Best Accounting Certifications | CPA Exam Success

Best Accounting Certifications of 2021

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Best Accounting CertificationsWe know accounting is an excellent degree, but what is the best accounting certification to compliment that accounting degree and boost your career to the next level? This is a big debate, and it really depends on what your long term goals are. I’m going to walk you through in detail some of the absolute best accounting certifications available to you.

What is the best accounting certification? Well, you will notice in this article that many of these accounting certifications are intended for specific career paths. So, I think it’s extremely important to pursue the certification that aligns best with your career interests. That said, I do strongly feel the CPA, which is actually a license, should be highly considered for all accountants no matter what their specialized interests are. Ultimately, the CPA is very powerful, and if you’re interested in one of these other accounting certifications, I think you’ll find the combination of the CPA license and the other certification to be extremely powerful for your career.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

I would encourage you to ask any non-accountant what a CPA is or what they know about it, and I guarantee you almost anybody you ask will know exactly what it stands for and they will likely tell you that they heard it is a hard exam.  The CPA, which is technically a license, is arguably one of the most well known of the best accounting certifications, and it’s certainly one of the most well respected.

If you were to tell me that you wanted to either work in an accounting firm as an auditor or tax accountant, then I would highly recommend obtaining your CPA license. In many cases, your upward advancement in an accounting firm is going to depend on your ability to obtain the CPA license.

If you told me your career goal was to become a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Controller, or Director of Accounting, then I would also highly encourage you to obtain your CPA license. Typically, these positions, or the ones leading up to them, are going to require that you have your CPA license.

Related: Best CPA Review Courses

Example Stories: Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Importance

I like real world stories to help showcase things. That said, I’ll tell you a couple hiring stories about former colleagues of mine. Keep in mind that my background is Big-4 accounting (one of the largest firms in the world). I worked at KPMG for a long time and left there as a Manager to pursue my passion of helping others achieve their educational and career goals. While at KPMG, I worked with a lot of people and got to watch just about all of them hit the job market at one point or another. It was and still is a lot of fun watching them accept amazing jobs in the accounting profession.  Well, most of them accepted amazing jobs, but not all.

By far, the people who had their CPA, found excellent positions in a very short period of time. The demand was and still is extremely high for accountants, but especially ones with their CPA. Think about it, if you were a hiring manager and had two identical candidates applying for a position. Would you hire the one that has their CPA license or the one that doesn’t? This is assuming their experience, schooling, personality, etc. are all identical. More times than not, the person with the CPA license will win out during the hiring process.

I watched my colleagues with their CPA license apply for and accept positions across the board and one even accepted a CFO position. I’m talking people in their late 20’s becoming Directors, CFOs, etc. Most of them are really knocking their careers out of the park.

There is always a flip side though. I’ve also seen colleagues without their CPA license really struggle to find a job. One particular individual was on the market for upwards of 6 months. That person was constantly being asked about why he didn’t have his CPA license, and to this day it is still an issue for him.

I could literally write a 5,000 word article on just the CPA license, but long story short, the CPA license is incredibly powerful and is an accounting certification / license you should really consider getting.

One last quick thing on the CPA.  Don’t let people talking about how hard the CPA exam scare you. With the right CPA Review Course and exam strategies, you can absolutely pass the CPA exam. A lot of people like to complain about it, but you CAN pass. I know people are nervous about the exam and some do struggle, that’s why I’m launching the CPA Exam Success Master Training. If you think the CPA might be the accounting certification for you, then I highly recommend checking out that training. It has the power to save you a lot of time and head aches.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

This accounting certification is really heating up. More and more people are opting to get their CMA. There are a lot of arguments as to why, but regardless, it is a very strong accounting certification to have. I highly recommend you seriously consider it!

I have a friend I went to school with who obtained her CMA and is absolutely crushing her career. She is a Manager at Deloitte & Touche, LLP and really loves what she does. One thing she is continually advocating is the CMA. Now, she also has her CPA, but she felt it was necessary to obtain the CMA in addition to the CPA. She is in an advisory role, and the CMA is highly regarded in that sector.

What is the difference between the CPA and CMA?

As you’ll find on the Institute of Management Accountants website, the CMA is all about understanding the “why” behind the numbers and has more of a management focus. Hence the name, Certified “Management” Accountant. Whereas, the CPA exam really dives into testing your technical understanding of standards. Here are the topic areas of each part of the CMA to give you a better idea of what you’ll be tested on.

Part One: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control

15% External Financial Reporting Decisions
30% Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting
20% Performance Management
20% Cost Management
15% Internal Controls

Part Two: Financial Decision Making

25% Financial Statement Analysis
20% Corporate Finance
20% Decision Analysis
10% Risk Management
15% Investment Decisions
10% Professional Ethics

What job can I get as a CMA?

Keep in mind there all kinds of factors that go into hiring, but the following are positions that CMAs have had:

Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Officer, Controller, Vice President, Finance, Finance Manager, Financial Analyst, Internal Auditor, Senior Accountant, Cost Accountant, and more.

How long does it take to study for the CMA?

You can expect the CMA exam process to take 12 – 18 months. That said, you have 3 years to complete both parts. The Institute of Management Accountants recommends you study between 150 – 170 hours per part.

What are the pass rates for the CMA exam?

Very similar to the CPA exam, the pass rates for the CMA sit right around 50%.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The beauty about having an accounting degree is that you can do so many different things. Maybe tax, audit, or corporate financial accounting is not for you. No problem. There are a number of other things you can do, and some of those include working for an institutional investment firm or even an insurance company. If you end up wanting a career in investment decision-making, then you’re definitely going to want to explore the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

What job can I get as a CFA?

Institutional investment firms are filled with CFAs. As a CFA, you can easily work with a hedge fund or mutual fund, and many find this type of work to be extremely interesting and financially rewarding. I had a KPMG colleague who left the accounting firm to pursue an investment career. He was actually hired by a guy who my father went to college with and also had an accounting background and then turned CFA. They both do EXTREMELY well for themselves, and, from discussions I’ve had with them, absolutely love what they do.

As reported by the CFA Institute, the top five global job titles for CFAs are Portfolio Manager, Research Analyst, Chief Level Executive, Consultant, and Risk Manager. There are over 150,000 CFAs across 163 countries.

How long does it take to study for the CFA?

Before I get into the details, remember that anything worth getting in life is going to take serious effort. Don’t let these numbers scare you away from going after the CFA.

The first thing you have to know is that there are 3 separate sections to the CFA exam. They are called the Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 exam. The CFA Institute estimates that you’ll need to study 300+ hours per exam level. They also estimate that the average CFA candidate will need to devote 4+ years to the process to earn the CFA designation. Yes, this is a serious time commitment, but I encourage you to think long term. What is 4 years compared to a 40+ year career?

What are the pass rates for the CFA exam?

Here are the pass rates by each individual Level, as reported by the CFA Institute:

Level 1 exam pass rate: 43%

Level 2 exam pass rate: 45%

Level 3 exam pass rate: 56%

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

Anything information systems is HOT right now! There are so many opportunities available to accountants with an interest in information systems. There are many people that go through their accounting degree with just the CPA on their mind, but a good portion of those folks also have their eye on the CISA.

Straight out of college, I had a roommate who graduated with me with his bachelor and masters in accountancy. The difference between him and myself was that he was dead set on pursing an accounting information systems career track as opposed to the typical CPA. That guy has had one incredible career. He worked at Deloitte in a number of capacities, but all were information system based. Ultimately, he ended up working for Facebook in their anti-money laundering division.

That same guy I was just talking about above had his eye on the CISA. He didn’t even consider the CPA, because he knew he wanted to be purely information system focused. Now, I’ll tell you that I would highly encourage you to get your CPA in addition to the CISA if you’re interested in information systems, but you don’t have to. That double designation is extremely powerful.

What job can I get as a CISA?

It goes without saying that you will be qualified to be an information systems auditor, but that experience can help catapult your career. I know a guy who worked as an IT (information technology) auditor at KPMG and is now a VP, Head of Global IT Audit for an excellent company. I also know multiple people who are now IT related Directors that started their careers as staff IT auditors.

So, what do you do as an IT auditor? Well, here is an example for you. If I was managing an audit and the client had a key control that their system only allowed 2 specific individuals to post manual journal entries, then I would call in the IT auditors to test that system control. That’s just one quick simple example, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the type of work you might be called upon to complete.

How long does it take to study for the CISA?

