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CPA Exam

Overall CPA Exam Strategies



Your performance during the CPA examination is final and not subject to revision. While you may sit for a section of the examination again if you are unsuccessful, the majority of your preparation will have to be repeated, requiring substantial, additional amounts of time. Thus, CPA examination strategies [as discussed in this post or you come up with your own] that maximize your CPA—Exam—taking efficiency are very important.

Getting “Psyched Up” Before and During The CPA Exam

The CPA exam is quite challenging and worthy of your best effort. Explicitly develop your own psychological strategy to get yourself “up” for the CPA exam. Pace your study program such that you will be able to operate at peak performance when you are actually taking the exam. A significant advantage of the new computerized exam is that if you have scheduled early in a testing window and do not feel well, you can reschedule your sitting. However, once you start the exam, you cannot retake it in the same testing window, so do not leave the exam early. Do the best you can.


Lodging, Meals, Exercise On The CPA Exam Test Center

If you must travel to the test center, make advance reservations for comfortable lodging convenient to the test center. Do not stay with friends, relatives, etc. Both uninterrupted sleep and total concentration on the exam are a must. Consider the following in making your lodging plans:

  • Proximity to the test center
  • Availability of meals and snacks
  • Recreational facilities

Plan your meal schedule to provide maximum energy and alertness during the day and maximum rest at night. Do not experiment with new foods, drinks, etc., around your scheduled date. Within reasonable limits, observe your normal eating and drinking habits. Recognize that overconsumption of coffee during the exam could lead to a hyperactive state and disaster. Likewise, overindulgence in alcohol to overcome nervousness and to induce sleep the night before might contribute to other difficulties the following morning. Tenseness should be expected before and during the examination. Rely on a regular exercise program to unwind at the end of the day. As you select your lodging for the examination, try to accommodate your exercise pleasure (e.g., running, swimming, etc.). To relieve tension or stress while studying, try breathing or stretching exercises. Use these exercises before and during the examination to start and to keep your adrenaline flowing. Remain determined not to have to sit for the section another time.

In summary, the examination is likely to be both rigorous and fatiguing. Expect it and prepare for it by getting in shape, planning methods of relaxation during the exam and in the evening before, and finally, building the confidence and competence to successfully complete the exam.

Knowing The CPA Test Center and Procedures

If possible, visit the CPA test center before the examination to assure knowledge of the location.

Remember: be no surprises! Having a general familiarity with the facilities will lessen anxiety prior to the examination.

Talking to a recent veteran of the examination will give you background for the general CPA examination procedures, such as:

  • Procedure for taking the examination
  • Accessibility of restrooms
  • Availability of beverages and snacks at the test center
  • Admissibility of beverages and snacks in the testing room
  • Peculiar problems of test center, for example, noise, lighting, temperature, etc. (Prometric has asserted that this will not be a problem)
  • Experience in taking the exam
  • Other important information

Keep in mind the following procedures for taking the exam: [1]. You must arrive at the test center at least thirty minutes before the scheduled appointment time for your examination. Your examination should begin within thirty minutes of the scheduled start time. If circumstances (unrelated to your actions) occur that delay your start time by more than thirty minutes, you will be given the option of taking the exam or rescheduling. [2]. You must bring your Notice to Schedule. [3]. You are required to present two forms of identification, one of which must contain a recent photograph. Each form must bear your signature and must not be expired. The names on these documents must exactly match the name on your “Notice to Schedule”. [a]. Acceptable primary forms of identification include

  • A valid state- or territory-issued driver’s license with photograph and signature
  • A valid state- or territory-issued identification card with a recent photograph and signature
  • A valid government-issued passport with photograph and signature
  • A United States military identification card with a recent photograph and signature

[b]. Acceptable secondary forms of identification include

  • An identification card issued by your Board of Accountancy
  • A valid credit card
  • A bank ATM card
  • A debit card

[4]. You must place all personal belongings in a small locker before beginning the exam. Do not bring large items with you. [5]. Test center personnel will take a digital photograph of your face. [6]. You will be required to sign the test center log book each time you exit or reenter the testing room. You must have your identification with you to be readmitted to the testing room. [7]. You will be escorted to a workstation by test center staff, and you will be videotaped while taking the examination. [8]. Scratch paper and pencils will be provided to you. You will be directed to enter your examination password on your scratch paper and must return the scratch paper when you complete the exam. If you need additional scratch paper, you may request it but must first turn in the original sheets to get a new supply. [9]. You should notify the test cent staff if you have any problems (e.g., computer problems). [10]. When you finish the examination, you will turn in your scratch paper and sign the test center log book. As you can see, it is important to talk with someone who recently sat for the examination. The objective is to reduce your anxiety just prior to the examination and to minimize any possible distractions. Finally, if you have any remaining questions regarding examination procedure, refer to the AICPA Uniform CPA Examination Candidate Bulletin, or go to Prometric’s Web site at www[dot]prometric[dot]com.

