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With the most recent score release, I have found that I have finally passed all the exams. I wanted to share how I was able to pass after 18 months of studying, in hopes it will help others pass as well.
I am by no means an accounting expert. In fact, I really struggled with my financial accounting classes in college and even wondered if accounting was something I should continue to pursue. I did end up graduating in accounting with my 150 credits, and I started working in corporate finance. I started started studying in July 2016, a couple months after graduation.
Exam 1 – FAR: Started studying in July 2016, with an exam date of October 2016. I didn’t take the exam seriously, and I did the bare minimum that Becker told me to do. Lecture, homework, repeat. I didn’t actually take the time to learn any of the material, and I naively thought that if I could pass my college classes I could pass these exams. I only needed a 75, right? I ended up with a 59.
Exam 2 – AUD: I was deep into my AUD studying when I found out my FAR score, so I decided to continue studying for that. However, I hadn’t figured out how to properly study for these exams, and was again doing what Becker told me to do. Took in December 2016, ended up with a 68.
At this point I was upset that I had spent 6 months of studying and was heading into the holidays and new year with no passes.
Exam 3 – BEC: I knew I should have revisited FAR and AUD, but I was burned out on them and wanted to focus on BEC before the addition of SIMs. This was when I started to change how I studied. I relocated my study spot to a remote part of the house where I would not be bothered by people talking or the television. I started taking my own notes on looseleaf while listening to the lectures, and as I did the homework, I made formula sheets that I would use whenever I encountered calculation problems. And anytime I did have to calculate something, I wrote everything out so that it would reinforce my memorization of the formulas. I took advantage of the Becker progress tests, and started doing set and sets of MCQs to help practice and hammer home the concepts. This might have been the first test where I actually cried while studying because I was worried that after putting in all this work, I still wouldn’t pass. Took BEC in January 2017 (in the midst of doing year-end stuff at work), and I cried when I finished because the IT questions were so freaking out of the blue that I didn’t think I had a shot. Ended up passing my first CPA exam with an 80!
At this point, I had some hope, though was still worried because BEC had the highest pass rate and I was concerned that that didn’t necessarily mean I was cut out for these exams.
Exam 4 – AUD: I decided to squeeze AUD in before the end of Q117, before the major exam changes would occur. I skipped rewatching the lectures since this was a retake. I had a whole textbook full of highlighted things and notes written in the margins, so I decided to write out sheets and sheets of my own notes. Since AUD was very conceptual, it helped me to write everything out so I could see the big picture. This also helped with tricky MCQs, since one word could change an entire question and answer. I reread the textbook and rewrote notes for one chapter a week, and then on the weekends I would do the Becker progress tests to review everything I had done up to that point. I started keeping an excel spreadsheet of my progress test scores so I could pinpoint my weak areas. I was pretty confident at this point that I could pass. But the day before my exam, I got into a huge argument with my father that resulted in tears and nasty things being said, ended up not studying the day before my test and did not get any sleep the night before. Retook AUD in March 2017, upped my score 10 points and got a 78.
Now I was on a roll, and I started thinking maybe I actually could do this! However, we were going into the second quarter, and this was when the exam changes occurred, so SIMs were worth more. Similar to many others, I was terrible with SIMs and was worried this would be a downfall.
Exam 5 – FAR: I decided I would revisit my nemesis and take it in Q2. I took a similar study approach to what helped me pass BEC and AUD. I read through the book again and took my own notes. I created formula sheets for all the calculations and journal entries, which means there were a LOT of note pages around my computer. I also purchased NINJA Notes to help supplement my learning of certain concepts since I wasn’t fully grasping certain things in Becker. Instead of studying a chapter a week though, I was maybe doing 1.5-2 chapters a week since I was on an accelerated pace during this time in my life. I was relocating for work and had to focus on moving to a different state. So I took my exam in May, and during the exam I was frustrated with the five-testlet layout and was worried that my performance on the SIMs would prevent a pass. After the exam, I jumped right into apartment searching and relocating. Took a break for about a month from studying while I moved and jumped into studying for REG. In the meantime, I was in the long Q217 score release wait, and I was so convinced that there was no way I could bring my FAR score from a 59 to a 75 that I couldn’t even focus on REG. Finally in August 2017, found out I got a 77!
