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My Story

posted Dec 6, 2010, 11:55 AM by Eric Jackson

It was Summer of 2009, and I was finally ready to dedicate a significant amount of time to preparing for the CPA exam. Although I had taken many exams in the past, I was told that the CPA exam is one of the most difficult of all. So even though I had a 2008 version of Wiley CPA review software, I was worried that it wouldn't be enough. I researched CPA review software and prices, and determined that I would purchase ExamMatrix for nearly a thousand dollars (when it is on sale) because I was sure that I would pass using their methods and materials.

I didn't have the extra money at the time, so I ended up putting off my studies for almost six months. In January of 2010, when I was about to pony up $995 for the ExamMatrix program, an impression came to my mind, “Why not try to pass the exam the way you have passed almost every other exam you have taken – as inexpensively as possible?!”

So I began an internet search, and I found I read the basic explanations of the purpose and scope of the website, and thought to myself, “ wouldn't it be something if it works – I will try it...and if it does work, I will teach other CPA candidates how they too can pass for free using this website.”

I decided to start with the shortest, easiest (in my opinion, since it was all multiple-choice) section of the CPA exam – Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). I could only study part-time because I work full time, but I was surprised that I was able to get through ALL of the practice questions in only a week's time. I moved on to Regulation (REG), and also completed all of those questions in only one week. So at that point I registered to take all four sections in a single six-month testing window (because I wanted to save money on registration fees). Auditing (AUD) and Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) both took two weeks to complete, as my study time was decreased due to an increased time commitment at work, and also due to the fact that the FAR questions were longer and required more work, and the AUD content was mostly new to me.

I received my approval from the AICPA on March 1 to take the exams, but I noticed that testing was not allowed during the month of March. So I took two weeks off from studying, and picked it up again in the second half of March, planning to review the BEC questions two additional times before taking the exam during the first part of April. Due to a heavy workload once again, I only managed to review the BEC questions 1.5 more times, but I was scoring 90%+ at this point so I decided I was ready, and scheduled and “sat for” the exam.

The assertion is that they are only interested in a score of 75, and that anything above that means you studied too much. Sure enough, I scored a 75. During the waiting period (after taking the exam, but before receiving results) I reflected back on the exam and its content, and realized that it was my test-taking ability that carried me through because my knowledge was borderline. I thought that I had passed, although I new it was going to be close. In fact, I had fallen way behind on time while taking the examination, and I only had a short amount of time to finish the third section [mainly – I believe, because I had to do a lot of reasoning to decipher the answers to questions that I was unsure of, due to my limited knowledge of the topics overall).

One other thing that I had done while preparing for BEC, was that I had written out a study guide for all of the information that I did NOT know from the practice questions that I got wrong. I tried studying the study guide to focus on what I felt was the most pertinent information. But then when it came to actual test time, it was difficult for me to remember some of the information that I had just studied.

So it dawned on me that I have to study in the way that I take the test, in order for my mind to put it in the same category for easy recall. If I am taking multiple-choice questions, I need to practice multiple-choice questions while I am studying. There is no “cheat sheet” or “study guide” on the exam, so there is no sense having one while I am studying! I have to commit the new knowledge that I am gaining to memory, so writing it down did not actually help me!

My wife was very pregnant at this point, and we ended up having our baby on April 20. My time became so short due to work and family needs at this point, that my studying became too sporadic and spread out and I did not feel like I was ready for REG by the end of May. I thought to myself, “Wow – I am going to have to take the three hardest tests in a two-month window! I'm not sure how I am going to do this while working full time!” But about this time, I received word that I passed BEC, which gave me a big boost!

July came around, and I felt like I had over-prepared for REG because I did the questions three times, the last time in under 8 hours (over 500 questions – less than a minute per question!). I paced myself during the exam, and felt like I was doing pretty well (passing) through the multiple-choice section. I then had my first exposure to simulations. I had a good grasp of the content covered, so I thought I was still doing well. However, there was one question that was bugging me – I knew the content perfectly, I thought, but I was having some kind of disconnect in my mind...thinking that I was missing something. It was actually just one small part of a larger problem that was bugging me. I went over it again and again, and kept coming back to until finally moving on. I realized too late that I was not going to get to the last simulation, and that I was going to fail. Frantically, I went to the second simulation with less than 5 minutes left, looking for ways that I could somehow pick up some points quickly. But alas, it was for naught. I knew my fate was sealed. I told my wife, and she hoped that I was wrong, since it was unlike me to fail any examination. But I knew. I also knew that I had to make some changes.