The CISA exam is a 4 hour exam that has 150 multiple choice questions. The length of time to study for this exam really depends on each person individually, but if I had to give a general estimate, I would say most people should be able to study for and take the CISA exam within a couple months. If you are really serious about studying hard and had a lot of time to study every day, then I would say you could get it done in a much shorter time span than that.

What are the pass rates for the CISA exam?

The ISACA is the CISA exam creator.  Pass rates are no longer released, but assuming around a 50% pass rate is probably pretty safe. That said, I never let pass rates influence my decisions, because there are so many unique reasons why people fail. Work hard, and you should be just fine.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

The CIA, which is governed by the Institute of Internal Auditors, is a wonderful certification for many reasons. Most people who get their CIA are looking for upward advancement during their career, and it can definitely help you achieve advancement. Many companies like to hire within their own organization as opposed to conducting an external search, and as an internal auditor you will attain a vast knowledge of your organization from significant exposure to both the operational and financial elements of the organization.

All factors considered, an internal audit position can be a powerful springboard to other opportunities within an organization.

How long does it take to study for the CIA?

The CIA exam is a 3 part exam. Part 1 of the CIA exam is a 2.5 hour exam on Essentials of Internal Auditing and consists of 125 multiple choice questions. It’s very difficult to give an estimate of study hours, because everyone’s situation is so different, but I would plan to study for about a month for each CIA part. I think many can complete their studies much faster, but some may need even longer than that.

Part 2 of the CIA exam is a 2 hour exam on Practice of Internal Auditing and consists of 100 multiple choice questions.

Part 3 of the CIA exam is a 2 hour exam on Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing and consists of 100 multiple choice questions.

What are the pass rates for the CIA exam?

The pass rates for the CIA exam are right around 40%.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

Becoming an enrolled agent is for tax specialists who wish to be federally licensed to represent taxpayers before the IRS regarding collections, audits, and appeals.

How long does it take to study for the Special Enrollment Examination (SEE)?

An interesting fact about becoming an EA is that you don’t necessarily even have to take the SEE exam. If you have 5 or more years of experience with the IRS and that experience involved tax code interpretation and application, then your experience might be good enough to substitute for taking the EA exam. If you think you might qualify for exemption, check out this IRS former employee informational page.

Let’s assume you don’t have that 5 years of experience with the IRS. The SEE exam is 3 parts.

SEE Part 1: Individuals

SEE Part 2 : Business

SEE Part 3: Representation, Practice and Procedures

Each one of these parts has 100 questions and is 3.5 hours of actual testing time. 

Education, experience, and available time you have will directly impact how long it will take you to study for the SEE exam. I would recommend most people study at least one month for each part.

What are the pass rates of the Enrolled Agent Exam?

Pass rates of the Enrolled Agent Exam vary slightly every year. Any given year, you can expect around a 60% pass rate for Part 1 and 2. The Part 3 pass rate is typically around 80%.

Accounting Certification Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There are a lot of accounting certification common questions. I’m going to address the more popular accounting certification questions here in hopes that I’ll address any question you might have.

Which is the easiest accounting certification?

I wouldn’t get an accounting certification based on how easy it is. Instead, I would recommend you really think about which areas of accounting you would like to work in and then work towards passing the exam(s) that will suit your career path best. Most things in life worth getting are going to be challenging.

Do I need an accounting certification?

If you’re looking to take your career to new heights or enhance your level of job security, then you should seriously consider getting an accounting certification. Most people committed to their career path pursue certifications that compliment their related degree. Employers certainly look for accounting certification(s) during the hiring and promotion process. Not to mention, some positions require you have a certification such as the CPA.

In short, you can get an accounting related job without an accounting certification, BUT if you really want to succeed in the accounting profession, I would HIGHLY recommend getting an accounting certification that fits your career path. In many cases, I would recommend getting your CPA and then in addition to that get one of these other certifications discussed in this article if it makes sense for your accounting career path.

CPA Exam Linear Learning vs Adaptive Software

Linear Learning vs Adaptive Software: What’s the Difference?

By Surgent CPA Review

Links within this post may be affiliate links. For more info, please check out the disclosures.

Becoming a CPA is going to change your career and the trajectory of your life. Career doors will open and you’ll be able to work in a variety of settings around the globe. But, as we all know, passing the CPA Exam is a step we all must take to get there.

Luckily, there are plenty of learning materials out there to help you pass, although they’re all very different. Some focus on “tried-and-true” traditional learning methods, while others focus on highly promising progressive learning.

With all the options out there, it can be hard to decide which learning materials will work best for you. Should you stick with a traditional model or go for something more individualized? Let’s look at the two methods of teaching presented in most Exam prep materials to help you decide which type of learning will help you pass the CPA Exam as quickly as possible.

Linear Learning: the “Traditional” Method

Linear learning centers around every individual learning via the same trajectory; everyone learns from the same materials and takes the same steps. You start with step one, then proceed to step two, and so on until you’ve mastered a concept.

Linear learning is considered “traditional” because it’s the learning that’s been employed in the public education system for decades. Before you learn multiplication, you need to learn addition and subtraction. Before you start to read, you learn the alphabet. This type of learning is cost-effective, because it can be applied to large groups of individuals with pretty good results.

Linear learning is practical for teaching the masses, but isn’t necessarily the best way for individuals to learn. Over time, and with the advent of technology in learning, we’ve realized that other methods of learning might be more effective.

Building Networks Through Non-Linear Learning

Truly traditional learning is not step or textbook driven. Think about a baby learning to speak. The alphabet and corresponding letters aren’t introduced slowly; the baby hears people speaking and observes gestures from the day they’re born. In the beginning, the child has no awareness for the sounds and movements, but over time develops a sense of language through continued observation.

We make connections between ideas and we learn to recognize patterns. We know this approach works because, despite our unique familial and social upbringings, we all end up fluent in our native language before we even start school.

The non-linear approach to learning focuses on variation and change, connecting the dots as opposed to following a straight line. Instead of learning through steps, we learn a variety of topics at the same time, and by changing up the topics we make more connections and learn more efficiently than a traditional straight-line method.

Research shows this type of learning is more efficient, and it helps us retain information better over time. So why not employ this type of learning for the CPA Exam?

Adaptive Learning: An Individual Model

Adaptive learning individualizes learning based on your strengths and weaknesses. Software built around adaptive learning starts you off with a test of topics to see where you’re proficient. Then, it tailors your learning to what you need to know. You don’t continuously go over topics that are strengths, but rather spend time on weak areas to reinforce new or challenging concepts.

As time goes on, the software adapts to your specific needs and builds a learning plan that works for you. It jumps between topics in a rational manner, allowing you to connect information together without having it in a strictly sequential order and offering bite sized models of different topics to keep the material interesting.

Choosing What’s Best for You

All of us want exam materials that will help us pass as quickly as possible. So how do you decide which materials are best for you?

Since adaptive technology is truly individualized, it’s generally a better choice when it comes to CPA Exam prep material. It caters to your learning needs and develops a plan that will get you through the Exam more efficiently. But if you’ve had good success with traditional learning methods in the past, maybe check out options that provide that type of teaching.

One of the best ways to go about deciding on a good course for you is to look at pass rates. Think about the following questions as you decide:

• How many people are passing the Exam with certain materials?
• How much time are they spending studying?
• What are the ratings saying about the materials?

Even better, sign up for a free trial to get a hands-on feel of the software and all of its features. Pretty soon, you’ll be well on your way to finding learning materials that help you pass the CPA Exam!

This post was written by Surgent CPA Review

Is Surgent CPA Review Good

Is Surgent CPA Review Good?

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Surgent CPA Review brings a new approach to the CPA review market. Speed is the name of their game. Check out this inside look video I put together for you.

Inside Look of the Surgent CPA Review Course

Take Me to the Surgent CPA Review Website Now

My in-depth written analysis is coming soon…

Is Wiley a Good CPA Review Course

Is Wiley a Good CPA Review Course?

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

You’re in for a treat. Wiley CPA Review is hands down one of the best on the market. First, take a look at one of their example video lessons, and below that you’ll find an inside look video I did.

Wiley CPA Review Course Example Lesson

Wiley CPA Review Course Inside Look

Coming soon will be an in-depth discussion on this webpage of the Wiley CPA Review Course. If you want a high level analysis I did, check out this article on the best CPA review courses.

Is Gleim CPA Review Good

Is Gleim CPA Review Good?

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Gleim CPA Review has been around a looooong time. I’m going to dive into what makes Gleim so good and unique, but first take a look at this example Gleim lesson and an inside look video I did.

