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Leaders’ Institute: CPA Exam 101 With Natalie Thomas

The biggest obstacle standing between Leaders’ Institute attendees and their licenses is the CPA Exam. Natalie Thomas hopes to impart a plan to overcome that obstacle.

Thomas, an account manager at Becker Professional Education, led the “CPA Exam 101” session at the VSCPA’s 10th annual Leaders’ Institute on Saturday. Her task is a little different than in previous years because of the impending changes to the Exam, due to take effect in April 2017.

For some students, that might mean it’s advantageous to get one part of the Exam out of the way ahead of the change.

“For seniors, the Exam changing in 2017 is a big one,” Thomas said. “Juniors don’t really have an option, but some people are running into where they’ve graduated and can take some exams before April 1. We’re recommending that they take the business part now because that doesn’t have the task-based simulations now and will after April 1, 2017.”

The task-based simulations are just one of the major changes on deck for the Leaders’ Institute attendees and everyone else set to take the Exam in the future. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) wanted the Exam to more closely mirror what an accountant needs to know at the beginning of his or her career.

Leaders’ Institute is just one touch point with these students for Thomas, who gives numerous presentations to student groups throughout the year. She subscribes to the notion that people need to hear things multiple times before they sink in.

“It’s so much information that whenever they hear it, they learn something new,” she said. “Sometimes they might not be entirely ready to sit for the Exam, but they’re picking up different content every time they hear it.”

She added: “Normally, the people we’re talking to are not quite ready to sit. They’re in the pre-work process. We tell them to go out and check the state requirements for the state they’re getting their license in. They have to check their credits. Most universities are pretty good as far as credits, but sometimes they fall short.”

And while she does like to hammer home a point to make sure it sinks in, Thomas is impressed with the quality of Virginia’s accounting students, particularly those accomplished enough to attend Leaders’ Institute.

“Accounting students are very focused and very on top of things,” she said. “It definitely depends on the university I go to, but for the most part, these students are the go-getters. They know they’re getting a job offer a year out from graduation. They’re on top of things.”

While it might seem to fall outside the purview of a session about the CPA Exam, Thomas also hopes to help students understand any specific course credits they’ll need in the area they hope to practice. She looks to provide a holistic review of everything accounting students need to prepare themselves and be eligible for the Exam.

That’s a big deal in Virginia, where the top-notch universities draw students from across the country who might be looking to return to their home states.

“Many times, they won’t know that they need certain credits for different states,” Thomas said. “They’re William & Mary students, but they’re getting their license in Florida, and they need extra business law credits there.”

When speaking to older groups, Thomas tends to focus on the logistics of taking the Exam — the next major task to cross most Leaders’ Institute graduates’ plates after graduating and starting out in the workplace.

“For seniors, it’s more about how to get the process started,” she said. “More so where to register, a little bit about the schedule and that process. Every state is different for that. It’s more how to get the process started and knowing the time commitment that this exam takes.”

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