There were two sayings that come to mind when I was researching this post.  The first is Hindsight is 20/20; the second is Learn from the mistakes of others. Both clichés perhaps but they’re clichés because they are used a lot and they are used a lot because they’re true. This is never more so than in the case of preparing for the CPA exam.

In our continuing effort to help you prepare for the exam we formulated a list of common things that first-time test takers wish they knew in advance.  They aren’t super secret tips revealed here for the first time. Rather, they are common sense points that are powerful but get overlooked in the hurly burly of getting ready for the exam.

Your Life Will Change

Studying for the exam will change your life for that 18 mos.  Period.  Get psychologically prepared for that.  If you know what’s coming up, you won’t be thrown off when it happens.  Look ahead to see what may be coming and decide how to handle it and be realistic. Don’t plan major events like a wedding or searching for and buying a new house during this time.

Study Strategy

You wouldn’t go to war without a plan and, make no mistake, the CPA exam is like a war with four battles..  Sun Tzu once wrote “Know your enemy and know yourself and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.”  You have to be honest about how big a task this really is and what your strengths and weakness are.  You may think that you have to study all the time; at any point in the day.  But if you’re not a morning person, cracking the books after you wake up will be a waste of time.  You will learn your limits after the first section you take and be able to fine tune your strategy.

Quality Over Quantity

The normal instinct may be to be reading, taking notes, or listening to audio lessons every waking moment.  This may make you feel better that you’re putting the time in, but you don’t get any points for total number of hours spent.  Make sure that when you study it’s in a context where you can truly think about and absorb the information.

Here, There, and Everywhere

It can be tough to find time to study.  Unlike college, you have a lot more responsibilities.  The good news is that can take advantage of the time in the nooks and crannies throughout your day – and there can be a lot of them. The commute to work, waiting for your kid to finish soccer practice, etc.  This doesn’t take the place of dedicated blocks of time devoted to studying but they can really add up over time.  

Eliminate All Distractions.  For realz.

Yes, even you.  Don’t fool yourself that you can Facebook and watch TV while studying.  This isn’t high school.

Work the Simulations

Don’t take these for granted.  Focus on them to better test your knowledge and prepare yourself for staring at questions on the real exam.  Working these is more important than studying the multiple choice questions, so prioritize.  You can check out our list of ranking factors  for our ratings on the top courses’ simulations.  

Taking Time Off

Can you take a day off here and there?  It’s up to you.  Some people feel they lose momentum and others feel it reenergizes them.  It can help to keep normal social engagements such as weddings or family gatherings.  This is a good way to stay in touch with people and your life while still having time in another part of the day to hit the books.

Keep it on the Down Low

Only let as few people as possible know that you’re preparing to take the CPA exam.  You don’t need the added pressure of family and friends asking you how you did, what was the test like, and if you’re studying enough.  You’re putting enough pressure on yourself, you don’t need the help.  Seriously, don’t even let the people who know when you’re going to take one of the sections.

No One Cares

The truth is most people don’t know what you’re going through and don’t care.  They can’t appreciate the commitment and sacrifice you’re making or the stress you’re feeling.  If you look to them for understanding or encouragement they’ll be unable to oblige you and you’re likely to feel disappointed that “no one understands”.  This is another good reason not to let a lot of people know what you’re doing.  This is something you’re doing for yourself not them.

A 75 is as Good as a 99

Remember:  The point is to get the credential not to compete with others.  You’re not trying to qualify for the Olympics.  Ease up on yourself.  The point is to get to the top of the mountain.  No one is standing at the summit with a stopwatch.

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