The CPA exam season is fast approaching. To be honest, it seems like its always approaching.
Before walking into the exam room, you need to ensure you have prepared as best you can. No-one wants to get their results back 6 weeks later to find out they missed out on passing by the tiniest amount! It’s important your giving yourself the best possible chance of passing.
To put it all out on the table before I go on, I am going to tell you my results. I am not a natural genius and everything I have achieved I have had to work crazy hard for. There is no photographic memory over here in this brain of mine.
GSL was my best subject and my only High Distinction (this was my second last subject and I had figured out a few study must do’s by this point). Every other subject I received a credit for apart from Financial Reporting. The first time I took this subject I failed. Only just, but it was still a fail. The second time around taking Financial Reporting I received a credit.
Five must do’s before sitting the CPA exam
Read the entire book – ideally twice
This sounds so obvious but you will be astonished by how many people don’t even finish reading the book. From my experience, reading the book once before the semester begins and again while the semester is happening is what worked for me.
I’m not going to lie, it sucks studying before the semester begins, however, failing a subject sucks even more.
The earlier you enrol in CPA, the earlier you receive a PDF copy of the textbook. If you enrol on the first-day enrollment opens, you will have the textbook available to read a month before the semester begins. If you wany even more time to read, you can head over to one of the CPA Australia facebook groups and there is normally a copy of the PDF from the previous semester in the documents.
The best way to work out how long it’s going to take to read the book is to do the following:
For example, if it takes 1 minute to read a page and there are 400 pages, it’s going to take you 400 minutes to read the book or 6.6 hours. This will be an estimate, however it will allow you to plan out your study time more effectively. The calculation above does not take into consideration how long it will take you to answer the questions throughout the module and take notes.
During the first read of the book, I highlight all sections/standards in one colour. I only highlight the part where it mentions the section/standard. By doing this, it stands out and when I am in the exam skimming the pages for an answer.
While reading the book the second time, I highlight all of the topics/words I think are important in the same colour. This cannot be the same colour already used for the standards/sections. It’s crucial that you don’t highlight every sentence otherwise there would be no point in highlighting in the first place.
Look for words that relate to the objectives at the start of each module. For example, if one of the objectives is “examine the characteristics of the market-based system”, where you see the words “characteristics of a market-based system” in the text, you would highlight them. This second round of highlighting helps the same way as I mentioned previously however it will also come in handy when creating your index.
Watch the webinars
Since CPA partnered with Knowledge Equity, you get to a bucket load of free resources. This includes over 50 videos per subject, a review quiz per module, 25 Mini-Quizzes, 14 recorded webinars, 2 practice exams, as well as the flowcharts, exercises and case studies.
All of the above resources are important but I found watching the webinars invaluable. Reading the concepts in the book alone wasn’t enough for me to always understand it. Having someone explain it in more practical/relatable terms made all the difference. I believe the webinars played a massive role in my passing Financial Reporting the second time.
The webinars can also be helpful to ensure you are keeping on top of your studies. If your webinar is available Tuesday nights, you know by Tuesday afternoon you need to have completed a certain amount of reading, answered so many questions and finished all the module quizzes. CPA can be very lonely so having the webinars to watch makes you feel like your in a classroom setting which I appreciated.
Towards the end of the semester, instead of watching something on Netflix while you cooking dinner or cleaning your room, put one of the webinars on instead. You never know what little extra bit of information you might take in while folding your laundry.
Answer the questions
Throughout each module, you will find questions scattered between paragraphs. The number of questions in each module differs but there are normally around 15 or so. I highly recommend answering every question whilst you are reading the book the second time.
Answering the questions takes time, some questions took me at least half an hour to answer. However, learning how to answer the question and articulate what I needed to say was invaluable when it came to answering the written response questions in the exam.
I found answering the questions once the semester started was more helpful due to these 3 reasons:
- Since you are reading the textbook a second time, you will be understanding more of the content which will make answering the questions less complicated.
- After watching the webinars and taking the mini-quizzes you will understand the concepts more and find it easier to answer the questions.