Exam 6 – REG: As I mentioned above, I started studying for REG after I moved to a new state. I started studying in June with a test date of August, right before the Q217 release. Learning the material in REG didn’t seem hard at first, but it was a pain to feel obligated to watch all the lectures on tax which weren’t that interesting to me. Plus I kept thinking about how I’d have to probably retake FAR again, which really made focusing on REG difficult. I was so burned out and mad about not knowing FAR that I became burned out and pretty much threw the test. Ended up with a 59.
Exam 7 – REG: With renewed vigor, I tackled REG again in September after learning I failed. I knew I had passed three at this point and only had one left, so I could devote all my attention to it. In the past couple years, REG had the second highest pass rate, so I thought I had a pretty good shot if I really tried. I purchased Ninja Scout to help supplement my Becker, I wanted to pull out all the stops this time to ensure I passed. I reviewed 1.5 chapters a week and left several weeks for review so that I could hammer Ninja MCQ, which were really kicking my butt since I had basically memorized the Becker questions. I ended up not reading the Notes as much because I thought that just doing all the Ninja MCQ and pulling up my trending score would ensure a pass. I gave myself essentially a whole quarter to study, and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was burned out. However, I tried to push through just a couple more weeks and took my exam at the end of the window. I felt okay leaving the test, which never really happened in the past and thought it might be a good sign, since I knew I had studied a lot this time around. In the past I was able to pass my retakes on the second try, and I figured I had gone from a 59 to a 77 in FAR, so surely I could bring up my score in a similar fashion for REG, right? Wrong. Ended up with a 70.
I was so devastated when I found I didn’t pass REG again. I cried at work that day and was unproductive the rest of the week. I didn’t want to take this into 2018 with me. I had never had to take an exam for a third time, and if I had known I’d have such a hard time with REG, I wouldn’t have saved it for last. But I knew I had been studying for too long and stretching it out hadn’t been a good idea. I had to come up with a new game plan to finish this quickly, because I absolutely did not want to get stuck in another long score release.
Exam 8 – REG: I figured that since I had basically been studying this section for a whole quarter, the material was still relatively fresh. So I set a test date for January 2018 and would start studying after Christmas. However, the week between Christmas and New Year’s ended up not being as productive as I thought since I had to do a lot of year-end work. Since I couldn’t sit and do MCQs as much as I intended that week, I tried to at least skim through the Ninja Notes, since I hadn’t done that last time. Finally after the new year, I was able to start doing MCQs, and I basically did that for three weeks until the exam date. Becker even expired a week before my exam, and I had to renew Ninja for three days to help practice. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to pass again because I really only had been studying for three weeks for this attempt, but I took the exam anyway. The day before this exam was when the NASBA Gateway was announced, so I found out my score would be released almost two weeks later than anticipated, which was irritating as well. After my exam, I enjoyed 6 weeks of binge watching tv and going out, though in the back of my mind, I didn’t think I had passed. I realized I had done an entire SIM incorrectly, and wasn’t particularly confident about the other SIMs. My second MCQ testlet felt impossible, which I suppose was a good thing but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. I was so sure I had failed this time; I had felt more confident when I got a 70, so if I felt terrible leaving this one, then I probably got somewhere in the 60s. I kept trying to mentally prepare myself for a fourth exam. Finally, just a few nights ago, I found I got a 79!
I know that was a lot to read, so if you’ve made it this far, then I thank you for listening to my story. The CPA exams were a humbling experience for me, and I know I’ve grown both personally, professionally, and mentally through this. This test is a marathon, a test of endurance. And as cliche as it sounds, if I can pass then anyone can pass. All it takes is stamina.