Allocation of Time

Budget your time. Time should be carefully allocated in an attempt to maximize points per minute. While you must develop your own strategy with respect to time allocation, some suggestions may be useful. Allocate 5 minutes to reading the instructions. When you begin the exam you will be given an inventory of the total number of testlets and simulations, including the suggested times. Budget your time based on this inventory. Plan on spending 1 1/2 minutes working each of the individual multiple-choice questions. The time allocated to the simulations will vary from 35 to 55 minutes.

Techniques for CPA Exam Time Management

Each exam section will have three testlets of multiple-choice questions with from 24 to 30 questions each. As you complete each testlet keep track of how you performed in relation to the AICPA suggested times. The Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation sections also will have two simulations. After you finish the multiple-choice testlets, budget your time for the simulations based on your remaining time and the AICPA suggested times. For example, if you have one hour remaining to complete two simulations that each have the same AICPA suggested time, budget 1/2 hour for each simulation. Remember that you alone control watching your progress towards successfully completing this exam.

CPA Examination Rules

The following are the significant rules for taking the Uniform CPA Examination:

  • Papers, books, food, or purses are not allowed in the testing room.
  • Eating, drinking, or use of tobacco is not allowed in the testing room.
  • Talking or communicating with other candidates is not allowed in the testing room.
  • Calculators, personal digital assistants, or other computer devices are not allowed in the testing room.
  • Communication devices (e.g., cell phones, pagers, beepers, etc.) are not allowed in the testing room.
  • Recording devices are not allowed in the testing room.
  • You must not leave the testing room without the permission of the test center staff.
  • You must show your identification to the staff to reenter the room after any breaks.

Refer to the brochure Uniform CPA Examination Candidate Bulletin for other rules. Misconduct, cheating, or copyright infringement may result in a candidate’s dismissal, or the candidate’s scores being canceled by the AICPA.


After completing each testlet in an exam section, you will be presented with the option to take a break. You will not be allowed to take a break at any other time during the examination. If you choose to take a break, you will be asked to leave the testing room quietly and sign the test center log book. You do not have to take a break. The clock will keep running during the break, leaving you less time to complete the section.

CPA Exam Checklist

One week before you are scheduled to sit

  • Review notecards and other notes for important terms, lists, and key phrases.
  • If time permits, work through a few questions in your weakest areas so that the applicable principles and concepts are fresh in your mind.
  • Assemble materials listed under above into a “last review” notebook to be taken with you to the exam.

What to bring?

  • Identification—You should bring your two forms of identification, your Notice to Schedule, and any other required registration material.
  • Hotel confirmation. (If you must travel)
  • Cash—Payment for anything by personal check is rarely accepted.
  • Major credit card—American Express, Master Card, Visa, etc.
  • Alarm clock—This is too important an event to trust to a hotel wake-up call that might be overlooked.
  • Clothing—Should be comfortable and layered to suit the possible temperature range in the testing room.
  • Earplugs—Even though examinations are being given, there may be constant activity in the testing room (e.g., people walking around, rustling of paper, clicking of keyboards, people coughing, etc.). The use of earplugs may block out some of this distraction and help you concentrate better.
  • Other—Any “last review” materials.

Evenings before exams

  • Reviewing the evening before the exam could earn you the extra points needed to pass a section. Just keep this last-minute effort in perspective and do not panic yourself into staying up all night trying to cover every possible point. This could lead to disaster by sapping your body of the endurance needed to attack questions creatively during the next day.
  • Reread key outlines or notecards the evening before, reviewing important terms, key phrases, and lists, etc.
  • Go over mnemonics and acronyms you have developed as study aids. Test yourself by writing out the letters on paper while verbally giving a brief explanation of what the letters stand for.
  • Set your alarm and get a good night’s rest! Being well rested will permit you to meet the day’s challenge with a fresh burst of creative energy.


CPA Exam-taking Strategy

Here are a foolproof CPA exam-taking strategy you can implement: [1]. Review the AICPA suggested times for the testlets and simulations to plan your time allocation during the exam. [2]. If you are struggling with multiple-choice questions, use the strategy of dividing the questions into two categories.

  • Questions for which you know you lack knowledge to answer: Drawing from any resources you have, narrow answers down to as few as possible; then make an educated guess.
  • Questions for which you feel you should be getting the correct answer: Mark the question for review. Your mental block may clear, or you may spot a simple error in logic that now can be corrected.

[3]. Remember: never change a first impulse answer later unless you are absolutely certain you are right. It is a proven fact that your subconscious often guides you to the correct answer. [4]. Begin the simulations, carefully monitoring your time. The crucial technique to use for simulations is to read through each fact situation carefully, noting keywords. Then read each requirement carefully before you start answering it. Save adequate time to complete any communication requirement. [5]. Constantly compare your progress with the time remaining. Never spend excessive amounts of time on one multiple-choice testlet or simulation. [6]. The cardinal rule is never, but never, leave an answer blank.

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