This article is penned based on the understanding that the reader has some background about the CPA exams and hence focuses only on the methodology of preparation for the same. Before one gets into this interesting but tricky subject, one needs to have a look at the educational background of the candidate. For this purpose the candidates can be categorized into the following two broad categories:
- Qualified Finance Professionals like the Chartered Accountants or the Cost Accountants
- Others including Post Graduates in Commerce / MBAs (subject to eligibility)
It is necessary that the categorisation is done since the mode of preparation may undergo a change based on the educational background of the candidates. There are basically 3 options available to a candidate with respect to preparing for a CPA is concerned and they are as under :
- Live Classes
- Online / Video courses
- Combination of both
Depending on the educational background and the Learning Style of the Candidate an appropriate option can be chosen. While the educational background has been categorized as above, the Learning Style would connote whether a candidate is self-driven with a lot of motivation or whether he needs someone to drive him towards his ultimate goal. This can be summed up as under :
- Qualification of the Candidate Nature of the Candidate
- Disciplined / Motivated but needs a Push
- Qualified Finance Professional Online / Video Course Live Classes
- Post Graduate / MBA Live Classes Combination of Both
Based on the above the following need to be considered by a candidate while preparing for the exam :
a) Choose the Training Program wisely – A candidate has to do appropriate due diligence to understand what is being offered in each Training Program and then take a call accordingly. The reputation and the standing of the program matters a lot when preparing for the CPA exams. Special attention needs to be paid to the person taking the class in case of Live Classes, his background and experience as the trainers can add a lot of value to the candidates through their practical experiences too. Half the Battle is won if a candidate chooses his training program wisely.
b) Working out a proper Schedule – The CPA exams offer a great flexibility to the candidates in terms of taking the exams. However a student needs to understand that he/she has only 18 months to complete the remaining 3 papers once he/she completes the first paper. Thus the first thing to do is understand the syllabus properly and work out a proper schedule for taking up the exams. It is very important that a target date is fixed for completion of all the papers and preparations scheduled. For this purpose good training programs like the Wiley CPAexcel and a few others have the facility of Exam Planners in their products which helps the student plan their schedule properly.
c) Sticking to the Time Schedule – In most of the cases, the candidate is in employment while taking up the CPA course. In this case, they need to consider the office work pressure and other domestic pressures when preparing a schedule for taking up the exams as indicated above. Once the schedule is finalized, a student has to ensure that he sticks to the schedule religiously. From an Indian candidate perspective, flexibility is a double edged sword. If used wisely this helps and on the contrary this also triggers the candidate to procrastinate considering that the exams are conducted for almost 280 days in a year and the flexibility to appear for the exams paper by paper.
d) Put in the Study Time – Practice, Practice and Practice – Besides the classes, on an average a candidate must plan to spend around 800-900 hours of preparation time to pass all 4 sections in the first attempt. While this may differ from person to person can be considered as a decent estimate. This would mean on an average 30 hours a week for 27-30 weeks. However if a candidate wants to take up the exams section by section this may undergo an appropriate variation. If the candidate has been out of studies for a while this may go up but of course this would depend on the work experience which he has acquired which could ease out the preparation process too. However one thing is for sure, this being an objective exam a student has to ensure he is prepared thoroughly on all areas. One has to understand that one cannot omit any area and go for the exam as is normally possible in a descriptive type of an exam.
e) Simulate and Practice for the exams – Another important thing to consider is being an online exam a candidate has to practice with a computerized sample test so that the Multiple Choice and the Task based Simulation question patterns don’t look new and looks familiar. Task based Simulation is replicating real-world situations using spreadsheet, communications, research and resource materials and they form around 50% of the exam. Leading training programs like the Wiley CPAexcel and others do provide the candidate with this feature when a candidate joins such programs for their preparations.
To sum it up, it is extremely important for a candidate to devote adequate time and take guidance from experienced training programs to clear the CPA exams in the first attempt and take their career to the next level.