How to Prepare for the CPA Exam

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Taking the CPA exam shows potential employers that a student is dedicated and serious about the profession.

Taking the CPA exam shows potential employers that a student is dedicated and serious about the profession.

Many students pursuing an online master’s degree in accountancy aspire to be certified public accountants (CPAs). Reaching that goal requires passing the notoriously difficult Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam. Passing rates on the four sections of the test generally hover around 50%, though the first-quarter 2019 scores were slightly higher, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

Earning a CPA is not required for a career in accountancy, although taking the exam has its benefits. Taking the exam shows future employers that a student is dedicated and serious about the profession.

“Getting your CPA certification opens the kinds of doors that can fast-track you into influential jobs in every industry,” according to the AICPA. “Whom do you think the FBI recruits to investigate criminal fraud? What profession is often a stepping-stone to holding positions like Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO)? Who helps rock stars manage their money and avoid going broke?”

Students who take the test while still in school often have a better chance of passing because the information is fresh. Still, the test can be challenging for students who study accountancy and knowing how to prepare for the CPA exam is important. The test can take 14 to 16 hours to complete and consists of four sections:

  • Auditing and Attestation
  • Business Environment and Concepts
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Regulation

The exam has 324 multiple choice questions, 20 task-based simulation questions and three writing portions, Investopedia reports. Each section is taken individually. Test-takers can choose the order in which they take the exam sections, but after they pass the first section, they have to take the other three within 18 months.

“The American Institute of CPAs administers and scores the test, grading each part on a scale of zero to 99,” Investopedia notes.

“You must score at least 75 to pass each section. Multiple-choice questions count for 70%of the total score, simulations are 20%, and written communication is 10% of the final score. Each question is weighted based on difficulty, so acing the multiple-choice questions and flunking the simulations and written parts will result in a failing score.” and Crush the CPA Exam offer these preparation strategies and tips:

  • Choose the Right Program

The first step to successfully preparing for the CPA exam is to choose a reputable accounting program. The University of North Dakota Master of Accountancy offers three educational tracks tailored to specific learning experiences. The online format allows students to complete coursework at their own pace without interrupting professional or personal responsibilities.

  • Understand Your Learning Style

Everyone learns differently. Visual learners might prefer one of the many video or online preparation guides. Others may prefer to use flashcards or printed CPA test books. Many CPA aspirants opt to take advantage of review courses.

  • Hire a Tutor

Those who want additional assistance may choose to work with a professional tutor. Working one-on-one can often help test-takers develop a stronger grasp of the accounting concepts that will be on the exam. Tutoring schedules vary according to a student’s needs.

  • Review Study Materials

One of the best ways to prepare is to take a practice test. The AICPA offers sample tests for each section of the exam on its website. The exam itself is done on a computer, so online practice tests can offer an edge over pencil-and-paper preparation.

  • Carve Out Time to Study

The CPA exam is not one that test-takers can cram for. A regular study schedule is key to doing well. Test prep experts recommend allotting roughly 30 hours per week to studying over the course of 15 or 16 weeks, for as many as 450 to 500 hours total.

“Studying for the CPA exam is like learning a language,” Crush the CPA Exam notes. “Consuming just a little bit each day is crucial to re-enforce what you have already studied as well as develop a solid study routine. Keep it fresh in your brain on a daily basis and you will retain much more information.”

  • Eliminate Distractions

Study hours are for studying — experts advise staying away from social media, texting, email and other potential interruptions.

  • Practice Makes Perfect

Aspiring CPAs should continue studying until they take the exam. Taking a break toward the end may be tempting, but those who continue to study and practice have a better chance of passing on their first try.

  • Review 24 Hours Before the Exam

Students should give their CPA exam materials one final review on the day leading up to the big test. And to calm uneasy nerves, they should try going to bed a little earlier than usual.


University of North Dakota Master’s in Accountancy

Students in the University of North Dakota Master of Accountancy program consistently beat the national average on all four parts of the CPA exam. Nine students have earned the Elijah Watt Sells Award, given annually to those whose CPA exam scores have a cumulative average above 95.50 on all four sections and who pass the exam on their first attempt.

The program offers a flexible learning environment and exposure to advanced accounting concepts, contracts, negotiable instruments, ethics, business law, analyses of financial statements, complex transactions and risk assessment. Students also have the opportunity to take part in hands-on internships with major accounting firms.

For more information, visit the UND Master of Accountancy website.



CPA exam passing rates: American Institute of CPAs

Fast-track career opportunities: AICPA

What’s on the test: Investopedia

What is the Uniform CPA Examination?: National Association of State Boards of Accountancy

Best bets to prep for the CPA exam:

CPA Exam Preparation Tips: Crush The CPA Exam