5 Tips for Passing the CPA Exam

If you want make it as an accountant at a Big 4 accounting firm, you have to pass the CPA exam. This is not optional. Nowadays, you can’t make manager without being a CPA and further, you can’t even be officially called a senior until you have passed the exam. Most importantly, if you don’t pass the exam in the first two years of your career, you miss out on the sweet bonus they give out for passing. This could be as much as $5000. If that isn’t enough incentive, then maybe you should think about a different career.

With this in mind, passing the CPA exam is no tall order. It’s one of the toughest professional exams you can take and almost 50% of people don’t pass it on their first try. I was lucky enough to pass all four sections on my first attempt. Boy, was it a weight off my back. And I want to help make the process easier for you. Listed below are some of the tips helped me pass the CPA exam. I hope they help you!

1)      Take the Exam Before You Begin Your Job

Taking the exam the summer before I started working full-time at the Big 4 accounting firm was the best decision I ever made. I had the whole summer to focus on passing the exam. No distractions. It allowed me to take my time and really learn everything I needed to know for each section of the exam.

I have met several co-workers who made the mistake of waiting until they begin their jobs. This always seemed like a brutal proposition to me. Work 45 to 60 hours per week and then try and come home to study. Spend entire weekends studying. Further, instead of using you vacation time for VACATION, they had to use that time to study for their exam that was coming up. No thanks.

So if you’re thinking about taking that summer off before you start instead of taking the exam, don’t.

2)      Take a Review Course with Friends

As part of my graduate school program, we began taking the Becker CPA review course a week after our graduation. We stayed at school and the review course came to us. It turned out to be a great situation. The class was boring as learning material for the CPA exam is not exactly exciting. But it was great to have all my classmates and friends there taking it with me. It makes the process less painful. So if you’re school offers a review course, I recommend taking it so that you can share in the pain of studying for the exam with friends.

3)      Don’t Kill Yourself the Night Before

I know this may be hard for some, but I strongly recommend that you stop studying around 7 or 8 the night before the exam. If you’ve studied correctly, you should be well prepared for the exam. At this point, I had learned as much as I could. I either knew it or I didn’t, and it wasn’t worth it to stay up all night. I think it’s more important to be fresh the next morning for you exam.

4)      Use Note Cards

When I was studying for the CPA exam, the Becker Review Course came with some review cards for each section of the test. These were super helpful for me. They were a great way to quickly test yourself. I liked to use these a few days before the exam to see how much I knew. Unfortunately, these are an additional cost, but most firms reimburse you for all expenses incurred in order to take the exam. So don’t sweat too much about paying extra for them. Just make sure your firm does reimburse you.

5)      Give Yourself Enough Time to Study for Each Exam

Trying to figure out how long you need to study for each exam can be difficult. Some sections can be harder for some than others. Here is how long I gave myself to study for each section:

  1. Tax and Business Law = 3 weeks
  2. FAR = 1 month
  3. Audit = 2 weeks
  4. BEC = 2 weeks

I found devoting the most amount of study time to FAR worked best for me. This section has the most material to learn.

Passing the CPA exam can be a tall order for even the smartest of accounting majors. If you use these tips as part of your preparation, I’m confident you will be that much closer to passing the exam and earning that very nice Big 4 accounting firm CPA bonus. If you have any more questions about CPA exam preparation or anything specific about each of the sections, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or shoot me message!


About Russell

Hi, I'm Russell, author of The Big 4 Playbook and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Texas.

Before writing The Big 4 Playbook, I had the privilege of working as an auditor and tax consultant for several years for a Big 4 Accounting Firm. I am one of the few CPAs to serve as both an audit senior and a tax senior for a Big 4 Firm. During my time at the Big 4, the clients I served included Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, government organizations, hedge funds, and more.

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Boston College and my Masters in Accounting from Vanderbilt University. I experienced the rigors of the Big 4 recruiting process at both levels of my college career, and I created The Big 4 Playbook to share the lessons I learned along the way with you.

5 Tips for Passing the CPA Exam


  1. mkodo dk mkodo

    which is better? to be in financial management, accountancy manager or taxes?


  2. Deanna R. Jones

    Thanks for the tips! Giving yourself ample time to study for the CPA exam is a very good point. I have a few friends who decided to wait until a week before the exam to study. They’re very smart, and they really know their stuff about accounting, but it seems like they would get better scores on the test if they would have started studying a lot sooner. I don’t have to take it until next year, but it seems like a good idea for me to start planning when I should expect to start studying for it while I’m also working on my other classes for my degree. It’s surprising that the FAR section of the exam takes at least a month of review while the audit and BEC sections need only two weeks. I suppose I should allow more time than a month to start preparing for the test.


  3. Tyler Wong

    I’m giving myself about a week more than what you did for your CPA studies, but I definitely hear that it is such a great idea to take the exams before you start. Unfortunately, because of family flying in for my graduation, I didn’t start studying until mid-May (missing the May testing window). I’m hoping to take FAR and AUD in the first two Mondays of July (and BEC on Aug 1 and REG on Aug 31). I haven’t looked at FAR yet, but I was wondering if it’s possible to keep both FAR and AUD in my head if I were to take them a week from each other?


  4. Phuong

    How can I get the material for sefl-learning CPA?


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