When you start off your accounting career, you might be intimidated by the CPA exam. Some don’t think it’s worth the time and effort, and others want to wait to take the exam until they have more experience. For me, studying for the CPA exam shortly after graduating taught me invaluable lessons that have help me grow throughout my career.
To alleviate some of the stress that comes with studying for the CPA exam, consider the following tips that proved to be helpful for me throughout my journey:
- Pace yourself. The CPA exam is a marathon, not a sprint. At best, it can take a few months, but oftentimes it takes more than a year. It is not a test you can cram for the week before you're scheduled to sit for a section. Even after you pass one section, you have three more to take. Plus, if you don’t pass a section, you’ll have to re-schedule it and make sure you study enough to pass it the second time around. This is why it’s important to pace yourself to get to the finish line.
- Focus on extrinsic motivation. A lot of external factors helped motivate me to hit the books and churn through hundreds of multiple choice questions on evenings and weekends. One factor was the prestige of becoming a CPA. Prior to entering public accounting I frequently heard how highly CPAs are regarded, which was due in part to the rigorous exam process. There was also the monetary aspect; earning the certification would mean higher earnings potential over time. Not to mention the one time financial incentive Kreischer Miller offers to new hires who pass the exam within two years of their hire date.
In my experience, external factors are more temporary in nature because they change as you reach them or as your wants and needs change over time. These factors helped on most days, but on the really difficult days, it was the intrinsic motivation that powered me through. Through my experience at Kreischer Miller, I gained a better understanding of what motivated me from within.
- Seek outside advice to better understand yourself. One aspect of Kreischer Miller’s culture that drew me to work here was the accessibility of the firm’s managers and directors. After working here for only a few weeks, I actually had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with a number of managers as well as a few directors.
While we were eating, one of the directors offered me some advice on the back of a napkin, literally. He asked me the typical “where do you want to be in five years,” but in this case it was more of a rhetorical question. He then drew a diagram on the back of the napkin which portrayed present-me on the left and future-me on the right. Then he drew lines from the present to the future, and asked me to consider things I could do to successfully get to future-me. The steps he mentioned aren’t important here; it’s the mindset he explained to me. He emphasized that you need to think about where you want to be in the future and then determine what steps you're going to take to get there.
After thinking about what future-me would look like, I knew that passing the CPA exam was a must – and that understanding boosted my motivation. I found this intrinsic motivation made studying feel less like a chore, and each study session became more productive.
- Don’t overdo it. Finally, you'll get burned out if all you're doing is working and studying. I learned how to fit in all of the studying, while still having time to relax and recharge. To help me get through the day-to-day, I created short-term goals. For example, I studied for two hours every night and a few hours on Saturday mornings. Then, on Saturday evening through Sunday I was able to relax.
On the day of the exam, I found it helpful not to study. I looked at a few flash cards and notes I had made, but generally I just relaxed and made sure I was in the right state of mind before sitting down for the exam. This was only possible because I knew I spent enough time studying over the previous weeks.
Overall, passing the CPA exam has proved to be extremely rewarding. The studying process allowed me to acquire both technical skills and soft skills which prepared me for my career. I hope the advice I’ve shared will strongly encourage you to pursue your goal of becoming a CPA – it is worth it!
Will Hyatt is a senior in Kreischer Miller's Audit and Accounting department. Will Joined Kreischer Miller in 2016 after graduating from Temple University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting. In his free time Will enjoys exploring the many state and municipal parks in and around Philly with his wife and children.
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