Gleim CPA Review Course Example Lesson

Gleim CPA Review (An Inside Look)

The in-depth details of this article are coming soon…

Surgent CPA Review FREE Trial Access

Surgent CPA Review

​Adaptive learning is all the rage right now in the online based review course industry.  Surgent CPA Review is doing some amazing things with their adaptive learning technology and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you try their course out before purchasing any other course.  The Surgent platform is built for speed and efficiency, and i’m confident you will be very happy with their CPA review product.  Surgent is one of the top ranked CPA review companies

I work hard to bring you guys free trial access to the best courses on the market.  Enjoy this FREE trial access for Surgent CPA Review.

Learn From My CPA Exam Part Failure

Learn From My CPA Exam Part Failure

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

FAIL!  I don’t know about you, but I get that sinking feeling in my stomach just reading the word ‘fail.’

Before we dive into my story, you should know that I failed one part of the CPA exam, REG.  Just one!  Not 10, not 5, not even 2.  Just one.

The great thing for me is that through that one part failure I was able to figure out why myself and many other people just like you fail parts.  I was able to do that because I was successful on my first attempt at the 3 other parts.  I knew what it took to be successful, which made it easy for me to identify what went wrong.  I should also note that my CPA review course was not the issue.  I know for some it might be, but for me it wasn’t.

At the time, I thought failing REG was the worst thing ever, but it turns out that it was the greatest thing ever, because I can now teach people like you why you probably failed and how to fix it.  One key thing you should know though is that I was highly efficient and successful with the CPA exam, because of my exam preparation strategies I had set in place.  Minus my one part failure, but even that is arguable because I came back and got an 86 on my second attempt after making a tweak to my studying and implementing my proven strategies again.  With that said, you can rest assure that you found the place to be for CPA exam success advice and guidance.

This is about my failure.  So, I’m going to cut straight to my REG failure.  REG was the last part I needed to pass, and it was a major blow to get that failure notice.

I worked EXTREMELY hard studying for REG, and at first I was completely taken off guard by the failure.  I just couldn’t understand why, and I’m sure many of you reading this feel the same way about your part failure(s).  I get it!  It absolutely sucks!  Even if you have failed more than one part, your primary problem could be just one or two simple adjustments.  I could have easily been a guy who failed multiple parts if I had done the same detrimental thing on the other parts.

RELATED: Best CPA Review Courses of 2018

The first thing I did once I got the failure notice was hit the gym and blow off some steam.  The second thing though is what every single one of you need to do ASAP.  You should have gotten or will get very soon your score breakdown.  That is going to be key for passing the second attempt, but it’s also key for making your life waaaay easier during the second attempt study period.

I dove into that score breakdown and it all started to make sense.  I had a major flaw in my studying habits for the REG section.  Oddly, it was the only section where my study habits were different.  Needless-to-say, I was pretty disappointed in myself at the time, because it wasn’t a mistake I was expecting to uncover.  My guess is, many of you do the exact same thing.

What if I told you that the reason you failed is much simpler than you think?  That it has nothing to do with your intelligence level?  That you CAN be successful on the CPA exam with just one or two minor tweaks?  You would probably say, ‘give me the advice already.’

I have a free email newsletter that I run, and within there I give my secrets to turning a failure into an 86 on the second attempt.  Let’s get you started on a road to CPA exam success today!  Just sign up below and get some of my absolute best advice.

Ready to Dominate Your CPA Exam?

Let’s get you on the right track so you pass all parts on your next try!

Why a CPA License Matters

Why a CPA License Matters

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

You may have already experienced this.  If you haven’t, then you likely will.  There are going to be people that will tell you a CPA license doesn’t matter and there is no reason to get it.  This couldn’t be further from the truth if you are looking for a successful career in accounting and/or many opportunities as your career matures.

There are gobs and gobs of reasons why a CPA license should matter to you, but this is going to focus on a few of the more important ones.

Getting Hired

If you need to apply for another job for whatever reason it might be, having your CPA license is going to be critical.  Think about this.  Let’s say you get hired straight out of college by a company that ‘thinks’ you are going to be a licensed CPA.  However, you don’t really try for it and 5 years goes by with no CPA license.  You might be able to keep your job at that company because you’ve built relationships and have demonstrated your work ethic to them.  BUT, you can’t exactly put ‘Your Name, high ethics and good worker’ at the top of your resume.  No, your competition is going to have ‘Their Name, CPA’ nice and bold at the top of their resumes.  Who would you give an interview to?  The CPA or the non-CPA?

RELATED: Best CPA Review Courses

Getting Promoted

This one goes along with ‘Getting hired,’ because if you don’t get promoted within a public accounting firm, you are typically coached out of the firm.  They want people to be moving up.  If you get coached out because you don’t have a CPA license, then you’re all of the sudden trying to get hired, and I just talked above about how hard that can be.

Those of you who work in industry don’t have to worry as much about this, BUT there are certainly some companies who want to promote accountants who have their CPA license.  To the managers within those organizations, it tells them that you’re committed and somebody who can accomplish difficult tasks.  You may be sitting just fine right now under the current management, but what happens if a new CFO comes in and he/she only wants CPA’s moving up the ranks.  Things can change in an instant, and you really need the CPA license if you really want job security in the accounting field.  No matter whether you’re reaching for the stars or just trying to maintain a regular accounting position.


Listen, no matter where you work, people know who has their CPA license and who doesn’t.  I’m not debating whether people should or shouldn’t use that to judge others within a work environment, but I am telling you that it happens.  I’ve seen it time and time again.  To avoid any negative judgments toward you at any point in your career, just get the CPA exam knocked out.  I can’t recommend it enough!

Ready to Dominate Your CPA Exam?

Let’s get you on the right track so you pass all parts on your next try!

Why YOU Cannot Pass the CPA Exam

Why YOU Cannot Pass the CPA Exam

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Understanding common mistakes can go a long way in figuring out why you just can’t seem to pass the CPA exam.  I struggled with passing REG.  REG was the only section I failed, but it taught me a lot.  Also, as a CPA, I have TONS of friends who struggled with passing the CPA exam.  From my experience, those experiences I witnessed my friends go through, and experiences learned from my students, i’ve been able to put together this listing of likely reasons why you just can’t pass.

1) Don’t have a study blueprint – This one is HUGE, because so many people go into the CPA exam thinking that they will just get in the prep course software everyday and they will be fine.  This is the absolute wrong way to approach the CPA exam.  Your CPA review course certainly has its role, and finding a CPA review course that meets your learning needs is one of the most important things you can do, but it’s going to be up to YOU to lay out a monthly/weekly/daily study plan.  Make sure you do this BEFORE you start day one of studying for whichever section you plan to study for next.

2) Don’t have a quality support group – The CPA exam is a looooong process that is difficult for many.  It’s difficult for various reasons, but one of those is that it consumes your life and many people just don’t have a great support system.  When I was taking the CPA exam, I had many friends who had either already taken the exam or hadn’t even started studying yet.  Not to mention, I only had a handful of really close friends from my accounting program.  So, even if my close friends had been taking it at the same time I was, I was extremely limited with the amount of feedback and support.  Does any of this sound familiar to your situation?

So, what do most people immediately do?  They hit the online CPA exam forums.  I seriously caution you to do this though, and i’m a firm believer this is a major reason why many people actually fail the CPA exam.  The majority of online CPA forums are extremely negative from a comment perspective, and who the heck wants to use a standard forum based platform these days.

You’re probably wondering what the best option for you is then.  You need a group of people CURRENTLY taking the CPA exam who are extremely motivated themselves and want to help you succeed.  You also need this community of like minding people to be hosted on an engaging platform that is easy to use.  Your options for this is extremely limited, and that is why I started the CPA Exam Success Mastermind Group (Members Only).  For more information on this great resource, head over to the CPA Exam Mastermind Group informational page.

3) Were never taught key planning strategies – Yes, they REALLY matter!  I’m going to keep this one brief, because there are so many strategies involved with taking the CPA exam, and I cover them in detail within my email newsletter, which you can subscribe to below.  The bottom line is that there are many factors at play, and it is critical for you to approach studying for the CPA exam with the right strategies.

4) Don’t have a CPA exam prep course that fits your learning needs – You might be one of the many people who just buy the prep course your CPA firm or friend recommended.  If you haven’t made this mistake yet, good!  Don’t simply go with a prep course without really understanding all the course options.  An extremely important factor that most don’t even think about are the instructor personalities.  The market has quite the assortment of CPA exam review course instructor personalities.  If you think they are all the same, then it’s a good thing you stumbled across this article.  You have to find a personality that meets your learning needs.  Check out my review of the best CPA review courses, and learn about the different options on the market.

