Make Your Move: Game Planning for the CPA Exam

9/28/2017 - By Brandon W. Heppler, CPA

Throughout this CPA Exam Prep Series, you've learned about exam requirements, review materials, time management skills, and more. And, it has all led up to the big day: test day.

It is absolutely imperative that you develop a game plan for test day.  Going into these exams with the mindset of “I’m going to take it one question at a time” is a big mistake. This approach will most likely force you into a time crunch at the end of the test, where the task-based simulations account for a large percentage of your score.  In other words, if you run out of time before you get to the last simulation, you better hope you did extremely well on the ones you did answer; because, missing even one task-based simulation will dramatically impact your score.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to get through the entire exam. 

Set Time Goals

The best game plan for conquering these tests is by setting time goals.  Set time limits for each testlet that you know are firm.  Within in each testlet, develop a goal for where you want to be at “points along the way” to make sure you are on track.  For instance, if you give yourself 45 minutes to complete the first multiple choice testlet in the 4-hour AUD exam (which consists of 36 questions), you should be done with 12 questions when you see the clock at 3 hours and 45 minutes remaining, 24 questions should be complete in another 15 minutes, and you should complete the first testlet when the test count down reaches 3 hours and 15 minutes remaining.

Using this game plan you can check in on yourself to see how you’re progressing and keep that in the back of your mind as you go through the test.  Also, this approach allows you to be a little flexible on the amount of time you spent on each question, knowing that some questions you will answer quickly (maybe in 45 seconds) while other more difficult questions may take up to 2 minutes to answer.  This is fine if you stick to your testlet goals.

When you realize you may be falling a little behind your goal, don’t freak out!  The testers are banking on you losing it under pressure so don’t fall into this trap. Understand you will not get every question correct. You have limitations.  Don’t spend too much time on questions that are in unfamiliar areas for you. Simply make your best guess and move on to questions you are confident you can answer correctly. This mindset will help to get you back on track.

Review Your Playbook

I recommend that you regularly check the AICPA CPA Exam website for updates to the exam as well as tutorials and sample tests.  At least a few of the questions I saw on the test were very similar to the AICPA sample questions, and when you finish the test you will actually be asked if you used this site to prepare.  Check out the digital CPA exam brochure as well. 

Roger CPA review has developed a great game plan video that I highly recommend you watch before you embark on the CPA exam journey. This video is approximately 20 minutes, but well worth the investment.

Lastly, I frequently used when preparing for the CPA exam.  It has many great forums, planners, survival guides and podcast that are free. Another interesting feature is their CPA Ninja review, which I found to be very helpful in my final review for each test.  If you get stuck on a particular portion of the exam, CPA Ninja also sells a 10 point combo that might help you get over that hump and pass those challenging tests without the time requirement of going back through the entire review program.

It's Game Time!

Know the contents and make up of each test, and develop your game plan early on in your study block.  When you study the practice questions, make sure you are using your game plan.  After all, what use is a game plan if you don’t practice it?!

The road to passing the CPA exam is long and hard.  Develop a plan that works for you and commit.  Don’t get discouraged if your plan doesn’t seem to work out for you at first. MANY candidates stumble on this road, and chances are you will too.  Pick yourself up, adjust your plan, try again and eventually you will reach to end.  The very best of luck to you!


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