As I’ve mentioned before on my site, I used CPAexcel exclusively to pass the CPA exam on my first try. I’m not going to tell you that it was easy or that I didn’t have to work hard in order to achieve this monumental goal, but Wiley CPAexcel made it much easier to prepare myself for the exams. It made me feel prepared when I walked into the testing center on my exam days and confident that I could crush the exam. If you’ve taken a section before, you know that it’s not easy walking into Prometric without feeling some kind of anxiety.
I’m not going to lie. I felt a little test anxiety and was worried about how prepared I was for my first exam section (AUD), but once I sat down and started the exam, all of my CPAexcel studying came back to me and I flew through the testlets. I knew I passed and had the first section under my belt when I left the testing center. For the second, third, and fourth sections, I walked into Prometric with a confident, “let’s do this” attitude instead of an unsure, anxious outlook.
I wanted to write this post to share a little about my story, study habits, and how I used CPAexcel to pass all four sections of the CPA on my first try.
Studying for the exam is a process. I have always been a good test taker but not for any natural ability or because I’m crazy intelligent. I just like to focus on ways to make myself more productive and efficient—especially when it comes to studying. CPAExcel is perfect for this because they break material into short, concise, and focused sections that help you speed up your study time.
A lot of people start off on the wrong foot when it comes to preparing for the exam. They spend too much time studying things they don’t need to and not enough time focusing on concepts and the psychology of the exam. Remember, it’s just a test. Don’t let it get inside your head. That was my basic approach. Here are five of the study hacks and strategies that I developed to help get the most out of the CPAexcel review course.
Unofficial Number One
This isn’t one of my strategies, but it’s probably one of the most important study motivators that exist. Don’t start studying before you set your exam date. Believe me. I know this one first hand. Without a hard deadline, you tend to put off studying because it doesn’t matter. You can always push your test date back. Don’t do it! Find the CPA requirements in your state and sign up for a test date right away.
After I set my exam date, here’s what I did.
1. Set a schedule AND stick to it!
This might sound like common sense, but most people don’t actually set a study schedule and when they do they don’t stick to it. The CPA Excel course splits the study materials into different categories and subjects. Each subject has sub-sections that are labeled with bubbles. For instance, the accounting principles section might have 15 bubbles in it one of them being the matching principle. This bubble includes a video lecture, slides, flash cards, proficiency questions, multiple choice questions, and study text about the matching principle.
The overview section includes a course summary that lists all of the bubbles as well as the total number in each category.
This is what I used to gauge my progress and set my schedule. I figured out how many bubbles were in the AUD section that I signed up for and divided that by the number of days I had to study. In most cases, I had to go through about three bubbles a night. This included video lectures, practice questions, and study text.
So that’s what I committed to. I had a set number of bubbles that I had to make it through each day without any exceptions. It’s tough to stick to a strict schedule, but that is the only way you are going to see continual improvement.
2.Use the Bite-sized Learning Sections
to Your Advantage
CPA excel does a great job of breaking larger, more complex topics into smaller, more manageable sections. It would have been impossible to stick to my 3 bubbles a day schedule if each video lecture was 30 minutes or longer.
The sections are broken down into smaller topics, so I could read, comprehend, and digest the information. One key to studying is not to get overwhelmed. The bite-sized learning are critical for understanding and retaining information quickly without feeling like you are drowning.
My regular study session for each bubble went like this. I would watch the video, skim the study text, do the proficiency questions to gauge my understanding of the topics, and practice the multiple-choice for that bubble. If I felt like I understood it, I would move on to the next bubble for that night.
Where I truly took advantage of the smaller sections was in the review phase. Typically, I would review one or two prior sections each night after I did my 3 regular bubbles for the day. So let’s assume I was studying the section about audit procedures that has 10 bubbles in the section. I would do the first three on Monday and the second three on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I would do the third three bubbles and go back to the first sections I did on Monday and just do the review questions.
The smaller sections make it really easy to do micro-reviews like this throughout the course. This was a huge time saver for me because I could actively review while I was studying. It cut my final review time way down.
3. Test yourself everyday
Ok I admit that this isn’t a mind-blowing strategy that I came up with all on my own, but it works and most people don’t do it. Don’t get me wrong. I had a social life when I was studying. I wasn’t studying and reviewing 24 hours a day, but on days that I didn’t devote a lot of time to reading or going through more sections, I always did a few multiple choice questions.