5) You are not focusing on improving your weaknesses during the heart of the prep course – Whatever you do, do not skip sections within your CPA exam prep.  Just please don’t!  Avoiding your weaknesses during the primary prep sessions is EXTREMELY easy to do, but it is also going to be a habit that will seriously reduce your chances of passing.  Make sure you are putting the time in for areas of study that you just don’t like or aren’t that good at.  You have to learn them too, and it’s going to cut it by briefing over those areas at the last minute.

6) You are focusing too much on your weaknesses during the final prep week – This point has a perfect relationship with the #5 above.  People have a tendency to try and cram for their trouble areas at the last minute.  More specifically, during the final review process.  The final review days or week is not the time to focus on your weaknesses.  The immediate days leading up to your section exam should be spent reinforcing your strong areas and relaxing before the big day.

7) You don’t even pay attention to your prep course dashboard results – Most CPA exam prep courses have good user dashboards that provide you with high level and detailed information outlining your strengths and weaknesses.  Some people think that by just moving through all the material, they will, by some miracle, pass the CPA exam.  This just isn’t true guys.  You have to proactively monitor how you are doing, and give attention to weak areas.  It is just apart of the CPA exam game.

8) You don’t time yourself during your practice questions and exams – When you take any part of the official CPA exam, you are timed.  It’s a completely different experience than sitting at your kitchen table and moving through questions with no timer.  You don’t have 7 minutes for each question.  You HAVE to be able to move through each question in under a couple minutes, and you HAVE to be able to notice when you are taking too long so that you can get an answer marked and move to the next question.  So many find themselves in trouble on the official exam because they don’t practice timing themselves.

RELATED: What CPA exam success feels like

9) You don’t try to understand why the incorrect answers are incorrect – If I took a poll of how many people are guilty of this, my guess would be that a large percentage of you reading this do not go through the incorrect answers in detail.  Put yourself in the shoes of an exam writer.  To mix things up, you simply approach a question from a similar but different angle.  If you really want to get the most out of your prep course, make sure you understand why the incorrect answers are incorrect.

10) You are not willing to dig down deep into a concept – The average attention span of an adult is debatable, but some put the figure at 8 seconds.  Others put it at 20 minutes.  The short answer is that most of us have extremely short attention spans.  It is what it is, and we just have to be aware of this as we study for the CPA exam.  You cannot allow a short attention span to get in the way of digging down into a concept.

If you really want to help improve your attention span, don’t watch much television and don’t get on social media leading up to and during your CPA exam studies.  You’ll notice that most television shows and movies change camera angles every 6 – 8 seconds.  This is directly because of the attention span issue, but it also is directly impacting your attention span.  I use social media just like most of you, but it definitely does not help your attention span.  Try your best to limit your social media use during studying for the CPA exam.  Especially, limit use during your actual study sessions.

11) You are trying to study every day with a study partner – I’m a huge fan of finding a high quality mastermind group to be apart of, but i’m not a fan of actually sitting down and studying with somebody on a daily basis.  Everybody moves at their own pace, and it’s my personal opinion that having a daily study partner will significantly hurt your chances of succeeding.  Not to mention, you don’t want to deal with trying to work around somebody else’s schedule.  If they try to reschedule with you for whatever reason, it’s just too easy to fall behind.

12) People asking you for help is cutting into your study time – This is a tough one!  Helping others is extremely important, but you MUST be aware of how much time you are putting into helping others when you should be studying for your own CPA exam.  I get it!  You don’t want to say no to people, but you just have to when you are trying to knock out the CPA Exam.  Just to be clear, i’m not saying don’t help people out with their studies.  I’m just saying limit how much time you devote to it.  You’ll have the rest of your life to chip in and help others all you want.

13) Don’t understand the primary approach your prep course takes – Yes, some companies take drastically different approaches to the CPA exam prep process.  Some are designed to have you watch hours and hours of lectures before working practice problems, and others have you move through practice problems first to identify your weaknesses and reduce the need for you to watch lectures that you already likely have mastered.

14) You don’t know how to properly use flashcards to study – HUGE!  I think many people get it wrong when it comes to incorporating flashcards into the study plan.  70% of your flashcard time should be spent on your weak areas.  The other 30% should be spent reinforcing the strong areas.  This percent split should be applied during the primary weeks of your prepping.  Once you hit your final review week, most all of your attention should shift to your strong areas.

15) You are trying to study during a difficult semester – Just don’t do it!  Don’t try and cram for a CPA exam part during an extremely difficult semester.  You should be able to speak with students already in the program to get an idea for how difficult your semesters will be.

16) You are trying to study during busy season – Again, just don’t do it!  Your body needs sleep in order for you to operate at your max, and you need to operate at your max to pass the CPA exam.  Many people think they can handle it, but please take my word on this one.  It’s just not a good idea for most people.

17) You scheduled too many parts at once with little time between them – I get it that you want to get this darn exam done and over with, but scheduling all your parts at once is not going to help you pass.  The only time I scheduled two parts at the same time was during the summer.  I knew EXACTLY what my schedule was like and that it wasn’t going to change.  My recommendation is to start out by scheduling just one part and possibly a second.  Try and avoid scheduling any more than two parts at once.

18) You can’t get motivated – Whether you know it now or not, you have one of the greatest business degrees you can have and many people only wish they could get through an accounting program.  Your accounting degree, with a CPA license, will give you so many opportunities in life!  There are literally billions of people who would trade you professional life scenarios right now.

Some of you say to yourself, “well, i’m just not sure accounting is for me.”  That’s fine!  I support anybody who wants to go a different direction, but the majority of you will stay in some business related field.  Just trust me when I say that your CPA license will pay dividends in the future for you even if you don’t want to do accounting for the rest of your life.

19) Can’t focus when you sit down to study – For most people, this issue is nothing more than not wanting to fully commit to the fact that you have to forego having a lot of fun for a relatively short period of time.  For those people, you just have to commit and go at it full steam ahead.  Try and make it a game against yourself.  Try and better your practice question percentages every week.

If you truly cannot focus due to a possible medical reason (e.g. ADHD).  My advice would be to go see a doctor.  I have family members who suffer from ADHD, and I can tell you from observing it first hand that medicine can do wonders for you.  For those that know me, i’m definitely anti pharmacy, but you can’t let a focusing issue be the reason for not passing the CPA exam.

20) Haven’t put your family & friends on notice – The very first thing I did was tell my family and friends what my study schedule was, and that there was no chance of me missing a study block to do anything else.  It was one of the best things I did to help me succeed on the CPA exam.

21) You can’t let go of a past part failure – I almost got sucked into this mindset, but you just have to tell yourself that the past is the past and there is nothing you can do about it now.  The only thing you can do is try and learn why you failed so you can adjust your studying.

Even if you have failed all four parts, just forget about it!  That is NOT a reflection of your intelligence and certainly NOT a reflection of your career potential as a CPA.  There are many reasons why people fail, most of the time it comes down to simply not having the right prep course, support group, study plan, and commitment.  Pick your head up, and let’s get that CPA exam knocked out!

22) You don’t have a a good study environment – If you’re studying at the kitchen table every night with other people around, it’s just not going to cut it.  Especially, if those other people are kids. You have to figure out a way to get time to yourself for studying.

If you’re single with no kids, figure out where you are least distracted.  It might be at your kitchen table, the local coffee shop, the library.  Wherever it is, just understand what works best for you and make sure you get there.

If you have kids, it does get a little more difficult.  I get that!  Have you every heard of the Miracle Morning?  If not, you should read it.  My guess is that your house is pretty quite from 4:30am to 7:00am.  If that is true, that’s going to be your time to study.  The family will be asleep, and you’ll be able to knock out some serious studying.  Now, if you’re married, your spouse needs to understand that they need to take all kid responsibility by 8pm, because you’re going to need a good nights rest if you’re going to be getting up at 4:30am.  Here is a PRO TIP.  Start this routine 1 – 2 weeks BEFORE you start studying for the CPA exam.  That way your body is used to it.

23) You aren’t attending the prep course lessons – If the prep course you purchased is grounded in a lesson based approach, you HAVE to attend the lessons whether they are in-person or online.  Just don’t skip!

