Note: This post is part of a series. Read the other posts here:

3 Things I Want Accounting Students to Know – Intro

3 Things I Want Accounting Students to Know – The Career Path

3 Things I Want Accounting Students to Know – Information Overload

It’s what you’ve all been waiting for — the No. 1 question asked by students:

How do I pass the CPA exam?

I wish there was a foolproof answer, but there just isn’t. The exam is different for different people. I have seen some of my brightest peers — the ones I went to for advice — struggle, and I have seen others pass it fairly quickly.

What I can tell you is my experience with the exam and what I did that helped me pass.

Start early
I was fortunate enough to graduate just three credits shy of the 150 hours, which I quickly made up in a required ethics course in the summer post-graduation. As Marylanders, you now can start taking the exam with 120 hours, thanks to the diligent work of the MACPA. This means there is no excuse for not starting right away. The earlier you start, the fresher your knowledge from college and the more time you have to focus on it. As you grow in your career, you will become increasingly busier, both professionally and, often, personally (family, kids, etc.)

Once you start the process, stick with it
It will not only become increasingly hard to get back to it once you take a break, but you also risk losing some of your already passed scores. Maryland rules state that the credit for each exam section that you pass lasts 18 months from the date that you took the exam — not the date you found out you passed! You will lose credit for a passed section if the 18 months elapse and you have not passed the remaining sections of the exam.

Plan ahead and schedule
Since the exams do expire, you have to be strategic about how you take them. Some say you should start with the hardest section so that you don’t risk losing other ones while trying to pass it. Others argue you should start with the easiest section because if you’re going to risk losing credit, that’s the one you’d rather have to retake. Either way, I think the more important piece is the time of year when you take the exams. You will have “busy seasons,” especially if you’re in public accounting. You should plan your schedule around these times. Take the exams that will be easiest for you when you are the busiest and the hardest exams when you have the most free time.

My schedule as an auditor went like this:

  • Late fall / early winter: FAR
  • Winter: Audit (my easiest — I was an auditor, after all)
  • Spring: I was bad and took a bit of a break
  • Summer: BEC
  • Fall: REG (my hardest; I had very little tax experience)
  • Late fall / early winter: REG again (I failed the first time)

The other thing you will notice about my schedule is it took me an entire year. I think this was the best timeframe for me. It allowed me to never get fully stressed over the exam and get it done within 18 months. Of course, if I had failed REG that last time, I would have had only one testing window to pass it before my FAR expired. I guess the lesson there is to not take a “spring break.”

Get a good group of peers and suffer through it together
Share notes, tips and study sessions. It not only gives you some accountability, it gives you a network of people to vent to.

Leave me questions / comments below or e-mail me at I would love to be part of your network of support.

Connect with me!

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