How to Stay Fresh on the CPA Exam

As a college professor, I give a final exam for Intermediate Accounting II (deferred taxes, bonds, leases, etc.). As I am sure you know, that material is very complex. Therefore, although the students normally get three hours, I give them four hours. One of the things that I always warn my students about is “thinking tired” during any exam. They are not digging ditches or building pyramids but it is easy to start convincing yourself that you are tired as you mentally work through a long test. When you start “thinking tired,” you begin to get careless. You lose your concentration. You start making silly errors. That can be the difference in passing and failing.

I realize that a four-hour test is a long test but when it comes to your mental state, you are only as tired as you tell yourself you are. I want my students to be as fresh during the last hour on that exam as they are during the first. I suggest that they stand up and stretch every 30-45 minutes or so just to relax and get the energy moving again.

However, my most common admonition is that they never start mentally whining about how tired they feel. The mind is easily bored and wants to stop working so hard. It will constantly whisper to you “I’m tired, let’s quit.” Your brain will tell “this is hard, let’s cut the pain and stop.” Your mind will start to wander because thinking about anything else (television, dinner, a movie) is always more fun than thinking about accounting or auditing or tax or the like. Everyone’s mind is a little bit like a hyperactive child – it’s no fun to sit and think.

Most people go into the test site to take the CPA Exam with enough information in their heads to pass. It’s all in there. My guess is that at least enough is in your brain to be able to pass. The secret is getting it out on your brain during the test.

Auditing and Attestation is four hours long.

Financial Accounting and Reporting is four hours long.

Regulation is four hours long.

Business Environment and Concepts is four hours long.

Those are long, complex tests. You need to get the best out of yourself. You cannot afford to think tired. You have to convince yourself from the time you start until the time you finish that you are feeling good and you are still ready to knock out those points.

Staying fresh is a key. Keeping your concentration is vitally important. So, as you study tonight, focus on the mental discipline of reminding yourself that you are not running a marathon. You are sitting in a room answering questions. That can be tough but there is absolutely no reason you cannot be as strong in the last hour as you are in the first. You want to get used to that feeling as you study.

It is always a question of mental discipline. If you truly believe that you feel strong, you will continue to act strong.

That’s how you pass.

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