Top Nine Challenges to Passing the CPA Exam

Studying for the CPA exam is one of the most difficult things I have ever embarked on in my life. The material is not easy, but it’s not rocket science. What makes the CPA exam a challenge (with average pass rates well below fifty percent), is the sheer vastness of topics covered on the exam. For me, the exam feels as if it were a four-thousand-mile-wide ocean but only an inch deep. What’s even worse than the odds being stacked against you, particularly when trying to pass the first time, or having to pay over a thousand dollars in fees to register for the exams, is the fact that the universe is doing everything it can to keep you from studying. These were the nine biggest challenges that tried their best to drag me down and keep me from passing the exam.

  1. Movies at the Theater

Star Wars, Harry Potter, Avengers, Dr. Strange, Suicide Squad…you get the picture. Several great movies came out in 2016 and 2017 that I could not justify putting off seeing until after I was done studying. To make it even more challenging, they released the first Star Wars movie in the last ten years, so you couldn’t expect me to stay at home and read the reviews while waiting for it to come out on Blu-ray.

  1. Loss of Focus

A good CPA review course will include practice questions, outlines to read, videos to watch, and audio clips to listen to so that you experience a multitude of different mediums. However, as you may already know, you can only be subjected to so many regulations and basic calculations before your eyes glaze over and you wish for anything to save you. Perhaps if the study videos had Scarlet Johansson or Kenny Rogers read the script, I would be less likely to doze off and wake up, forgetting where I was in my own house.

  1. Daniel’s Barbeque

I have a hard time turning down free food. This problem is especially true if it is a good home-cooked meal and a buffet of smoked meats over at my friend Daniel’s house. The only issue is, a pleasant evening like this is never a quick stop. Usually, it is an entire evening, where you arrive no later than 4 pm to watch the last half of the Cardinals, Chiefs, or Blues game on the big screen. Everyone pounces when the food is sufficiently charred, flipped, or seared to the grill master’s preference. Like a lion after a kill, I lie unconscious on the couch for an hour or two after eating. Throw in some Game of Thrones or Black Sails, and there is no conceivable way I get out of there before 10 pm.

  1. Work

I made the rookie mistake of trying to study for the Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) part of the exam while also starting a new job at the beginning of tax season. At the end of every day my brain was fried, and I could barely focus my eyes on anything accounting related after I got home. I regrouped and began studying again during the slow season, beginning with studying for a section in June and July, then one section in January during the downtime before tax season began. The last section I took was in May after I had a little time to recover from tax season. Planning the times to take the exams reminds me of Tom Hanks timing the waves of the ocean in Castaway.  If you don’t get it just right, you’ll be thrown back on the sharp coral and trapped on the island with Wilson.

  1. Video Games

While I don’t always play video games, when I do, I go on a Diablo III binge like no other. I enter a Zen-like trance that allows me to forget about the outside world and focus on cleansing the high heavens of Diablo’s evil presence.  For about two weeks, I am a barbarian or paladin, crawling through dungeons looking for loot and mowing down computer-generated mobs.  Choosing which quest to go on was a lot more fun than choosing the best multiple-choice answer to which procedure gives the best audit evidence on determining the effectiveness of an entity’s internal controls.

  1. Significant Other

After dinner, I am at home in the study room with the computer booted up and the study material at my fingertips. I am quickly clicking on the right answers and learning from the mistakes I am making along the way. I am in the zone. I am learning at warp speed. Then suddenly, I hear it.  Maybe it was my imagination. I ignore it and go on with the learning video. Then I hear it again. Louder. Footsteps. Again, I hear it louder than ever, and there is no denying it.  My fiancé (now wife), whom I love dearly, needs my help in killing a spider, or reaching a dish, or making a dessert for her office coworkers. She’s calling me to drop everything and come help with something that “desperately” needs my “expertise.” After five minutes of trying to persuade her that I am not needed and that I have finally gotten in the zone of studying, I cave and become the reluctant and underpaid hero.

  1. Friends

As John Donne was known to say, “No man is an island.” After hours and weeks of sitting in solitary confinement studying for the exams, there were times when I wanted to go and sit on a bench at the mall to be around people again. However, I fought the temptation and kept my schedule clear of social events and gatherings so that I could submerge my brain with accounting knowledge. I may have cracked and gone to visit a friend on a random night or two, but for the most part, I held my ground in my office chair. However, karma did not reward me with quiet evenings of solitude. One night, four different people called asking me to partake in legendary nights. I think there might have even been an elephant or something involved with one of the ventures. Sadly, I’m not associated with any of those epic adventures.

  1. Netflix

When I get home from work, I like to unwind with some escapism. I sit down on the recliner and fire up the Netflix to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother or some other short comedy sitcom. Like the blink of an eye, the show is over, and the next one is queued up ready to go in less than 20 seconds. Before I can back out of the show, it’s over too. Another episode passes. Suddenly I am trapped in a slow-motion purgatory where I move in small increments, and everything flies around me at the speed of light. When I am finally free, an hour and a half are gone. Never to be regained, no preparation for passing the CPA Exam.

  1. Sleep

I have a bad habit of convincing myself that going to bed early or taking a nap will let me hit the study material harder later, resulted in my head hitting the pillow instead of me hitting the books. I’m not sure what has happened to me. I used to be a night owl capable of all-night study sessions, but now, once the tenth hour night bell strikes, I am out.  By that time, I’m already late for my planned nighttime ritual of brushing my teeth, turning on the humidifier, and reading one last article on my newsfeed before putting the lights out and cutting some zs. A cold shower and a mega cup of coffee are the only things that can fight off the Land of Nod. That, and bad karaoke, but who wants to hear that?

After hundreds of hours of procrastinating and hundreds more studying, I’ve finished the four CPA exams. All the time and effort put into obtaining the CPA license is the best investment an accountant in a public accounting firm can make. Second is an office chair with excellent lumbar support, and third is a healthy lifestyle to combat the weight gain from tax season. No matter how many distractions come your way, do not lose sight of the goal. Passing the CPA Exam is not rocket science if you have the right study materials, planning, and discipline to block out all the distractions that will get in your way. Don’t go nuclear on any of the distractions because someday, believe it or not, the exams will be over, and you still want to have a life to return to once it is all over.

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