Last Updated: 7th September, 2020
How To Pass US CPA Exam In The First Attempt – 2020
Everyone prefers to get difficult things accomplished on the first try, and the same attitude applies to the CPA exam. Studying for the exam is a huge commitment of time, and we’d all prefer to pass all four tests on the first attempt. It’s tough, but with proper planning and enough effort, you can do it. Use these tips to pass the CPA exam on your first try.
Create a plan and stick to the weekly time requirement
Now, it’s easy to say “make a plan to study for the CPA exam and stick to it”, which is a lot like saying: “train for six months and run a marathon.” Both goals involve hundreds of hours of time, and studying for the CPA exam will require over 400 hours of preparation. But if you’re going to study 20 hours a week for 20 weeks, make sure that you can reasonably fit that into your schedule. Also, I recommend that you spend a few more hours each week early in the process, which means that you won’t have to rush to catch up at the end. Avoid cramming at the end, because most people can’t retain information well if they’re rushing.
Take a CPA review course
I worked as an online tutor for CPA candidates, and nearly everyone needed a review course to get through the exam. Review courses, like the Becker CPA review, are constantly updated for changes in the exam’s content. I tried studying using only review books, and it just wasn’t effective for me. The review course also provides structure, so you’re more likely to keep your studying on track each week. A review course allows you to study using audio, videos, online live instruction, flashcards — whatever works for you.
Consider hiring a tutor — one hour at a time
If you’ve been using your review course and there are concepts you simply cannot figure out, find an online tutor. I would recommend asking friends who have taken the exam recently if they used a tutor, and I would check online reviews. A good tutor should be willing to meet with you for an hour at a time, so that you can go over the most challenging concepts. If a tutor asks you to commit to more than an hour, find someone else. A good tutor is able to generate repeat business.
Practice test scores
Before you take a certain test, make sure that your practice test scores are 5% higher than the percentage you need to pass. So, if passing the auditing and attestation (AUD) test requires a 75%, you should be getting an average of 80% on your practice test. My experience has been that CPA candidates with those levels of practice scores pass the tests they take.
Passing the CPA exam on your first try is an accomplishment that you can sell to a potential employer. It shows that you take your career seriously, and that you can commit to a difficult task. Use these tips to pass the CPA exam on your first try.
Find people in the accounting industry
Nothing is better than learning by using real world examples, and people who work in the accounting industry can provide lots of examples for you. As you study, keep notes on difficult subjects and run those concepts by someone you know. Say, for example, that you’re having trouble understanding inventory turnover ratios. A manager who works with inventory can give you some great examples that explain why inventory turnover is critical for managing cash needs.
How to Become CPA in Canada: The Beginner’s Guide
Is Canada CPA Similar to that in the US?
Similar to the states in the US, Canada has provinces, and each province has its own regional accounting body. Canada has taken a bold move by merging its accounting qualifications (CA, CMA and CGA) into one big “CPA “designation. The process has been completed with much success.
In order to get started, candidates should follow the rules applicable to their status.
1. New Candidates
Accounting Majors in Canada
This is the default route to become CPA in Canada. If qualified, you will be admitted to the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP).
Here is the prerequisite for CPA PEP:
- Complete a bachelor degree in relevant concentration, e.g. B.Comm with an accounting major
- Complete the prerequisite learning defined in The CPA Competency Map
- Complete at least 120 credit hours or equivalent of education
Shown on the right is an extract of the CPA Competency Map. You can get more info and download the full version here.
Those who are not qualified for CPA PEP will get into the CPA Prerequisite Education Program (CPA PREP). This may include non-accounting majors and international candidates.
This is a bridging program developed on a nationally basis to help students make up for the missing accounting courses. The courses are offered part-time, through distance learning or in classroom setting.
2. Legacy and Transitioning Students / Candidates from CA, CGA and CMA
If you have completed the respected course of your CA, CGA or CMA designation on or before September 2015, then you don’t need to do anything but to wait for the legislation to pass in your jurisdiction (Update: this should have been completed in all provinces).
If you are half way in the course, you will enter the appropriate point in either the CPA PEP or CPA PREP to complete the program.
You will also need to complete the experience requirements in your original designation in order to become a CPA in Canada. You can get more information from the links at the bottom of this page.
How to Register for CPA PEP
CPA PEP is a 2-year part-time program designed for accounting professionals who work full time. It consists of six modules:
2 core modules
- 6 core technical competencies including financial reporting, strategy and governance, management accounting, audit and assurance, finance and taxation.
