US CPA Exam: How do I prepare & What are the Factors to be considered?

US CPA exam preparation

Passing the US CPA exam is a very important milestone in the life of any aspiring accounting professional.  The global recognition that it brings along and the tremendous boost to one’s self esteem and of course the career is a big incentive for someone to prepare and pass the US CPA exam.  It is an accepted global principle that only right processes enable us reach the desired results and hence the focus for an aspiring professional must be more on the process than the end of passing the US CPA exam. 

This article is penned based on the understanding that the reader has some background about the US CPA certification and exam structure per se and hence focuses only on the methodology of preparation for the same.   Before one gets into this interesting but tricky subject, one needs to have a look at the educational background of the candidate.   For this purpose I am categorizing the candidates into the following two broad categories  :

  1. Qualified Finance Professionals like the Chartered Accountants or the Cost Accountants
  2. Others  including  Bachelors / Post Graduates in Commerce / MBAs (subject to eligibility)

It is necessary that the categorisation is done since the mode of preparation  may undergo a change based on the educational background of the candidates.   There  are  basically  2 options available to a candidate with respect to preparing for a  CPA is concerned  and  they  are  as  under  :

  1. Materials of a good Learning Service Provider for Self Study
  2. Online Classes with Materials of a good Learning Service Provider

Steps to be taken for preparing for the US CPA Exam

There are quite a reputed Learning Service Providers whose materials are available for Self Study options.  However this is not highly recommended as the candidate needs to have a lot of drive and motivation to prepare and take up the US CPA Exam on their own.  

With the US CPA exams conducted almost all through the year (except for certain designated holidays including weekends)  the general tendency for the self-study candidates is  to procrastinate their taking up the exams citing the flexibility option and various other excuses like office pressure and stuff like that.  

On the contrary if they are able to join US CPA online coaching Live Classes with a good Academy there would be some sort of a pressure on them to attend the classes and also prepare for the exams  so that the same can be completed in about an year.   Hence this article is going to deal more with option 2 which is online classes with Materials of a good Learning Service Provider. 

Factors to be considered while taking US CPA Exam

Based on the above the following need to be considered by a candidate while preparing for the exam :

  1. Choose the Training Program wisely  –  A candidate has to do appropriate due diligence to understand what is being offered in each Training Program and then take a call accordingly.   The reputation and the standing of the program matters a lot when preparing for the CPA exams.  Special attention needs to be paid to the person taking the classes, his background and experience as the trainers can add a lot of value to the candidates through their practical experiences too.   Half the Battle is won if a candidate chooses his training program wisely. 
  2. Working out a proper Schedule  –  The CPA exams offer a great flexibility to the candidates in terms of taking the exams.  However a student needs to understand that he/she has only 18 months to complete the remaining 3 papers once he/she completes the first paper.   Thus the first thing to do is understand the syllabus properly and work out a proper schedule for taking up the exams. It is very important that a target date is fixed for completion of all the papers and preparations scheduled.  For this purpose good training programs like the Wiley CPAexcel and a few others have the facility of Exam Planners in their products which helps the student plan their schedule properly. 
  3. Sticking to the Time Schedule  –  In most of the cases, the candidate is in employment  while taking up the CPA course.  In this case, they need to consider the work and other domestic pressures when preparing a schedule for taking up the exams as  indicated above.  Once the schedule is finalized, a student has to ensure that he/she sticks to the schedule religiously.   From an Indian candidate perspective, flexibility is a double edged sword.   If used wisely this helps and on the contrary this also triggers the candidate to procrastinate considering that the exams are conducted for almost 300 days in a year and the flexibility to appear for the exams paper by paper.
  4. Put in the Study Time – Practice, Practice and Practice  –  Besides the classes, on an average a candidate must plan to spend around 800-900 hours of preparation time to pass all 4 sections in the first attempt.  While this may differ from person to person this can be considered as a decent estimate.   This would mean   on an average 30 hours a week for 27-30 weeks.   However if a candidate wants to take up the exams section by section this may undergo an appropriate variation.   If the candidate has been out of studies for a while this may go up but of course this would depend on the work experience which he/she has acquired which could ease out the preparation process too.   However one thing is for sure, this being a predominantly objective type of an exam a student has to ensure he/she is prepared thoroughly on all areas.  One has to understand that one cannot omit any area and go for the exam as is normally possible in a descriptive type of an exam. 
  5. Simulate and Practice for the exams  –  Another important thing to consider is being an online exam a candidate has to practice with a computerized sample test so that the Multiple Choice and the Task based Simulation question patterns don’t look new and looks familiar.  Task based Simulation is replicating   real-world situations using spreadsheet, communications, research and resource materials and they form around 50% of the exam.   Leading training programs like the Wiley CPAexcel and others do provide the candidate with this feature when a candidate joins such programs.   

To sum it up, it is extremely important for a candidate to devote adequate time and take guidance from experienced training programs to clear the US CPA exam in the first attempt and take their career to the next level.

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