- Other students will be at a similar stage in the textbook and you can ask for help in facebook groups.
Don’t forget, the more time you spend practising questions before the exam, the easier you will find answering questions in the exam.
Create an index
For a reason I will never understand, CPA textbooks provide no index or contents apart from the small one at the start of each module. This means that it is extremely hard to find topics when you are under time pressure and stressed out of your brain in the exam.
The best way to combat this issue is to create your own index. This is not a quick exercise but I found it extremely helpful as a revision technique. It also provides me with a little extra confidence going into the exam because I know that worst-case scenario, I can use my index to find the topic if I can’t remember it off the top of my head.
How to create a CPA index:
If you have followed my highlighting strategy mentioned above, you will be halfway there already. I make 3 separate indexes which you might think is a little over the top but I like going into the exam as prepared as possible. In CPA, one right or wrong answer can mean the difference in passing or failing so you need to give yourself the best option of passing.
The three indexes I create are:
Index 1: Standards/Sections
Starting with one of the smaller indexes makes the process a little less daunting. If you haven’t already highlighted all of the standards and sections, you need to do that first. Make sure you highlight them all in the same colour.
Once everything is highlighted, go through page by page. Either write down by hand or type out in excel the standard number, the page and the module. Repeat this step until you have gone through every page of the text-book.
You may find it beneficial to add a fourth column and note down what the standard relates to.
Index 2: Authors
The next index involves skimming through the textbook page by page and highlighting all the author’s names one colour. This shouldn’t be the same colour you have previously used for standards topics or keywords.
While you are highlighting you can write/type the name, page and module down. Otherwise, once you have finished highlighting, you can go through page by page and type/write all the information down. Personally, I do the second option. I find the more times I am physically seeing where topics are in the book, the better I do in the exam.
Index 3: Topics
This index will probably be the most beneficial in the exam. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple to create as the previous two indexes. You will have already highlighted keywords when you were reading through the textbook the second time. The problem is, you can’t just write out exactly what you have highlighted. You need to try and think about how you will be trying to find a word in the exam.
For example, if you have put ”promote ethical decision making” in your index and in the exam you’re trying to frantically search your index for ethical you are going to waste time searching. To avoid this, when adding things to your topic index, think of how you will be thinking in the exam to find it.
Since I sort my topic index alphabetically rather than by page number, I remove all the “the” in front of any words. In my experience, having my index sorted by alphabetical order worked best for me but having it sorted by page number or module may work better for you.
How to take your index into the exam
For my first ever CPA exam, I hand wrote a very small index (4 pages). I stuck it in the first few pages of my physical textbook.
As the semesters went on, my indexes became more detailed and I found using a plastic display folder to work best. You can find them at any stationery store but make sure you get one with as many pockets as possible if you’re creating a couple of different indexes as I have suggested. Click here to have a look at the type of folder I use.
Take the practice exams seriously
As mentioned above, CPA now provides two practice exams via Knowledge Equity.
I cannot stress to you enough how important it is that you not only complete both exams but you take them seriously. When I say seriously, I mean put yourself in an exam setting by doing the following:
- Find a quiet space: this can be your room, your work office or a library. Don’t try to do your exam surrounded by your family or in a crowded cafe. You need silence and no distractions.
- Put your phone out of reach. In the real exam, your phone has to be handed over before you reach the exam room. Treat the practise exams the same and put your phone in another room if possible.
- Don’t use google! Even though you are taking the exam on your computer, don’t even bother trying to use any resources other then what you can take into the exam. Your allowed to take in your textbook, notes and calculator.
Once you have completed the exams, review your answers. This won’t be a quick exercise. Go through every question and every answer and read them in detail. For any questions, you didn’t get correct, note them down and work out why you choose the wrong answer. Did you read the question wrong? Get confused on the concept? Run out of time? Working out why you didn’t get a question correct can help you learn from your mistake.
Good luck with your exams! I hope all of the above will assist you as well as it did me.
If you have any tips I haven’t mentioned above, please let me know in the comments.
Happy studying hustlers!