24) You are working too much – Many of you reading this are either already working in public accounting or will be soon.  During your first few years you will be working a lot.  There is no getting around that unless you drop to part time, which for some people this might be necessary to get the CPA exam passed.  It’s not the greatest option, but if you can afford it, you might want to consider it.

For the majority, part time is not an option.  So, what do you do?  Take advantage of your vacation time.  You must sacrifice most all of your paid time off for purposes of studying for the CPA exam.  I understand all you want to do is go to the beach, but trust me that there will be tons of time for that once you get the CPA exam passed.

25) You are playing too much – This one can get you no matter how old you are.  We all like to enjoy ourselves, but you have to limit that fun when studying for the CPA exam.  If you are playing on the company softball team, a volleyball league, and attending trivia nights a couple times per week, then you are probably having too much fun for somebody trying to pass the CPA exam.  Limit yourself to just one fun activity per week.

26) You don’t have a weekly social activity / hobby – On the complete flip side of #25 above, there are people who literally don’t do anything except study.  This is not good if you fall into this category!  Make sure you are having some sort of fun each week.  We all need a break from time to time.  Let yourself have some fun, and it will surely help your studying.

27) You are trying to self-prep to save money – Review course costs are certainly high.  It’s not just CPA review courses that are expensive, but review courses across the board are expensive.  The first thing to keep in mind is that this is your professional career we’re talking about.  Some estimate that a CPA license translates to an additional $1,000,000 earnings potential over your lifetime.  With that said, a $2,000 review course doesn’t seem that expensive in the grand scheme of things.

If you literally don’t have $2,000, consider purchasing a prep course that offers a payment plan. That way, you don’t have to pay all that money upfront.  If that is not something you want to do, then you’re going to need to consider sucking up your pride and ask a close family member or friend to borrow $2,000.  A quality prep course is key to your success, and you just can’t ignore that fact.

28) You are not taking advantage of studying during holidays and breaks – Paid holidays and/or academic breaks such as winter break are massively important to your success.  These should be incorporated into everybody’s study plan.

29) You are not sacrificing your vacation time for studying – Cancun can wait!  It will be there next year!  What you don’t want to be lingering around next year is your CPA exam.  Use that vacation time to get ahead with your CPA studies.

30) You don’t take advantage of studying in the morning – I touched on this one above when I talked about your study environment.  The mornings are a wonderful way to knock out your CPA studying for the day, or at least a large portion of it.  The great thing about the morning is that nobody is going to bother you.  Not your family, not your work, not your friends.  Nobody!  It’s a time to yourself, and many successful people use the mornings to their advantage.

31) You dream too much about the jobs you can get IF you pass – Everybody likes to dream!  I’m guilty of it too, but most of those accounting related career dreams will never come true if you don’t get the CPA exam passed!  Plain and simple!  Don’t let your thoughts wonder off too far into the future.  Focus on getting the CPA exam done!

32) You simply don’t like to put the time in – Nothing worth getting in life is easy!  You just have to get used to the fact that putting substantial amounts of time into things like the CPA exam are just apart of achieving career success.  Don’t let yourself fall into a mindset of not wanting to put time in.  Putting time in is what separates losers from winners.

33) You are not exercising – The mind and body work together, and taking care of your body is extremely important for operating at your maximum.  I made it a point to workout every other day while I was studying for the CPA exam.  I’m convinced that working out was not only a stress reliever, but it also significantly helped my focus when I was studying.

34) You are not eating right – Nutrition is something I used to know nothing about.  I admittedly had an awful diet.  It wasn’t until I married my beautiful wife that I started eating healthy.  Her and her family take nutrition very serious, and it was eye opening how impactful your diet is on your overall health and ability to perform.  Make sure you are eating right!

35) You are dealing with a major family or health issue – I’ve seen health and family issues seriously impact people’s progression toward goals.  It’s life, and it unfortunately happens.  I hope you haven’t experienced this, but if you have just know that it’s ok to take a break from the CPA exam when things like this arise.  Do your best to get back into the swing of studying.  There really is not a perfect time to do so.  Keep your head up and striving toward your goals!

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Is it Ok to Fail a CPA Exam Part

Is It Ok to Fail CPA Exam Part

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

You have to be Sh***** me!  That is the very first thought that ran through my mind when I found out I failed REG.  I had many emotions running through me at the time, and anger was definitely one of them. I was angry at myself for not ‘being good enough’ to pass REG the first time.

Here is the thing though…. passing and failing a CPA part is not about ‘being good enough.’  I proved that to myself by taking a CPA exam strategic study approach for my second attempt at REG; studying relatively lightly but with laser beam focus for about 2 additional weeks; and getting an 86 on my second attempt.  Going from failing to an 86 is something you can do too; you just need to know how.  Be sure to subscribe to my free email list below, and i’ll go more in-depth on exactly how I did it.  How I did it is a little too long for this posting.  So, i’ll leave it up to you to make sure you subscribe.

My experience with REG proved that failing a part in no way shape or form means you are not good enough.  It just simply means it wasn’t your day and you might need a few simple study tweaks.  I know a lot of really smart people that have failed CPA exam parts.  It is absolutely ok to fail a part.

RELATED: Best CPA Review Courses

CPA Firms Do Not Care

Another major thing to remember is that the CPA firms could care less whether or not you fail individual parts to the CPA exam.  All they care about is whether or not you end up getting the CPA exam passed.  A failed part is never even communicated to anybody at your place of work unless you yourself communicate that you failed.  I worked at KPMG until I made manager, and I never heard of anybody getting ‘talked to’ for failing a part.  It certainly didn’t happen to me.  It just doesn’t happen.

Friends Do Not Care

Believe it or not, most of your non-accounting friends have an idea for how hard the CPA exam is.  If you struggle with it, the majority of your friends will understand what you’re going through and will sympathize with you.  They are NOT going to judge you for failing a part.  Don’t sweat it!


Alright, here is one that depends a lot more on your situation.  If you are 25 and still have a helicopter parent, then he/she may or may not give you a hard time for failing.  I would hope not, but knowing how some parents are, i’m sure that some of you will encounter this.

Remember that even if your family gives you a hard time, they are only doing it because they are trying to drive you to keep pushing yourself and get the CPA exam passed.  Deep down, the helicopter parents of the world know it is ok to fail a CPA exam part, but they can’t help themselves from trying to push you.  My advice is to just try to communicate to them that many brilliant people fail one and even multiple parts to the CPA exam.    You can even send them the link to this webpage.  Once you’ve done that, reassure them that you are trying your hardest, but, more importantly, you need to reassure yourself that there is nothing wrong with failing a part.  Even if you fail a part twice.  Don’t sweat it!  Just keep pushing forward.

If you are struggling with passing the CPA exam or just want to make sure you don’t struggle, then you should check out the CPA Exam Success Mastermind Group I run. It’s a great community of people ready to help support you through the process.

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How to Overcome CPA Exam Part Failures

How to Overcome CPA Exam Part Failures

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Learning to overcome CPA exam part failures is key, because the majority of people who take the CPA exam will fail at least one part.  You have to know how to overcome it though.

1) Try to relax!  It’s not the end of the world.

So you’ve failed a part and you are devastated right now.  I get it!  It happened to me when I failed REG.  It was an absolutely awful day when I got the score release, BUT it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be in my head.

Try your best to just relax for a minute, and hear me out.  If you follow my advice, you will significantly increase your chances of passing the very next try.

2) Regroup & immediately plan to retake as your next part

In my opinion, the #1 mistake people make is in their scheduling post failure.  So many people just move on to a different part for many different reasons.  Some are just tired of studying for the part they just failed.  Others, had a game plan and they just aren’t willing to adjust given a little road bump.

Trust me, you want your next part to be the part that you just failed.  Do whatever you have to do to move your schedule around and start studying again for the part you just recently failed.

I know it is going to be painful, because you had your mind set on being done with that part.  However, you HAVE to adjust your mindset and get motivated again.  The trick is getting motivated fast.  You don’t want to wait very long to kick your studying back in gear.  This is critical!

3) Get that score breakdown!

A few days after the score release you should receive your score breakdown via email if you failed.  Save it and print it out!

4) Focus hard on the weak areas per the score breakdown

Analyze your score breakdown like it’s the most important thing in the world at the moment.  That breakdown will directly impact how and what you will be studying the second time around.  The KEY is that your second round of studying will be nothing like your first.  If you already went through a full prep course review for the part you failed, then the second round of studying should seem like a breeze because you won’t be going through the course the same way.

