Ok. I admit this headline is a little pessimistic, but it’s really true. I talk with CPA exam candidates all the time who work really hard at studying and end up failing a section by a couple of points. Few things in life are quite as devastating as opening your exam results and seeing a 74. Months of studying are down the drain and now you have to start the entire process over again.
It’s horrible. It’s depressing and no one wants this to happen to them. So what’s the difference between a 72 point score and a 75 point score? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not about studying more. It’s about studying better. Chances are you are already spending enough time studying to pass the exam. You just need to spend this time studying more effectively.
Here are five common things people do that cause them to fail the CPA exam.
1. Social Media
Now I know it’s kind of ironic that people will probably find this article through social media, but I have to say it. Facebook and Twitter are huge time wasters. We all know this and we all do it anyway. I’m not telling you to go on a social media fast for six months while you study. My advice is to keep social profiles in your social life. In other words, don’t stop studying to check your feed or tweet what CPA review course textbook looks like.
When you are studying, leave social media out of it. Don’t let it distract you. You can also try to use it less, so you can devote more time to studying, but the key is to not let it interrupt you while you are in the zone. Turn it off and tune in.
2. No Structured Schedule
Let’s face it. We are all accounting nerds to some degree and the stereotype is that we are all regimented, organized, and plan everything way out in advance. Unfortunately, we aren’t all like that. I don’t know about you, but my schedule can be a little crazy with work, family, and (I dare say) a personal life. If it were left up to my schedule, I would have a half hour here and 10 minutes there to study. Or worse, I just wouldn’t study for a week and then binge study for 48 hours straight. You know what I’m talking about.
This is a huge reason why people fail. Studying is like anything in life. If you want to see results, you have to be consistent and ongoing. The rare exception of candidates can pass with doing some cram courses. The rest of us (myself included) find much better results by taking an hour or so a night and studying consistently over time. Have time set aside for to study AND don’t do anything else during that time except study.
3. Lack of Focus
This point goes hand in hand with the first two. It doesn’t matter whether you are studying for 4 hours a night if you drift off and tune out every time you open a book or watch a lecture. When your course instructor gets boring, don’t start composing tweets about what you wish you could be doing. FOCUS. Try to pay attention and get the most out of your study time.
This will not only improve your memory of the material, but it will also reduce your overall study time. Having a consistent, structured schedule will help too. You can get in the right frame of mind and set yourself up to tune everything out and pay attention to your course.
4. No Deadlines
Unfortunately, I am like most people out there and I can’t accomplish large tasks without deadlines. I was this way in high school and college. I’d wait until the last minute to do everything. Fast forward a few years and the CPA exam was no exception.
My senior year of college I decided that I was going to try to take a section right after graduation. I went out and bought CPAexcel and was ready to crush the exam. After a while, I got a little overwhelmed studying for both the exam and my college classes, so I started to put the exam studying aside to focus on my college studying. After I graduated, I did the same thing with my job. I put off studying to work harder.
Nine months later, I still hadn’t taken my first CPA exam section or even starting studying. I realized that I was never going to actually study for it until I had a hard deadline, so I signed up for AUD and passed! If you are on the fence about signing up for a section because you think you’ll need more time to study, just sign up for it. You will be forced to study. Set deadlines for yourself!
5. No Breaks
This last point might sound a little counterproductive, but it’s quite the opposite. Let’s face it. You can’t study 24 hours a day. More importantly, you can’t focus 24 hours a day. Like I said before, the shear amount of study hours doesn’t matter as much as the amount of quality study hours. If you aren’t focusing, you aren’t studying. That’s a problem.
When you are setting your study schedule in point number 2, schedule in time to take breaks. Watch some TV, hang out with friends, and even go on the dreaded social media. Take regular breaks, so that your studying can be focused and concise. I’m not saying to cut down study time and play Call of Duty every night, but I think having a balanced study life and personal life will help you pass the exam and get those extra few points you need.
You know what to do. Now it’s just a matter of being disciplined enough to accomplish your goals. These five things could be the difference between a 72 and a 75. In other words, months of studying, exam fees, and not being about to hang out with friends and family.
I hope these ideas were helpful and that they motivate you to get to work and pass the exam. If you haven’t started studying yet, you might want to pick out a review course and get your start planning your study schedule now.
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Shaun Conrad is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a passion for teaching. After almost a decade of experience in public accounting, he created MyAccountingCourse.com to help people learn accounting and finance.