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CPA Exam: What to Expect on Exam Day

CPA Exam: What to Expect on Exam Day

Jeff Elliott |

March 23, 2010

There are many people who read this site who have already sat for at least one section of the CPA Exam. However, there are many people who are getting ready to sit for the first time and don’t know what to expect. This is a list of things that I learned over the course of my (long) journey to being a Certified Public Accountant. Hopefully you can glean at least one useful bit of information from my experience.

CPA Exam Tips for Success – What to Expect on Exam Day:

1. You will find that the exam questions for the most part are not as “wordy” as the questions you have practiced, and seem a little more straightforward. Chances are, the practice MCQs in your CPA Review materials are a collection of the more difficult questions that you can encounter on the CPA Exam. I’ve always left the testing center feeling like the actual exam is easier than the practice questions.

2. It will be the fastest 2.5 to 4.5 hours of your life.

3. You cannot be a perfectionist on your exam. If you get stumped and sit there stubbornly for 10 minutes trying to figure something out, that’s 8 minutes that you just cheated yourself on your second simulation.

4. If you’re stumped and can’t get any number to work out, choose B or C – you have a 30% chance of getting it right. A and D are correct 20% of the time.

5. Don’t take breaks. Exception: If you are extremely sleepy – take a break. Go into the bathroom and literally do jumping jacks. Grab a Starbucks “Frappaccino” (store it in your locker or better yet – your coat pocket and grab it as you walk down the hall) that you get at a convenience store (cold, glass bottle), slam it, and get back in there.

6. Don’t forget your Notice To Schedule (NTS) and two IDs that are SIGNED. One needs to be a picture ID like a driver’s license and the other can simply be a signed credit card. Don’t make the mistake of having all of your credit cards say “see photo ID” like I did. It might be a good idea to make a copy of your NTS and stick it in your glove box. The worst than that can happen is if you arrive for check-in at the testing center and don’t have your NTS or IDs.

7. Once the facilitator at Prometric gets your computer up and running and you sit down – don’t assume that you have all day to start writing mnemonics on your scratch paper. One candidate who reads this site sent me an e-mail saying that he sat for BEC and decided to write out all of his formulas before beginning the exam. He found himself locked out due to time expiration (you get something like 10 minutes – READ THE SCREEN) and not only did he not get to sit for his exam that day – he forfeited his exam fee and he had to wait until the next testing window to take the exam. Talk about a nightmare exam experience.

8. When you get to the simulations – do the memo first ~ this is especially important on the 2nd simulation when time is scarce. The simulations combined are worth 30 points and the memos are 10 of those points. To put it another way – the memos are worth ten percent of your grade. Make them your number one priority on the simulations. If you have to skip something on the 2nd simulation because time is running out – skip the research tab. LEAVE NOTHING BLANK. If one minute is left on the exam and you have a tab with a bunch of blanks, fill in something – anything. A wrong answer and a blank answer give you the same number of points – zero. You may get lucky if there’s a drop-down menu for the answers and you’re guessing.

9. If you haven’t practiced the research function online at … DO IT. You will spend 10 minutes trying to figure it out on the exam if you don’t.

10. Get at least 6 hours of sleep the night before and if you’re a coffee drinker, drink your normal amount of coffee – but don’t pound a gallon 15 minutes prior to the exam. You will have to go to the restroom and you may be on question 15 of the 30-question testlet and you can’t leave until the testlet is complete.

11. Relax. People take this exam every day (or at least they do eight months out of the year…you know what I mean). Give it your best shot and to use a sports analogy … “leave it all out there on the field”. You may be tempted to get lazy and rush through your 3rd testlet because you’re bored to death or because you think you’re doing miserably. Don’t. There will be plenty of time to go drink a beer (or whatever) after the exam. Focus focus focus while you’re in there. Stay alert and work your tail off. The extra focus and extra attention to detail on the final 5-10 questions of testlet three could be the difference between you passing and having to re-take (and re-study) your exam section.

12. If you fail – congrats … you’re a normal candidate. It take an abnormally strong effort to pass the CPA Exam. The average candidate fails their exam (historical pass rate of around 45-50%). Your study prep and exam performance needs to be above average. You need to adjust something – and only you know what that is. Don’t make excuses…just identify it…change it (i.e. – starting LOST Season 1 on Netflix is not the right thing to do while you’re preparing for FAR)…and execute.

13. Good luck.