RELATED: Discover the CPA Exam Review Course Meant For You

It is critical that you really focus in on your weakest areas.  Once you identify your weakest area, here are the steps you should take.

  • Read the associated section in your prep course study guide

    – Make sure you read to review that area first.  Don’t just go straight to the video lectures.

  • The next day, watch the video lecture corresponding to that section

    – Make sure you watch the video lecture shortly after you read through the material in the study guide.

  • Read the associated section for a second time

    – This might sound like overkill, but do you want to pass that part when you retake it?  It’s imperative that you turn this weak area into a strong area.  Reading the study guide section for a second time after watching the video lecture will significantly increase your chances of improving.

  • Hit the flashcards

    – Make a stack of all the flashcards associated with this weak area.  Everyday going forward, you need to make sure you go through those flashcards associated with your old weak area.  At this point, your weak area should be becoming a strong area.

5) Use flashcards to keep strong areas strong

On the flip side, people very commonly forget or fail to keep brushing up on their strong areas.  If you’re not using it, you’re losing it.  This might be even more true with regards to the CPA exam.  Make sure you are cycling through the flashcards associated with your mid to strong areas on a daily basis.  Don’t get over confident with those areas and completely forget about them.

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What CPA Exam Success Feels Like

What CPA Exam Success Feels Like

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Do you remember as a kid when the bell rang that last day of school before summer?  That feeling you got when you left school that last day knowing you had the entire summer ahead of you and nothing hanging over your head to get done or study for?  Times that by 1,000 and that is how it feels to pass the CPA exam! It is one of the best feelings ever.

I’ll never forget the feeling of sheer joy when I found out I passed FAR.  It was the first section I attempted.  I devoted my entire winter break to studying for FAR.  I treated it like a 9am – 5pm job for 5 weeks, and absolutely studied my tail off.  FAR was the one section I was most worried about, and that is why I wanted to just get it out of the way first.  If you are curious about why studying for FAR turned out to be a critical strategy decision, be sure to subscribe below to my free email list here at CPA Exam Success.

I was beyond nervous as I sat and pondered about looking at the results.  I knew deep down that passing FAR would be a huge momentum boost for me, and I was pretty confident my CPA exam review course effectively prepared me.  I also knew that failing would mean falling behind, and potentially not getting the CPA exam completely passed before my start date at KPMG that following October.

As I stood there about to pass out from being so nervous, I opened the results and had PASSED.  I still to this day remember feeling like an elephant was just lifted off my chest.  It was the biggest sense of relief I had ever felt in my life.  That’s saying a lot for me too, because I was a highly competitive golfer at the time and got some pretty big rushes of relief during serious tournaments.  Passing that first part was by far the most critical thing I had done in my life from a professional stand point.  It was HUGE and one of the greatest feelings ever.

Finding out I passed my last part was even better than finding out I passed FAR.  It was such a sense of accomplishment and joy knowing I could start KPMG without that darn exam hanging over my head.  It was one of the best days of my life, and i’m sure it will be for you too.

When you pass your CPA exam, be sure to come back to this post and leave a comment describing how you felt.  I’d love to hear how it was for you, and especially if I, in some way, have been able to help you through the CPA exam process via any of my posts, emails, or the CPA Exam Success mastermind group.

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How to Pass the CPA Exam

How to Pass the CPA Exam

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

I’m in the process of writing this epic article.

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Can You Pass the CPA Exam if You Did Bad in College

Can You Pass the CPA Exam If You Did Bad in College?

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

The short answer is, ABSOLUTELY!

The CPA exam will cover many topics you had in class, and if i’m being brutally honest, you will definitely be at a disadvantage if you didn’t try or fully understand the material during your classes.  HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can’t tackle the CPA exam.

Invest in a CPA Review Course That Fits Your Needs

What will be absolutely critical for you is that you get a high quality CPA review course that fits your learning needs.  CPA prep courses are important for everybody, but even more so for you if you struggled to graduate.  Make sure you purchase one that has instructors who will hold your attention, because you will likely need to watch every lecture to see them explain the concepts and work examples.  With that said, know how you learn best and select a prep course that is consistent with your learning needs.

There are some CPA prep course companies that do an excellent job explaining topics in a way that is easy for you to understand.  Your lack of quality grades could possibly have been attributed to the quality of professors you had.  If that is the case, then there is a very good chance you will be able to easily learn the concepts through the great instruction of a prep course.

Devote Extra Time

If you know you are somebody who struggles with accounting concepts, then don’t fool yourself into thinking you can study the same amount as your friends who did great.  Make sure you adjust your study schedule to accommodate for the extra time you need.  It’s perfectly fine if it takes you longer to understand concepts.  There are many many people out there that need additional time to fully understand difficult accounting concepts.  Just make sure you recognize that you are one of those people and that you need more time.

Get Expert Insights

If you are reading this article, then it means you are trying to gain insights to better help you.  Whether you seek out an official mentor or not, just make sure you get connected with people who can offer you advice and guide you through the entire process. I will tell you too that you want to be extremely careful when evaluating the credentials of the person you want to be your mentor. There are true mentors out there and then there are people who just want to get in your pocket book. Be very very careful. Know that there are many different options available to you.

Use Flashcards to Your Advantage

Flashcards will be super important to your ability to pass the CPA exam.  Flashcards serve many purposes, but two primary ones are to hammer home recently learned concepts and keep old concepts fresh in your memory so you don’t forget them during the official CPA exam.  If learning accounting concepts were difficult in college, then make sure you put extra time into reviewing flashcards.  My general rule of thumb is to devote 70% of flashcard time to newly learned concepts and 30% to old concepts that you’re trying to keep fresh in your memory.  I do 30%, because as time goes by you will see the same cards over and over and you should become extremely proficient at remembering not only the correct answer, but why the answer is correct and why all the incorrect options are incorrect.  This will be huge for you, but make sure to adjust that percentage according to what fits you best.

Have Confidence

You may have done poorly in college based on your standards and expectations, but just graduating with an accounting degree says something.  It is a difficult degree that takes commitment and a pretty high level of accounting knowledge.  My guess is that you know more than you think, and that you will be surprised at how much you do know as you move through a CPA exam review course.  Be confident, because you have a lot to be proud of for graduating with an accounting degree.

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When Should You Take the CPA Exam

When Should You Take the CPA Exam?

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

This is one of the most asked questions.  When should you take the CPA exam?  Well, there is definitely strategy in it.  Don’t let anybody tell you differently.  The last thing you want to do is just randomly schedule the CPA exam without really thinking the timeline through.

It is going to depend whether you are still in college or out in the work force already.  I’ll walk you through both cases.

CPA Exam Timing For the College Student

Let’s assume you are still in college.  Alright, the first thing to know is that, depending on which state you are in, you are more than likely going to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam during your graduate year whether you are pursing your MAcc or MBA.  Eligibility to sit is an entirely different article that i’ll be writing soon.

My advice is to NOT sit during the Fall semester of your graduate year.  You will be swamped with school related assignments during that first graduate semester and you will be getting used to a graduate level class load.

RELATED: Best CPA Review Course Options

The ideal time to schedule your first part is immediately following winter break.  Most universities give you 4 – 5 weeks off for winter break.  Treat the CPA exam like it is a job during those winter break weeks.  If you have a job, then treat it like your second job that requires more time!

You should take your second part during your Spring semester also.  By that time you will be used to the graduate load and will already have one CPA exam part under your belt.  The studying process should come easier, and it’s definitely when you should take that second part if you feel comfortable doing so with your class load.

The third and fourth parts should be scheduled during the summer following graduation.  Many graduates will not have an official start date at their accounting firm until the following Fall.  So, it is a perfect time to knock out the remainder of the CPA exam.  Trust me!  Get it done before you start work full time!

CPA Exam Timing For the Working Accountant

I know there are many of you out there who are working full time, and don’t have any parts passed yet.  That’s ok!  No matter what your situation is or why does not matter.  All that matters is that you pass your CPA exam as soon as possible.

You need to make sure you strategically think through planning out what months you will study and when you will schedule to take the official parts.  It’s going to be different whether you are on the audit or tax side of things, but the general rule of thumb for both is to know when your busy seasons are.  Not when the typical busy season is, but when is YOUR busy season.  At all costs, avoid studying or taking a part during your busy season.

The key for you is going to be utilizing your vacation time strategically.  If you are big-4, then you likely have 5 weeks of vacation.  I will say too that some accounting firms are going to unlimited vacation.  If you are lucky enough to work at a place with unlimited vacation, then have a discussion with your performance manager and tell him/her that you want to utilize that to your advantage to get the CPA exam passed quickly.

