CPA Examination Preparation

The importance of the Uniform CPA Examination can only be realized by those who are serious about becoming licensed public accountants in US. It is a compulsory exam for those who want to pursue the career of a public accountant. Preparation for the exam, thus, holds great importance.
The preparation for this examination is not similar to that of any other exam that you must have taken so far. This is not an entrance or competitive exam. It is an exam that is considered for granting CPA licensure and thus it is based on your bachelor degree academics. You need not concentrate on ways to beat any competition, as you are not competing against other test takers.





Rather than viewing the exam as a burden, think of it as a test that you take for judging your own abilities and level of preparedness for the ensuing professional responsibilities. 
Planning for Preparation
It is important to realize that the preparation for the test does not start when you register for the exam; rather it starts much before that. You need to plan your testing schedule keeping in mind the time you shall take for preparation. One needs at least six months for going through the course materials. Plan which section to take at what time, leaving enough time for preparing for each. Understand the requirements and rights of candidates much before you plan to register. This shall help you make the best possible plans for taking the exam and preparing for it.
Repeating an exam in the same testing window is not allowed, so plan to keep time for taking a retest if required.
Sources of Help
For effectively preparing for the exam, one needs not just one source but a combination of different sources.
The first and foremost source of preparation is the official website for the test. Go through www.cpa-exam.org and www.aicpa.org for gaining complete understanding of the exam, its structure, test content, scoring etc.
The second source is your state board of accountancy, which shall help you at every step of obtaining the licensure. Understand the eligibility requirements before you bury yourself in books for preparation. Some boards of accountancy could give you information about sources of help for preparation.  
The third are the unofficial sources that help with exam preparation. Take up a review course run by professionals in the field who can give you expert guidance. You could even choose to prepare on your own.
Preparation Prerequisites
For preparation of the exam, the requirements listed by the official sources are:
1. Read the Candidate Bulletin to become aware of the testing experience. You need to understand the procedure of testing, how and where to apply, what you are required to do as a candidate etc.
2. Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) define the content areas covered in each section of the exam. The percentage contribution of each content area towards the score of the section is also mentioned. Understanding this distribution helps you prepare according to the requirement. There could be some topics that you are not aware of or that have not been covered in your qualifying course. CSOs help you keep track of such topics.
3. The tutorial available at www.cpa-exam.com is another tool that helps you understand the test software. You shall understand how to use the software and the online calculator while taking the exam. You are required to take the tutorial before the exam, as it is not available at the test centers. You shall understand how to use the tools and resources for taking the exam.
4. Sample tests are available at www.cpa-exam.org. Going through those shall help you understand the multiple choice questions and simulations for the different sections. You can download and answer a set of MCQs for all sections and one simulation per section. You can even check your answers. Use sample tests as a guide but not as a definition of the syllabus.
Preparation for Multiple Choice Questions

MCQs contribute towards 70% of the total score and hence they are very important. The sample tests shall give you a fair idea of the types of multiple-choice questions that shall appear in the exam. Begin your preparation only after going through the sample questions. Rehearse how to arrive at the best possible answer, in case you do not know the answer to a question. This is particularly important since there is no penalty for a wrong response in MCQs. However, be careful to resort to guessing only as the last option; your preparation should be such that guessing is not required at all.

Preparation for Written Communication

The preparation for the written communication portion of the exam is very important. Though the contribution of this section is 10% towards the total score, it gains importance because of the way the responses are assessed. The responses are to be based on three aspects: Organization, Development, and Expression.

  • Organization means the structure of the document and arrangement of ideas.
  • Development means the supporting information for justification of ideas presented.
  • Expression means the use of English language to convey the ideas.

The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White (Macmillan Paperbacks), and The Business Writing Handbook, by William Paxson (Bantam Books) are two business-writing resources that are listed on the website as helpful for preparation of the task.
You need to rehearse how to organize your ideas on the basis of the above assessment criteria. Practice as much as possible for this section as an irrelevant answer shall be readily rejected.

AICPA’s Facilities
There are two main facilities that students can avail for preparation of Uniform CPA Examination.

  • CPA Exam Candidate Discounts - Professional Literature Package: Those candidates who fulfill the eligibility criterion can access free six-month online professional literature. This is used for the computer based CPA Examination. The package is inclusive of AICPA Professional Standards and FASB Original Pronouncements. It helps with the use of online accounting resources.
  • Student Discounts: AICPA Student Affiliate Members are offered discounts as follows
    • 30% discount off the list price of some AICPA publications,
    • 1-year subscription to AICPA's Core Library online at a discount.

Preparation for the Testing Experience
It is not enough to prepare for the examination content. You need to be aware of how the exam is to be taken and what all is required for you to practice for increasing your efficiency.

  • Review the tutorial and sample tests available at www.cpa-exma.org.
  • Learn how to use the search and its advanced search utilities. Learn how to use the spreadsheet tools and the online calculator.
  • Learn how to split the screen and move the text into the answer area.
  • Plan the time you have to spend on each type of question. It is recommended that you keep 35 minutes for each REG simulation and 45 minutes for each simulation of AUD and FAR sections.
  • The introduction screens should be reviewed within 10 minutes, else the test session shall terminate and you shall have to reappear for it.
  • Obtain complete understanding about your rights and responsibilities when you take the test.

Preparation for Computer Based Format
The Uniform CPA Examination is only computer based. One requires to prepare especially for this format. The candidate requires basic computer skills for performing the following during the exam.

  • Choose the correct answer option through radio buttons.
  • Use a spreadsheet or four-function online calculator to make standard financial computations
  • Type in your answers to the written communication portions of simulations
  • Perform a search in the research portion of simulations
  • Copy-paste text
  • Scroll or split screens
  • Re-size/misplace windows or the calculator

Remember that the spreadsheet and word processing application used in the examination need not be the same that you are used to using. You should thus be familiar with them.
Conclusion
Your preparation needs to be comprehensive and systematic. Planning and perseverance are the keys to effective preparation. You need to be dedicated at each step of preparation. Make the maximum use of your resources and take help from any source possible. Keep your spirits high during the challenging months of preparation and appearing for the four sections. If you keep your professional dreams in focus, then it shall be easier for you to prepare objectively.
Clearing the four sections could take you a long time, but it is entirely up to you to make the experience rewarding. Remember that taking the test lightly shall result in delaying your obtaining the licensure and hence hamper your professional progress.  
 




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