- Students can choose from assurance, performance management, tax and finance.
- Those who pursue public accounting or tax must take assurance or tax respectively.
1 capstone integrative module
- Focus on leadership and professional skills, integrating core competencies
1 capstone exam prep mode
- Focus on the Common Final Examination
Each module ends in an examination. CPA candidates must pass each module examination to proceed to the next module. The Common Final Examination is a 3-day test to complete the whole process.
CPA PEP is developed on a national basis but the program is delivered on a provincial basis. You can register for the CPA PEP through your provincial or regional CPA body. There are also schools that run across the provinces.
You will have to sit for 6 exams (Core 1 and 2), 2 exams (Elective1 and 2) plus 2 learning modules (Capstone 1 and 2) and a final three days exams to complete the exam part of the program.
How to Register for CPA PREP
The CPA PREP consists of 14 modules. The sequence in which you take modules 1-10 is important as some modules are prerequisites for others. Modules 11 and 12 are self-study an can be taken at any time, subject to availability. You only have to complete the ones you require. Each module ends with an examination.
For information about the module fees and scheduling, please contact your provincial body.
Once you complete CPA PREP, you are qualified for CPA PEP.
Since September 2015, the provinces have standardized the requirements. There are two routes:
- Take pre-approved programs in training positions that are offered by your employers and have been pre-approved by the profession. These programs are designed for you to meet the practical experience requirements within 30 months.
- Complete experience verification. This flexible route allows you to demonstrate competence and have relevant experience recognized as it is gained at an employer of choice.
Students can choose one route or take a combination of the two.
Is the Reciprocal Agreement with CA, CMA and CGA Still Valid?
There isn’t a simple answer to that. I understand that the US state boards still allow legacy CA members to take IQEX and get a faster route to become a CPA in the US.
CMA Canada used to have numerous agreements with other management accounting bodies, and I am not sure how that turns out. You may want to check with your current provincial accounting body for details.
As the unification is completed, there may be a new round of negotiation with other accounting bodies around the world and new reciprocal agreements will be made then.
How about Review Courses?
I don’t cover them for now, but heard from friends that Prepformula, Densmore and Pass are the bigger providers.
Good luck to your path towards the Canadian CPA!
The average Cpa salary in Canada is $87,500 per year or $44.87 per hour. Entry level positions start at $41,538 per year while most experienced workers make up to $97,500 per year.
What is the difference between becoming a CPA in US versus CPA in Canada
In Canada, historically, the qualification process for legacy-CAs was fragmented – Ontario only required 1 year of work experience whereas Western Canada required 2 and generally performed stronger on the exam (hence why they stopped publishing pass rates in about 2008). CMAs had a big board presentation and written report and CGAs had a final exam.
Now all Canadian CPA students go through 4 modules – 2 core and 2 electives. Then you go through the 2 Capstone courses. Capstone 1 mirrors the old CMA process and Capstone 2 mirrors the old CA process. Capstone 2 ends with a 3 day 13 hour exam, the Common Final Exam (replaces the Uniform Evaluation or the UFE. No percentages to pass. Either you’re competent or you’re not.
Is US CPA recognized in Canada?
US CPA license is not popular in the Canadian job market since the CPA license is locally regulated. And US and Canada follow different accounting principles. The good news is you can apply for a reciprocal exam to become a Canadian CPA provided you have a valid CPA license from most of the states, not all though.
Insights shared by a Candidate who passed 4/4 on First Attempt
After passing all four exams on first try, I’d like to share some insights that might be helpful to some of you. I worked full-time at Big 4 while studying (plus some studying before starting work) and used Becker.
Many of you in school will try to take the exam before starting your full-time jobs. While studying and working can be challenging at times, it is not necessarily as brutal as some make it out to be, especially if you’re single/no kids. I am not a fan of study marathons. I’d rather work and then study in the evenings and on weekends, than study full-time. Don’t feel bad if you start work and haven’t taken/passed any exam. I was nervous hearing all CPA stories from my coworkers and having no experience myself, but hey, now I’ve passed all four sections in six months while working at Big 4. It has boosted my confidence and made a very good impression on the people I work with.
You have 18 months to pass all four sections. That is, the 18-month window does not open until you receive credit (ie pass) for a section. If you’re wondering which section to take first, take REG or FAR. These are the most difficult and time-consuming sections. If you fail your first attempt, at least you won’t be opening the 18-month window. Getting REG or FAR out of the way will also be good for your confidence.