No matter how much vacation time you have, it ALL needs to go toward studying for the CPA exam.  Yes, I know it’s going to suck not using that time for actual vacation, but once you get it passed, it is over for good and you can go enjoy life again.  The key is to not let it drag out over years.  The one thing that will drastically better your chances of passing is to use that vacation time to study.

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How to Deal With CPA Exam Stress

How to Deal With CPA Exam Stress

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

1) Block off study time and don’t miss (for anything)

Whether it is a giant calendar for your office or an electronic calendar, get one and map out every week of CPA exam prep.  Then, map out every day, down to the hour.  Having a blueprint all nicely laid out will reduce your stress levels beyond belief.  Not to mention, you will feel great when you can see all the progress you are making each day.

RELATED: Best CPA Review Courses

2) Utilize vacation time and/or semester breaks to your advantage

Alright, this is where people really jack up their chances of passing and create way more stress than they need.  Instead of trying to study during busy times when you are either working or attending college courses, alleviate as much pain as you can by taking advantage of large blocks of time (e.g. vacation or winter break) available to you where you have little to no responsibilities.

Being able to disconnect yourself from responsibility is critical.  I always recommend to people who are working full time to use every last day of their vacation time for CPA exam studying.  Maybe leave one or two for potential sick days, but you get the point.  No Cancun for you this year.  Just wait until next year when you have the CPA exam behind you.  At KPMG we had 5 weeks of vacation starting day 1 as a first year.  That is a massive amount of time if used wisely.  If it were me, I would try to strategically schedule vacation around holiday paid days off.  That just stretches things out even further.

3) Schedule a weekly social activity escape

EVERYBODY needs a release from studying and that much needed social interaction.  Make sure you are scheduling some sort of fun each week with your friends.  This is a must!

Pro Tip – Don’t over do the fun!  It is extremely easy to join a volleyball team, softball team, trivia team, and more.  Too many of those things will drastically cut into your study time and cause you to stress out even more because you won’t be making progress.  Just say no when you are trying to get the CPA exam knocked out.

4) Make sure you are following a healthy diet and working out

I used to have one of the worst diets you could image.  I didn’t watch anything I ate, because I was lucky enough to be relatively thin for most of my early life thanks to genes.  Along with the awful diet though, I didn’t workout much either.  I was the worst.

Since then, I have become a HUGE health nut.  There are so many things you can do from a diet and workout perspective that can help your stress levels and focus.  For example, did you know blueberries are amazing for reducing stress?  I’ll be giving away tips on how you can improve your diet and incorporate working out into your days.  If you want to receive those tips and much more, make sure to join the free email newsletter.

5) Use a high quality CPA review course that fits your learning needs

Selecting a CPA exam prep course just because your friends are using it or because your firm recommends it as their number one choice is the worst thing you can do.  If you want to reduce your stress, then make 100% sure that you find a CPA review course that meets your needs.  For example, what type of instructor personality do you like?  Professor type or highly energetic and entertaining?  Do not assume every course out there is the same, because they are drastically different when it comes to content delivery.

Pro Tip – Stay off the negative environment CPA forums!

If you want to learn more, you should check out the mastermind group hosted by me.  Not only will it help you with questions like these, knowing you have a trusted community behind you can make a HUGE difference in lowering your stress levels and ultimately achieving CPA exam success.

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40 Reasons Why the CPA Exam Matters

40 Reasons Why the CPA Exam Matters

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

Many people have heard about the CPA exam, but many don’t actually know what it can do for you.  Hopefully, you are an aspiring CPA and are just looking for that little motivation to get the CPA exam knocked out.  Whether you are that or just somebody trying to decide whether the CPA path is for you, this article will shine a bright light on the top 40 reasons why the CPA Exam matters.

1) $1,000,000 extra earnings potential – I’ll be the first to tell you that money is not everything in life, BUT there is something to be said for being able to afford a nice neighborhood for your family, save adequately for retirement, and put your children through college.  Life gets expensive, and having that CPA license will put you in a position to better tackle financial goals and struggles.

2) The CPA title matters in the hiring process – No matter what anybody tells you, the CPA title DOES matter in the hiring process if you are applying for an accounting position. If the CPA license is not a requirement for the position, hiring managers typically will still give priority to a CPA over a non-CPA.

3) The CPA title matters in the promotion process – Depending where you work, there are a lot of companies that favor people with a CPA license for promotion purposes.  In many companies, it is actually a requirement to have that CPA license for certain higher level positions.  Let’s face the facts, you are going to want that chance to get that higher level position.  So, you might as well get that CPA exam passed now.

4) R-E-S-P-E-C-T – The CPA title will absolutely result in gained respect – The brutal truth is that people talk and people know who has their CPA and who does not when you are in the world of accounting.  It is like a right of passage for many, and some simply will not give you the respect you deserve if you do not have those 3 letters behind your name.

  • Peers – You want to be respected by your peers from a technical angle.  These people will be working either with you or in your community for decades.  A lot of hiring happens through peer recommendations, and it is critical that you gain their respect from the get go.  Having that CPA license significantly helps.
  • Boss – This one kind of goes without saying.  Most bosses will hold you in higher regards if you can get that CPA license.  Not only does it make their team look better, but they typically will have more confidence in your abilities.
  • Clients – This is a big one!  If you can’t gain the respect of your clients, then you might be in big trouble.  You have to communicate with them on a day-to-day basis, and they typically give feedback to your direct boss with regards to your interactions with them.

5) Passing matters, because CPA firms will reimburse your CPA exam fees and prep course costs – Who the heck doesn’t like getting reimbursed?  Especially, when you are forking out thousands of dollars for CPA exam prep material.  If your firm is going to reimburse you for thousands of dollars, passing the CPA exam absolutely matters.

6) Lock in that bonus – This is even better than getting reimbursed for all the costs!  If I recall correctly, KPMG gave us a $5,000 bonus for passing the CPA exam.  There is nothing more I can say about that one.  Get that bonus, and either pay down student loan debt or go have some well deserved fun.

RELATED: Best CPA Review Courses

7) In public accounting, the CPA is a requirement to be a Manager – If you want to sign off on opinions, you best get to working on that CPA exam.  Accounting firms expect you to have your CPA license prior to manager promotion.

8) Better get it if you want that CFO position – Anybody who has dreamed about being in business has dreamed about being the CFO or CEO.  It is just natural, because they are the highest positions in business.  Well, if you really want that CFO position, you better get that CPA license.  It will drastically improve your chances of actually being able to attain that elusive CFO position.

9) Say bye to living in mom and dad’s basement – Nearly half of 25 year olds live at home with their parent(s).  There are many reasons for this.  One is because many come out of college with incredible amounts of debt and their entry level job just does not pay enough to cover their bills.  If you have a CPA license, you will significantly better your chances at earning enough to cover all your costs no matter how much debt (within reason) you come out of college with.

Another reason for so many 25 year olds living at home is that they simply can’t find a job.  Listen, just because you earn a college degree, it does not mean you are guaranteed a job.  By having your CPA license and that ‘technical stamp’ on you resume, you are much more likely to be out of mom and dad’s basement before you are 25.

10) It will make you marketable outside of the typical accounting career path – This is big, because not everybody stays in accounting.  Even if you think you might want to do something else down the road, get your CPA license.  I can’t tell you how many CPA friends I have that were able to get great jobs outside of the typical accounting career path.  Many of them attribute their success and ability to make the career move to their CPA license and related experience.  If somebody is hiring for a business related position, they typically understand the value in hiring a CPA even if the position is not directly related to accounting.

11) Will significantly help you in owning your own business no matter what it is – Owning your own business symbolizes freedom for many.  It means you get to run your own ship, and nobody can tell you what to do.  With that, nobody is there to watch out for your best interests when it comes to financial decisions unless you hire an accountant, but even then the accountant is not by your side 24/7 and it could get expensive if you are turning to a third party every time you need to make a financial related decision.  Not to mention, internal controls are huge for small business owners.  With that CPA license, you will head down a track that will give you plenty of knowledge to be successful on your own.

12 ) Career security – Has anybody ever told you that you are risk averse?  Chances are they will if you have not already been told that.  That is because most accountants are inherently risk averse.  That is also why job security matters so much to so many.  Plain and simple, if you do not want to be on the chopping block during a layoff, get your CPA license. If in some rare event you were to get let go for some reason, there is always a demand for CPAs.  You would be able to find a job much easier.

