How to Pass the CPA Exam

Three Methods:Self Study and Directed StudyStudy GroupsCollege Courses

The CPA exam is a difficult, mentally-taxing test that requires knowledge, experience, strategy, and test-taking skills. It's not easy, but it has become more passable thanks to online resources, computerized formats, and flexible scheduling. We'll show you a few ways to prepare for the CPA exam, and help put you in the "passed" category!

Method 1
Self Study and Directed Study

  1. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 1
    Select a training package. There are many high-profile vendors who offer tales or guarantees of success, and a price tag to match. Some offer "classroom" settings, and some offer voluminous books. Some give you the option for self-study or guided study.
  2. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 2
    Consider how you learn best before selecting one of these packages. Are you better working alone, or in a classroom setting?
  3. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 3
    Evaluate what kinds of guarantees the training package offers. Can you retake the class at no or reduced cost if you fail to pass the exam? What are the conditions that apply?
  4. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 4
    Ask others who've passed the exam already what course materials they used, and found successful. Don't simply rely on information from the course company regarding passing rates; do your best to verify those independently.

Method 2
Study Groups

  1. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 5
    Choose a study group. Sometimes, studying on your own can be difficult—there are distractions, questions that seem to have no answer, and times when you just need the support of your peers.
  2. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 6
    Look online. A Google search for "CPA study groups" is a good place to look.
    • Check out accounting forums to find people in your area who are looking to form study groups for the exam.
    • Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook offer connections to study groups. Log in, and in the search field, enter "CPA" and you'll see a list of all CPA-related groups.
    • Most CPA exam prep providers also host online study groups, and links to other candidates in your area.

Method 3
College Courses

  1. Image titled Pass the CPA Exam Step 7
    Go back to school! Many colleges and universities offer post-graduate CPA courses that include passing the Uniform CPA Examination, and other skills and requirements as defined by your particular state.
    • Some colleges offer extended resources similar to what is offered by self-study providers, including video and mp3 recordings of lectures for later review or to stay caught up when family or schedules interfere.


  • Keep a positive attitude. Remember, each testlet has medium and difficult questions, so you're bound to run into some hard ones. Taking educated guesses if necessary, and continue on.
  • If you fail, don't worry. Keep studying and try again in a few months. The back of your score report will have an analysis showing the areas you were weak in, so that you'll know where to focus your study.
  • When taking the test, keep an eye on the timer and pace your work. If you have 180 minutes and 5 sections, then you should budget 36 minutes to each testlet. Although it can be quite tempting to keep working at a problem once you've invested time and thought in it, if you don't solve it in a few minutes, take a guess, mark it for review, and move on. Work the other problems and come back to it if you have extra time. If not, forge ahead to the next test.
  • Don't delay. Plan to take the exam as soon as possible after completing your accounting classes and other requirements. If you wait a year or two, your studying will be more difficult because you will have to re-learn much of the material.
  • If you run into trouble understanding a concept in your CPA review books, refer back to your college textbooks and see if they explain it more clearly. If you have an old book, though, make sure the rules you're reading have not been superseded, because GAAP and tax regulations change over time. Usually when a change has occurred, the exam will simply not test on that area for several months.
  • There are a lot of urban legends about how the CPA exam is scored. So that you don't spin your wheels too much trying to figure out how to strategize as to how to get the most points, get your information from NASBA [1]


  • Avoid scheduling your test for the last day of a testing window; if there's a SNAFU such as a power failure, you don't want to have to wait until the next window.
  • The research part of the simulation can eat up a lot of time. Save it for last, after you've done the writing part. Remember, simulations count for 30% of the total score, with the writing parts comprising 10% (or one-third the point value of the simulations).
  • The AICPA has recently began collecting exam candidates' fingerprints. Accountants who prefer not to have their fingerprints taken are advised to wait to take the CPA exams until the AICPA/NASBA discontinue this practice. One strategy is to pass the CMA exam first; unlike the AICPA/NASBA, the Institute of Management Accountants refused Choice Point's request to collect and supply them with fingerprints.[2]

Article Info

Categories: Tests and Exams