exam. The following tips are meant to get you back on track as quickly as possible and potentially increase your score the next time you sit for the exam:
1. Make a Game Plan
Failing the CPA exam is not the outcome that anyone wants. It’s understandable to take a couple of days to wallow in your feelings, but don’t let it get in the way of jumping back in the saddle. Following your break, it’s time to start planning a re-study approach—how long, how much and how to allocate your efforts. Mapping out the structure of your studying will set you up for success. Although everyone is different, I recommend two to five weeks to prepare for re-taking the exam, not only to maximize knowledge retention but to also maintain momentum and keep yourself accountable.
2. Analyze & Utilize Your Score Report
The state-issued score report you receive is not just a pass/fail measure. In addition to baseline feedback on your performance, it gives insight into your strengths and weaknesses in different broad content areas, further broken down into multiple choice versus simulations. I recommend utilizing this report to pinpoint what you should focus on, along with the following rule of thumb from the internet to gauge how much you need to re-study:
Given that the passing score is 75 – if you scored a 64 or below, it may be best to re-start the entire test prep all over again to obtain a better grasp of the concepts. For scores of 65 and above, you can likely get away with focusing on specific deficit areas.
3. Self-Assess Your Understanding of the Material
With due respect to the test score, you are the best judge of your own knowledge. This exercise will help re-focus your time and energy where it is needed most. Referring back to the material covered in your CPA exam guidebook, categorize the topics into three buckets:
Then, use this weighted assessment as a roadmap to create a strategic schedule of how many days or weeks you will focus on each topic.
The standard CPA test preparation materials serve their purpose; however, different platforms or methods of learning provide other perspectives and may even be an easier way to digest the material. For example, Facebook groups are a good place to exchange general study tips and ideas, while enjoying a sense of community. You can also dive into accounting information or networks via Reddit or tune into YouTube for video coverage of specific topics. Some channels that I found to be helpful are:
Additionally, leverage the expertise of your managers and co-workers, who have passed the CPA exam, to discuss difficult topics, exchange study tips, and get some of your questions answered.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Repetition is one of the oldest, most reliable study techniques. I recommend doing at least two sets of 33 questions and three simulations per day in preparation for your next CPA exam. This type of “workout” helps develop your muscle and stamina to better endure the test experience. It also requires you to mentally jump from topic to topic, which leads to agility and confidence.
6. Create a “Brain Dump” Sheet
In the week leading up to the exam, it’s a good idea to make a list of common accounting formulas, mnemonics, graphics, etc. that you will find helpful on exam day. Each day, practice writing them out and committing them to memory. When you receive scrap paper accompanying the actual test, transcribe the memorized list and refer to it, as needed. Don’t worry, this is not considered cheating.
7. Take an AICPA Sample Test Before Your Exam
The day before your scheduled exam, I suggest taking the sample test on the AICPA website to get a fresh idea of recurring themes. Although these tests are posted for practice purposes, they include real CPA exam questions that may likely appear on yours. AICPA Sample Tests can be found at the following link: Get familiar with the CPA Exam by practicing with our sample tests | Resources | AICPA.
We have all heard the advice, try to do your best, get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast. While that is important to keep in mind before re-taking the CPA exam, these seven tips are more concrete and surefire ways to optimize your preparation and improve your test results. Keep chugging along, and I wish you the best in your journey to becoming a CPA!
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