How I Passed the CPA Exam

Two weeks ago, I included a couple of excerpts from my book Don't Just Dream About Success: Stack the Odds in Your Favor available for $8.99 on Amazon—paperback or Kindle).   The response was absolutely amazing.   Even I was shocked by how many people were intrigued by the guidance that was included.  

So, I am going to include a bit more from the book in today’s lesson.   More specifically, I want to share information from Chapter Seven on how I went about studying for and passing the CPA Exam.   It wasn’t easy for me but I made up my mind that I was going to pass and then set out to make it happen.  You can do it too!

Excerpt One (from Don’t Just Dream About Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor)

(My) encounter (with the CPA Exam) took place during the spring of 1970 and culminated on May 6-8 of that year. Long decades have now passed, but the experience still influences how I face each of life’s new challenges. Hitting the wall and successfully pushing through the challenge has been one of the most positive experiences of my life. I discovered the power of personal evolution. I learned to manage my time effectively and gained confidence in myself. If you (yes, YOU) plan to stack the odds for success in your favor, such lessons are essential.  

Having majored in accounting during college, I took the CPA examination in a hotel ballroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 6, 7, and 8 of 1970. At that time, this comprehensive set of tests was 19 ½ hours long and was only given each May and November. Then, and now, a candidate had to pass all four of the individual sections as one of the requirements for admission into the accounting profession. At that time, the pass rate on each separate test was roughly 33 percent. That percentage is eye-catching because it reflects the true intensity of the challenge. The percentage of candidates who pass is now somewhat higher but, in those years, two of every three candidates walked out of each of the four tests with a failing grade. Not surprisingly, the pressure was mind numbing. Failure meant an additional six months of study before the next set of exams was given with their own 33 percent pass rate. Given the odds, many bright, hard-working accountants took the CPA exam for years without ever achieving success. Most faced the challenge with a genuine sense of dread.

I returned to college after my Christmas vacation in January 1970, a senior accounting major with decent grades earned at a good school. A job waited for me following graduation. I had a fiancée and wedding plans. I was ready (at least I believed) for adult life.  But, the CPA examination stood in my path – very much like a giant wall.

Excerpt Two:

Passing was important to me. I wanted to get on with life. I was ready to be an adult and stop having to sit in little desks, listen to lectures, and take tests. Moreover, I had a burning desire to pass all four parts on my first attempt. In college, my grades were fairly good, but far from stellar. For many reasons, the elevated level of ambition that I felt so intensely in high school had disappeared. I missed the feeling. An essential part of me had gotten misplaced during those four years. The CPA exam offered the chance to recapture the internal drive that had pushed me to succeed. I was not aware at the time, but completion of this examination became a genuine Level-3 goal for me.

Excerpt Three:

Success on the CPA exam offered a chance for redemption. I wanted to pass all four sections immediately to reignite the element of my personality that I had allowed the college to dampen down: my passion for success. (Not coincidentally, I later became a teacher, in part, because I wanted future college students to have a better educational experience than my own.) To ready myself for the battle, during January 1970, I read every piece of available information describing the CPA exam and the best method of preparation. Most articles vaguely suggested that candidates learn everything included in the courses taken in college covering accounting, taxes, auditing, business law, and the like. “Learn everything” is a tough starting spot for any challenge. February 1 was scheduled as my first day of preparation. That morning, I opened a textbook and set out on my journey to find success. Somewhat like Christopher Columbus, I plunged into the unknown.

Three days later, I realized that I had slammed into a wall. I had made a huge miscalculation. All of the possible topics encompassed too much highly complicated material. The information could not be absorbed fast enough. I was already overwhelmed. The brutal truth was that I had no idea how to pass the May 1970 CPA exam. And, time was slipping away quickly. I yearned for success but did not know how to achieve it at that level. During high school and college, I had followed the conventional “cramming” approach of writing down extensive class notes and highlighting book passages. Key words and ideas were then memorized to be regurgitated on a test every few weeks. Most of those examinations covered only two or three chapters of material. By paying close attention to the teacher, test questions could even be anticipated. Almost immediately, I realized my previous preparation strategy was inadequate. The CPA exam was too big. In simple terms, I had always prepared for a 100-yard dash but now faced a marathon. I had to adapt immediately, or I was going to fail.

Excerpt Four:

My priorities were set. I understood the level of sacrifice I was willing to make. Now, success depended on improved time efficiency. Radical changes in my approach were necessary. Merely saying that I wanted to make 75 was not sufficient. I could chant that number all day, every day, and not add a single point. I could meditate about the goal; I could pray over it. But, real action was required. Focusing on a desired outcome is always easier than doing the work needed to move from here to there. My preparation had to evolve in order to stack the odds of making 75 in my favor. Immediate change was mandatory. Further procrastination was not an option. I identified five specific adjustments and started that same day to implement them.

1 – To this day, I tend to go to bed and rise each morning at very specific times. At heart, I am an accountant who prefers to live a fairly regimented life. My first adjustment was to stay up 30 extra minutes each night and wake 30 minutes earlier the following day for additional study. A full hour was immediately added to my daily routine, a huge increase in available time. For three months, I could learn to live on a reduced level of sleep. My body would just have to adapt to this new schedule.  When facing a difficult challenge, be willing to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.  “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”


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