Monday, May 10, 2010

Guest Blog: Passing the CPA exam is not about intelligence...

I'm happy to introduce my guest blogger today, Aparna Sathi. She recently passed all CPA exam sections on the first try. She shares her approach and tips to help you pass the CPA exam.

It was a sweet coincidence when on the very day I was reading my journal from last year; Donna asked me if I could write something about my experience with studying and passing CPA.

My journey started last summer after I quit my job as an audit associate to move to a different state so I could stay with my husband. Considering the tanking economy and the fact that I absolutely loved my job, it was one of the hardest decisions for me. But on the plus side, I knew that this would give me a chance to pay full and undivided attention to passing the exam.

I started studying for FAR in August and took my first section in October. I sat for my last section in March. My exam dates were FAR 10/9, AUD 22/11, REG 1/22, BEC 3/1. I believe I was able to achieve this because I was able to study full time.

Now that I have given you a broad idea of my timeline, let's get into the dirty details.

First and foremost, I would say the CPA exam is not insurmountable. If I could pass this exam, anybody can. I'm sure you've heard that one before, but it's true. As I look at what I wrote about this exam in my journal, I'm amazed about how petrified I was about the whole process and here I am months later, with the exam far behind me. Here is a list of things that I believe were the reasons why I was able to pass these exams.

  • Before I even started studying for a particular section, I knew that it was very important to understand the structure of the exam. I think doing so made the entire process a lot easier.

  • I planned and planned. And then I planned some more. I cannot overemphasize on this. Before scheduling each exam, I would briefly look at the material and table of contents of my prep material text book (Becker) and figure out how much time I'd want to spend with each chapter. For example, while I was studying, I decided that 3 days for each chapter would suffice. I would also give a day in between each chapter, where I would go back and review everything that I've covered so far. Finally, depending on the section and my comfort level with it, I'd give a week or two for final review. Once I had a plan in place, I'd immediately schedule the exam and vouch to stick with it. No rescheduling business!!

  • It is important to understand going in, that you will have highs and lows. There were days when I'd be in high sprits and days when I felt like, there is no way I can possibly do this. Know that it's natural. Everybody who has passed this exam has been there. Whenever I was having those days, I'd take a break, call my parents or my best friends and talk to them. Once I did that, I felt surprisingly uplifted and ready to get back to my study desk!

  • I'm a big day dreamer. I'd picture myself as a CPA. I would think about all the good things that were going to come with it. I would think about how proud my mom and Dad would be. How proud my husband and best friends would be. I would paint pictures in my head. For example, I'm being introduced to someone new they ask me what I do and I tell them "I'm a CPA". Ok... that may sound cheesy, but hey it worked for me!!

  • I knew that it required a lot of hard work and I prepared myself for it. One of the most important things to remember is that CPA exam is not about intelligence, it's about diligence. For me, hard work and diligence go hand in hand. For me it means this: Each time I take a study break, diligence is that tiny voice in my head that tells me that in order to pass, I MUST get back to studying, even though I so badly want to watch that movie that's on. Diligence is after I went out for dinner with hubz on a Friday night, I came home and despite the whole weekend mood, I hit the books. It means that even if I'm doing unbelievably badly on the practice questions, I don't give up and keep practicing as much as I can.

  • Other than having a right mindset there were other little things that I think helped me with passing. I had a strict time table. I would wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday. I'd eat meals at the same time everyday. I religiously worked out in the mornings. I really believe that my exercise and Yoga helped me a lot in focusing and keeping a positive mind and in getting rid of all the frustration/ heat that builds up when you are studying as much as you are. Another thing that was very important for me was to eat a healthy diet. Lots of whole grain, nuts, fish, lean protein, Green tea, fruits, and vegetables. There were days when I'd give in to my temptation and eat good old white pasta and cheese and I would immediately feel the difference. I'd feel more lethargic and sleepy and just lazy in general. Think about it. Isn't it twice as hard to go back to your study desk when you're so full?? So depending on if you work full time/part time whatever, know your body. Know what works for you and what doesn't and do things accordingly.

  • I had a dedicated study zone (see photo below). This was in the spare bedroom with no TV, no radio. I also made sure the computer I was studying on did not have internet connection. I'm a very visual person so I'd have tons of sticky notes all over the place. On the computer, on the walls and any other surface you can possible think of. Another little trick that really worked for me was when I was doing practice problems and I'd come across a particular problem that was difficult or was maybe not covered in the material, I'd write the Becker question code in my text book, in the related page/topic with a different color ink (I'm a major fan of color coding) then while reviewing, I'd over that question simultaneously. This really helped me understand the material better.

  • Ok. I listened to all the good advice out there. I worked hard. I've been miserable and it's the D day. For almost all of my sections, I was very restless on the day before my exam. But Hubby Dear would take me out for dinner. I'd come back and watch some TV. I made sure I went to bed early and on the day of the exam, I was surprisingly calm. I think the comfort came from the fact that I had worked as hard as I possibly could and if I had to do this all over again, there is absolutely nothing that I would do differently. When I walked into the Prometric center and started taking the exam, I was surprised about how easy the exam was. It's important to not to get intimidated by questions from prep material. The actual exam questions are not that bad. But, but, but, know that because you did spend so much time with those practice questions, you will be able to answer the exam questions easily.
These were some tidbits of my experience with studying and passing CPA exam. Remember, each of us operates differently and what worked for me may not work for you. So recognize what works for you and function accordingly. Enjoy this experience. Be cognizant of the fact that the journey you are about to embark on will define you for the rest of your life. You'll always be proud of yourself for being able to do this. Few years down the lane, you'll look back and smile at these times.

Aparna's CPA Study Zone

Aparna Sathi has a Bachelor in Business Administration, a Master in Accounting from UCF (Orlando, FL), and two busy seasons of audit experience with a national CPA firm. She studied and passed the CPA exam and has returned to the job market in the Raleigh area.


  1. Its a great post, Thanks to Aparna Sathi and Donna..

  2. Thank you - reading this makes me feel better :)

  3. With a 3 hour daily commute.... It's not easy but am glad I read this


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