Out of everything to consider when preparing for the CPA exam, the first and most strategic is the order in which you take the sections. This is the sort of question that’s tailor made for debate. And, with the pressure of taking the exam, it could be make-or-break, too. We did some research to see if our opinion as to what section you should take first was shared by many.
It was. Tackling the FAR first is the most popular choice and there are good reasons to support this.
For the majority, FAR is the longest or toughest – or both – section. If you can conquer this one at the beginning the feeling of accomplishment and confidence you get gives you a boost for taking the other three.
Use Your Time Wisely
Don’t forget there’s a “rolling” 18-month period for each section’s passing score to remain valid. When you pass your first section its timer starts and you have to pass the other three within 18 months so you don’t have to re-take that first section. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense to start with the toughest part at the outset because this is the one you’re most likely to fail. You can take it again and again if necessary without having used any time up. Why risk getting two sections in and then failing?
It’s a Marathon Not a Sprint
You need to take the long view with this. It’s just as grueling and mentally taxing as you’ve heard so you need to have enough gas left to finish. Taking the FAR first will help you with this. Your energy level and ability to focus is the highest at the beginning of the year-long study. So it makes sense to tackle the longest part of the exam at this time. Getting it out of the way gives you more time to prepare for the rest. Burnout is a real concern. It’s not just getting tired. You can lose your will to persevere after taking two sections. The last thing you want is to take the on the beast in this state of mind. As one test taker put it: “It’s sort of like seeing the finish line of a marathon but having to climb a mountain before you’re done.”
It Helps Prepare You for the AUD
There’s overlap with the concepts and topics of the AUD portion of the exam. So, if you can master the FAR material it’ll make AUD easier. For this reason, most people suggest taking the AUD section second after FAR. Think of the potential of this one-two punch. You get the hardest part out of the way and it will also grease the skids for the next part. Before you know it you could be halfway home!
Everyone is different but this is the best overall strategy which would work for the majority of budding CPAs. We’ve read the reasons people give for putting off the FAR and while they may make sense, they aren’t as compelling as those listed above and there aren’t as many. But, of course, it’s up to you.