FAR was next. I decided that I would do the questions again, but that I would give the 2008 Wiley questions another try. So after doing the free questions, and trying the Wiley questions, I was delighted to find that Wiley went into much greater detail about the technical points of the information. The questions were good, especially for gaining a basic knowledge of the most important topics, but the CPA exam asks some very specific, technical information that would be almost impossible to reason through without having memorized the technical details. Due to heavy work constraints again, and the fact that I was going to lose a week because of a week-long business trip on August 8, I forced myself to take FAR even though I had not done all of the preparing that I wanted to. I had only done about one half of the Wiley questions and simulations, in addition to only taking the questions once.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, that on the examination the Wiley questions had given me a HUGE boost! Many of the questions that I had taken gave me specific knowledge that helped me to answer ACTUAL CPA exam questions that I would have missed otherwise. Also – due to my experience on the REG section, I learned to “cut my losses” on certain questions that I knew would drain too much of my time if I gave them my full I guessed and moved on (I decided that I would come back to them if I had time – which I usually didn't). It is SO important not to spend TOO much time on a single question! I think the AICPA puts a few questions in there that are extremely time consuming even though their point value is not much greater than others, JUST TO SLOW PEOPLE DOWN!

I came out of that exam with complete confidence that I passed. My own score-keeping indicated that I should expect to get somewhere between 77-83%.

I want to make a quick note here, that although the exam is not exactly scored on a percentage basis because of the complexity of the scoring system, it basically comes out the same. Even the AICPA admits that the difference in pass rates based on the difficulty of test that each person takes is nominal (less than on percent different, I believe). So I personally don't know why they make it so complex when the end result is the same, but perhaps it makes them feel smarter and more efficient. I don't know!

Results for FAR came in only three weeks after taking it – I scored a 79, for which I was very happy! This gave me a boost going in to AUD.

AUD was a mess for me, and I don't recommend you “trying this at home.” But if you have to take the exam, you have to take it. I was up against a wall – August 31 was the last day I could take the exam, and I therefore scheduled it for August 30 (the only day open). My workload was heavier than ever, and on the 29th I found myself having only taken 200 of the (over 450) questions (not counting the ones that I took in February, which I consider of almost no value in passing the exam due to the six month time lapse), and less than 400 Wiley questions (out of 771).

I was in panic mode – failure was certain in my mind. I couldn't justify wasting 4.5 hours of my life sitting for the exam the next day. But then it dawned on my past “final reviews” for multiple choice tests, I would always simply read the multiple-choice questions AND the answers, to impress upon my mind the exact knowledge that I needed. This type of studying, I recalled, is very fast. If I combined that fact with some fast-reading techniques that I learned over the years (mainly – reading without repeating the words in your mind), I could review the content remaining questions in about 30 seconds each. My test was not until 1:30 PM, so I would have all morning to prepare...HOPE WAS RESTORED! (I am being semi-sarcastic at this point, because I knew it was still a long-shot).

Sure enough, it worked! On the morning of August 30, I blazed through 371 questions in less than 4 hours! AND, it was not draining or cumbersome, like taking practice multiple-choice questions often is (when you don't know the answer). This is because I did not strain my mind trying to reason through questions that I did not know the answer to. I simply read the questions, answered them if I knew them, guessed if I didn't, and immediately received feedback with the right answer! It was very enlightening!

As I ate lunch and got ready for the test, I began to realize again how far the odds were against me to pass. I began to feel down emotionally, as I thought how I had not done even half of what I had planned to do to take the test. My wife gave me a pep talk, not dissimilar to the ones that Adrian gave to Rocky in the Rocky movies. She cheered me up and helped to re-instill the confidence that I could pass, that I had prepared and that I could recall what I had studied...

During the exam itself, to my astonishment I felt like I was doing really well during the first two multiple-choice sections – better than I had on any previous section. I must have been doing as well as I thought, because the third section was a complete BEAR! Most of the questions were so difficult that if I did not know the information, it was hard to even make a reasonable guess. Overall, for the combination of the three sections, however, it looked like I was ranging from 73-79%, so I knew that I was within striking distance. The simulations went pretty well, although not perfect, and although I did finish, the test cut off during the closing statement of the writing section of the last simulation.

I came out of the test wondering if I had passed, although I felt like I had done better than the average CPA exam candidate (I have known numerous candidates, and their preparation levels were often shoddy due to disorganized/sporadic studying habits). Sure enough, three weeks later my score came in...77!

To me, it was a small miracle...I had passed the mother of all exams (in the accounting world, at least) against incredible odds. It is a testament to me that difficult things can be achieved, and the CPA exam can be passed even on a short time frame, but it does take a concerted and focused effort...up to the last second!

REG retake is next. I am registered and I am debating whether to take it in November or January. January sounds appealing because there will be no writing section, and the simulations will be shorter. But I am ready to pass and be done with it. This time, I have time, and I will take the safe road. It has been too much drama up to this time, so I want to have a huge margin of error and “blow the test out of the water.”

I'll let you know what happens.

Best regards,