If you’re wondering in what order to take the exams, do either FAR-AUD-BEC-REG or REG-FAR-AUD-BEC. AUD and BEC will both be easier once you’ve passed FAR.
Keep in mind that when you apply for your initial NTS, it will take around 3-5 weeks to receive it. Don’t count on NASBA being quick but don’t wait to get the NTS to start studying either. My NTS took 6 weeks because of an issue with my name. You second/third NTS will take a day or two.
Weekend spots at Prometric test centers fill quickly. Start checking for dates/spots about a month and half prior to your desired exam date. If nothing is available, check again. Some people cancel their appointments, so you may want to check a couple of times before scheduling to make sure you get the appointment that works best for you.
If you can, schedule the exam on a Monday or Tuesday. That gives you an entire weekend to study plus a good excuse to have a day off work! If possible, don’t waste your weekends at Prometric test centers. 🙂
I am not a fan of study marathons. Things may happen that might disrupt your ultimate study plans. If you think you can take AUD in 4 weeks, give yourself 5.
The most important point I want to make here is: don’t take mock exams.
- Mock exams are a good idea before your first exam, whichever section it is. It is helpful to a. see what the software looks like (Becker’s is pretty close to the real one) , b. block off 4 hours without distractions, and c. see how you do with the time.
- Taking more than one or two mock exams is a waste of time, though. First, a mock exam takes four hours. Yes, you might argue it’s a good practice, but those are four hours you’re spending on getting tired and not studying. If you start your mock exam at 9am on Saturday, you will complete it at 1pm. Then you’ll take a break and then come back to review what you did wrong. So you’ll start fixing the error you made at 9:15am five hours later, at 2:15pm. Five hours later, you’re probably tired. And five hours later, you’re probably discouraged because you got 60 on your mock exam and need 75 to pass. Mock exams aren’t reflective of actual exam performance. The CPA exam is not graded the way these mock exams are graded. A score of 75 on the exam is not 75% correct answers. Don’t spend four hours on killing your confidence. Instead of mock exams, I focused on progress tests (see below) that gave me feedback sooner and I divided by section. A lot of people disagree with my criticism of mock exams, and yes, we do things differently. Now that I’m done, I’m confident mock exams are overrated but I am also saying that you shouldn’t let others guilt you about your approach, should you decide (not) to do something. (I took two mock exams total, only for my first test, FAR.)
2) So how did I study? It’s a little different for each section, but what’s common in my approach for all four sections is that I studied and reviewed, and 70% of my actual learning and understanding happened in the review phase. That’s when I connected the dots, after reading all (or almost all) chapters and going through the MCQs.
- I watched the lecture and took notes in the textbook. Many would say the lectures are a waste of time, but the lecturers oftentimes add context that makes it easier to understand the topic. Also, the instructors point out the most heavily tested areas or those not tested much (for instance, if you’re reading the REG text about depreciation, you’ll probably read the entire table; if you listen to the lecture, Tim Gearty would tell you there are only two asset classes you need to know for the exam). After the lecture, I read the chapter. I don’t like going into MCQs without reading the text; it just feels more like guessing as opposed to, well, educated guessing. 🙂 It’s cool to be efficient, but you’re trying to pass an exam, so if it takes you 20-30 more hours than somebody else, that’s fine, it’s not a marathon.
- On the MCQs, I marked the questions I did wrong and some questions I did right but thought were important for me to see again during my review. During my review, I did MCQs on those marked questions only.
- I generally didn’t do SIMS until I got to review. However, for REG, which I found quite difficult, I needed more practice in the tax chapters, so I did the SIMS together with the MCQs, sometimes before the MCQs. The SIMS are more comprehensive, so sometimes they give you a bigger picture of the topic than the MCQs. It’s like the MCQs give you the dots, but the SIMS help you connect the dots. That’s mostly REG, in my experience.
- After covering all chapters, or several chapters, I started reviewing. For AUD, I made a spreadsheet where I listed each lesson and the percentage of correct MCQs. I redid only the MCQs I had marked in my study phase, then in a separate column on the spreadsheet I put in the new, higher percentage of correct MCQs on second try. This gave me a visual of my weakest chapters. I tried to get to at least 80% on each, ideally 85% correct MCQs. Besides the visual, the spreadsheet gave me confidence that things were going in the right direction.
- Simply doing MCQs and/or SIMS didn’t give me confidence that I knew what was going on. So I also read some chapters again (kinda for the third time) before going into the marked MCQs. That’s when those chapters started to make sense, and I started to see things I hadn’t noticed in my study phase.
