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Making the most of post-grad CPA Exam summer studies

May 27, 2022

By Brigid D’Souza, CPA

The post-graduate summer is a limited window of time to maximize efficient, effective CPA preparation. The momentum to study can dissipate as candidates start to work full time and their plates fill up with on-the-job deliverables. Passing the CPA Exam as soon as possible after graduation should be a core aim for an accounting graduate. 

I teach undergraduate accounting at Saint Peter’s University, and each semester I ask my advanced students, “what do you think the CPA Exam pass rates are?” I give them a few seconds to think about it, then share the latest pass rates from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) which, depend­ing on the quarter, can hover as low as 45 to 55 percent (for Auditing and Financial Accounting and Reporting) and stretch as high as the mid-70-percent range (for Business Environment and Concepts and Regulation). The pass rates are available here. I’ve seen this information take some students by surprise. My goal in quizzing my students about CPA Exam rates is not to deflate their hopes, but rather to level set the rigor, discipline and strategic focus they will need to pass. That focus should ideally begin immediately after graduation. 

Preparing for the CPA Exam is like a part-time job unto itself. As such, it’s critical to build structure and expectations around the process. 

Understand the structure, format and process  

A good place to start is the National Association of State Board of Accountancy’s (NASBA) Candidate Bulletin (nasba.org), a roadmap providing guidance about the process of taking the test, from application to receiving your scores. The Candidate Bulletin will also help candidates navigate among the organizations they’ll come into contact with as they apply for and take the Exam, including AICPA, NASBA, Prometric and the local state boards of accountancy. Next, review the CPA Exam Blueprints, which provide a topical outline of each exam section. Finally, learn about the test itself; two key resources are the AICPA’s CPA Exam Structure and CPA Exam Sample Tests and Tutorials (l). Having this baseline knowledge squared away before the summer hits will help candidates maximize summer hours for test prep. 

Create a weekly study plan 

Candidates who are already working will need to find study time outside of their work hours. Finding regular, habitual times to study will be critical. Create a regimen and stick to it; in this way, the study habits from undergrad can be an asset. Also schedule downtime; the CPA Exam is a marathon, not a sprint, and one’s regimen must be sustainable over months.

Invest in a CPA Exam prep course 

Completing an undergraduate accounting program is the baseline needed to sit for the Exam. But to aid in passing the Exam, CPA Exam review companies offer many value-adds, two of which I’ll note here. 

First, a review course will provide a structured, outlined review of topics that serve as a distillation of the topics provided in the AICPA’s Blueprints. Second, a review course will provide access to test bank questions which can serve as the core of a candidate’s preparation. Review courses typically offer these two resources as part of a baseline package, but additional tools and resources can also be purchased. Review courses will also offer tips and guidance around how to pace a study plan, which will vary with each candidate’s preferred target timeline to sit for all four parts.

Practice, practice, practice 

Practice the test bank multiple choice questions and simulations. Again. And again. And then again. The test bank questions arguably offer the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to CPA Exam prep because they kill two birds with one stone: learning the content and learning how to take the Exam. By answering questions, candidates are immediately discovering what they do or don’t understand; they’re also learning how they’ll be tested, in terms of the types of questions, the range of answer choices and so on. If a candidate doesn’t understand a question or why a particular answer is the correct option, he or she can refer back to the structured outlines. This is an efficient process of preparation.

Graduating from college is an incredible milestone, and the post-grad summer is a time to celebrate and take stock of what one has accomplished. It also can be a time to add a capstone achievement: passing the CPA Exam. 

Brigid D’Souza, CPA, MBA, is assistant professor at the Frank J. Guarini School of Business in the Department of Accountancy & Business Law at Saint Peter’s University. She is a member of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. This article originally appeared in the spring 2021 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine.

Reprinted with permission from the New Jersey Society of CPAs.