13) The travel opportunities are through the roof – As a young person straight out of college, many want to see the world.  What better way to do that than to do it on the company dollar.  Most big-4 firms ask you what percentage of travel you prefer.  If you select the high end of that scale, which is typically 80% – 100%, then you will be traveling every week seeing the country and possibly the world.

During my first couple years in public accounting, my roomate, who worked for Deloitte, requested to travel the max amount.  Every week, he left every single Sunday and returned on Friday.  I have another friend who still works for Deloitte, and she has traveled the world for her job.  She absolutely loves it!  On the flip side, I worked for KPMG and requested to travel as little as possible because I had a wife and family is the most important thing to me.  KPMG honored my request, and I barely traveled at all the entire time I was there.  I traveled for annual training, and that was about it.

14 ) Increasing demand – Becker CPA reported that accountants and auditors are expected to grow faster for the next couple years than any other profession tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Listen, getting hired out of college is a problem for some majors, but it is not for accountants.  With that being said, you are in a position to get paid really well because of the high demand.

15) If you ever want to teach and have ‘street credit’ with the students – Students are quick to catch on to your qualifications.  They pay a lot of money for their accounting degree, and they expect their accounting professors to have earned their CPA license.  If you ever have thought about even adjuncting, I would highly recommend having your CPA license so that the students will respect your lessons and opinions.

16) Perception in the business world matters – There is a reason why people wear suites to interviews.  It is all about perception, right.  You would never walk into an interview wearing street clothes.  It is the same concept when it comes to licensure.  You never would want to go up for promotion or walk into an executive led technical accounting meeting without CPA behind your name.  Perception matters.

17) CPA exam pass rates are becoming more and more important to Universities – Universities want the highest possible CPA pass rate they can get.  It helps them with marketing and attracting top talent.  Your alma mater will greatly appreciate being able to add your name to their pass rate, and it will help better the quality of the business school’s reputation, which will end up helping you as you carry that university name on your resume.

18) Having technical expertise in this world is critical – Boy, is this ever a big one!  No matter whether you are in business, engineering, medical, or any other field, having a technical talent is what will drive your success.  A CPA license is a direct mark of your technical talent.  It is HUGE for your career.

19) Flexibility to permanently relocate anywhere – This is really important for many people.  Think about it.  Every city and town in the world has businesses.  Business is what makes the world tick.  If you are a CPA, I am confident you can EASILY get a job anywhere you want.  When you are trying to get back closer to your family or your spouses family, this becomes extremely important.  Especially, when children are in the picture.

20) Have the upper hand in a technical accounting debate – The CPA license alone will not give you the upper hand in an accounting debate, but it is the track that a CPA license leads you down that will increase your knowledge in accounting exponentially.  Everybody likes to win; give yourself the best opportunity to win future business (accounting) debates.

21) Business owners will trust you more with a CPA title – If you want to own an accounting firm, you are going to need to go out and earn business.  That means convincing business owners to trust you with their financial statements and business.  You will have a much easier job at convincing them to give you their business if you have that CPA behind your name.  The CPA title instills trustworthy.

22) Ability to quickly bounce back if a layoff occurs – We all witnessed how important this was during the most recent economic downturn.  Businesses were going out of business right and left, and that left millions looking for work.  If you were a CPA, it was much easier to jump ship to a new company, because financial skills cross over into every industry.

23) Not quite recession proof, but pretty darn close – During an economic recession, if a company is going to lay off accounts, it is almost always the non-CPAs first.  It just is.  Especially, when you’re talking about public accounting firms.

24) Salary will be higher three years out of college when life is happening – There are a lot of comparison tables out there that compare a CPA’s salary to a non-CPA’s salary.  Most all of them note a pretty significant difference.  Straight out of college you are going to have friends getting married, trips people are asking you to go on, potentially a larger car payment, and much more.  It just helps to be earning a higher salary during this time period in your life.

25) Betters your chances of earning enough so your spouse can pursue a dream – My wife made a career change within the first year coming out of college.  She already had a masters degree, but would need a second to pursue her dream of being a high school business teacher.  That meant she was going back to college and she was not going to be earning an income.  If I was not making as much as I was being a CPA, it would not have been possible.

Also, you might have your spouse turn to you when you’re both 40, and he/she might say they want to pursue owning their own business.  You never know what situation you might find yourself in.  Having that CPA and earning more will allow you to support your spouse during times like that, even later in life when things are that much more costly.

26) Could possibly result in your children being highly driven to succeed and achieve difficult things in life just like their parent did – This one could be considered a bit of a stretch for some, but i’m convinced that children who see their parents achieve things in life are much more likely to try and achieve things themselves.

27) Somebody is looking up to you and it will make a difference in their life to see you achieve something so great – Aside from your children, there is probably somebody who looks up to you and you do not even know it.  If that person sees you striving to improve your life by getting your CPA license, you could have an incredible impact on how far they go with their career.  You might not even know how much you are indirectly impacting the world around you.

28) Boost to your confidence – Without a doubt, having CPA behind your name will boost your confidence in the business world.  A professional certification of that caliber is relatively rare in the business world.  It is good to know you accomplished something that is so difficult to attain.

29) Unique opportunities in retirement – This might be so far down the road you do not even want to think about it, but I recently was talking to a friend who told me that a retired CPA just accepted a position as their organization’s CFO.  How great is that!

You might want to own your business during retirement or pursue a second career like wealth management.  Whatever it is, the CPA title will make all of that much easier for you.

30) Possibility of early retirement – Since your salary is so much higher than your non-CPA peers, you might be lucky enough to stash away enough to retire early.

31) With the extra earnings potential, save more for your children’s college fund – Who the heck knows how much college will cost in 20 years.  I do know that if tuition continues to rise at the rate it current is, you are going to want to save quite a bit for your children.

32) Most sought after credential in the accounting profession – There are other credentials you can get as an accountant such as the CMA or even the CFP, but none compare to the CPA in accounting.

33) Gives you career opportunities that have work-life balance – Work-life balance is something some people chase their entire lives.  It is the dream by many. They want to work hard, but also have the ability to be there for their family.  Depending on the company, many upper management positions allow you the flexibility to leave work whenever you need to.  That is because you typically have people working under you who are the ones that stay and work late if need be.  Having that CPA title can only help you when it comes time to apply for those upper management jobs.

34) Betters your chances of doing consulting – Consulting is one of those jobs that is somewhat elusive to many.  The bottom line is that you need to be an expert, and I would highly recommend having your CPA license if you are trying to consult in the accounting profession.  It goes back to the trust factor I discussed above.

35) Introduces you into interesting law concepts – Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the law concepts covered in the CPA exam prep.  Call me crazy, but I thought they were extremely interesting and fun to learn about.  I have used some of that law knowledge gained from my CPA prep many times in my career.  I should also say that there was definitely a lot of material I did not recall ever studying in my college business law course.  I would have been toast without a quality CPA review course.

36) The CPA title is a knowledge boost for your career – This one is more for the go-getters out there, but I am a firm believer that studying for the CPA exam takes your accounting knowledge to the next level.  Yes, you learned most of the material in college, but the CPA exam process really hammers the concepts into your brain.

37) Ability to take your future business to the next level – Many of you have aspirations to own your own business.  I know this, because I talk to accounting majors on a daily basis.  The concepts that will be ingrained in you from your CPA exam studies and the career path a CPA license will take you down early in your career will significantly help you be a successful business owner.  Not to mention, your business contacts such as lawyers and any future partners will have greater respect for you if you have the CPA.  Trust me on this one!

38) You need to cap off your significant college time and financial investment – So here is the deal.  You either put or will put an incredible amount of time and energy into your accounting degree.  Not to mention, the financial cost of the degree.  Why not just take it a little further and cap it off with earning your CPA license?

39) As it is not required, the CPA license increases your chances of being accepted to a PhD program – If you want one of the most gratifying careers, then I would suggest giving thought to being a professor.  No matter what reason you want to attain your PhD for, having that CPA license will help you during the acceptance process.  Most Universities are only accepting a few students every year and in many cases only every other year.  It is extremely difficult to get accepted to a PhD program, but you will have a leg up on competition that does not have their CPA license.

40) Take the CFP without having to go back to college – The CFP Board has approved specific professional credentials as fulfilling most of the education coursework requirement for CFP certification. If you have a CPA license, you will automatically be eligible to apply for the CFP Certification Examination after you complete a capstone course registered with the CFP Board.

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