Using the mobile app and the flash cards was huge. I could take practice questions everywhere with me and whip them out whenever I had 10 minutes to spare. Rather than playing Angry Birds on my phone while I was waiting in line, I would pull up the app and do a few questions. Even though I wasn’t doing a full study session, it helped me stay in the mindset and think about some of the concepts I reviewed the week before.
It sounds simple, but it is a key concept. Don’t go a few days without studying. You will lose your groove and it will difficult to get back into the swing of things.
4.Use the Multiple-choice and Proficiency Questions Together to Quickly Gauge Your Understanding
Remember, the review course is designed to cover way more than what will actually appear on the exam. Don’t get overwhelmed thinking you have to memorize everything. That isn’t the case at all. I found this out early on. There is no way you could possibly memorize the entire CPAexcel review course. You just can’t do it.
Instead, I discovered that it’s more important to focus on concepts and understanding how things work at a global level than trying to memorize details and formulas. If you understand the global ideas and concepts behind questions, you will be able to figure out the answer without actually memorizing it. Take a financial ratio for example. If you understand the concept behind inventory turns, you will be able to figure out how to calculate it. You don’t have to memorize the actual equation.
That is where the proficiency questions come into play. Most other courses don’t have two sets of practice questions like CPAExcel. The proficiency questions are predominantly made up of true and false questions that help gauge your understanding of a topic. I found out that I could fly through these questions much faster than the multiple choice ones to see whether I understood something or needed to go back and refresh on the topics.
If I needed to refresh on the topic, I’d review the multiple-choice questions a few times until I understood the types of questions they were testing on. I can’t tell you how many hours this saved me over the 9 months of studying. Being able to quickly gauge your knowledge and move on to topics you need to focus on is key to strategically studying.
5. Understand Concepts & Questions in a Final Review
Although this isn’t my last strategy or tip, it’s definitely one of the top five. Reviewing sections is extremely important. I already talked about what I did to review prior sections using CPAExcel’s unique bubble system, so I want to focus on my final review process.
The CPAexcel final reviewsreally helped me with both reviewing the concepts as well as getting a firm grasp on the types of questions that were asked on the actual exam. At the end of each section, there is a final review that uses the MC questions in each bubble to generate a larger quiz. After I completed each section, I’d go back and take this wrap-up quiz to see what bubbles I was still having problems with. CPAexcel intuitively labels each bubble green, yellow, or red based on how well you performed. I tried to make sure all the bubbles were green before I moved onto the next section.
Just as important as reviewing the sections, I also reviewed and studied the multiple-choice questions themselves. Think about it. This is a test just like any other standardized test. They try to trick you with what they ask, how they word the question, and what answers they give you. You have to be able to decipher what they are asking and interpret the answers in a short about of time. The only way to get good at this is to review the questions themselves.
I started looking at how questions were worked and what the test creators were actually looking for in the answers instead of just memorizing formulas and information. Sometimes being a good test taker doesn’t actually require “knowing” the answer. You just have to be able to rule out the three wrong ones. : )
The week before my exam dates I would also do the CPAexcel exam simulations and full exams. These are full-length practice tests that mirror the actual exam with three full 30-question testlets and a simulation testlet. These exams choose random multiple choice questions out of the Wiley test bank of over 5,500 questions and 450 task based simulations. I did these over and over to practice my time management as well as my question skills.
Here is my video review of the CPAexcel online study materials, so you can see what the inside of the course actually looks like.
But wait. There’s more…
So that was the basics of my process to study for the exam. I did much more than this but didn’t want to make this post too long. : ) I developed a ton more study hacks to save time, remember information, and creative ways to study when you just don’t have time to study. I’m in the process of making an ebook that will reveal all of my secrets and show you ways that you can use to pass the exam on your first try too. Trust me. There is nothing better than walking into work after getting your final results and telling everyone you passed the exam. Enter your email below and I’ll email you when I have the guide finished.
I hope this article helps and gives you some ideas and motivation to get on track to pass the exam for yourself. If you want more information about CPAexcel, make sure to check out my CPAexcel review course page. I go through the entire course and show each section of it, so can get a feel for it before you buy it yourself.
You can also just go straight to their website to look at the course yourself!