- Then I took progress tests by section/lesson. So for REG, that would be R1, R2 – I don’t remember how Becker calls those exactly. I took progress tests with 10 MCQs only, 15 at most but rarely. Why 10 MCQs? 10 MCQs take, say, 20 minutes. So in twenty minutes, I know what I’ve done wrong and I can start working on it. That, to me, is the key: don’t take too long to identify your errors. Then, I would write down my score on the first set of 10 MCQs. Then take a second and third set, writing down my score to track my progress while fixing mistakes and weak areas quickly. If I got over 80% on those 3 progress tests and/or was getting tired of R1, I started reviewing R2 using the same approach. Then, I would review R1 and R2 etc, again with only 10 MCQs.
- I took notes while studying, but I take notes mostly to concentrate and not to go back to.
- I usually listened to music while studying, so I got distracted a lot, but someone who gets distracted while studying learns more than someone who doesn’t study at all.
- Some weeks, I had a long commute to the client, so I listened to lectures in the car. Because I couldn’t also take notes and am not as good at learning from listening, I would replay the lecture a couple of times. I can tell you that I studied the economics section of BEC (B5) only by listening to lectures on my commute. This only works for topics that are more theoretical, like business law, economics, IT, audit.
- I get tired of sitting at a desk, especially after coming home from sitting at a desk for 10 hours. So in the evenings, I usually studied in bed – lectures, notes, and sometimes MCQs. That doesn’t quite work for FAR because I can’t do FAR problems in bed, but you get the point – find an alternative so that you keep studying.
- Going to the gym is important. I should have done that more while studying. You can just listen to a lecture while on the treadmill – say 40 minutes, your body relaxes and you’re still studying, then go home, read the chapter and/or put the instructor’s notes in your textbook, do the MCQs.
- Another thing I should have learned sooner is to admit to being tired and not torture myself. Say one Saturday, I wake up and start studying, then by 11am, I want to go out but I keep studying because I have to… I stop paying attention, take longer to do the MCQs, and learn less – only for the sake of having a clear conscience that I am studying. No, just go out, take a break, come back in an hour or two, and you would do better. No need to just sit at a desk to feel good about yourself.
- I sacrificed some social life, but I also got to do some cool things like catching up with my closest friends, trips, and concerts while also studying. Such things are important for my well-being, and miserable people do worse at whatever they have to do. I had a fair share of tough moments while studying for the CPA exam, but looking back, I didn’t really sacrifice too much, and I managed to enjoy life while working and studying. I had to be disciplined, otherwise I risked becoming a miserable, stressed out, and rude person.
- I prioritized the exam. Don’t be the guy whose first section expired because he made senior and couldn’t handle being a senior and studying. Do it sooner rather than later, and don’t say yes to everything at work at the expense of your exam. Your CPA is going to be with you all your career, granted you maintain the license.
- Many say you stop learning new things the last days before the test, but trust me, I passed 2 of my exams with knowledge acquired the last few days before exam day.
- Dress in layers. On exam day, they’ll give you two laminated sheets to jot down notes. It’s easier to erase your notes with your shirt than with your fingers, so don’t wear a white shirt or something very nice. However, dress for success 🙂 I kinda liked to dress up for my exams so that I go in there with more confidence. Again, confidence is key. Go in there like you’ve made partner already. I bet you some of the partners out there barely passed their exams.
- You cannot drink water during the exam except for the break. I am used to drinking water all the time, so it took some mental preparation for that part.
- Eat a couple of hours before the test. I didn’t eat before my first test and two hours in, I was starving. Simple…
- DO NOT LEAVE THE TEST ROOM even if you are absolutely sure you’re failing the test and all hope is lost. I spent most of my time taking REG wondering if I should just go home and not take entire four hours to fail the exam. I passed – barely, but I passed. Now I’m done with the exam writing this looong piece of advice and I cannot believe that a week and a half ago, I almost failed MY SELF by considering giving up.
SCORE RELEASE DAY:
- If you’ve taken a section before and the score is still available on the NASBA website, go there to the eye button for that last section you have a score for, open the score report, and it should show you all sections you have records for: Credit for Passed, Attendance for No score available to NASBA yet, and No Credit for Failed.
Finally, I want to say that I am fortunate to have passed all four sections on first try. I did not have to deal with the frustration and disappointment of failing a section. To all of you who have failed and keep trying: I admire you for remaining optimistic and working hard towards passing the exam. There’s as much to learn from your experience, if not more!