Perfection in the Details to Pass the CPA Exam

The month of April starts the second testing window of this year. What is your goal for this testing window (which will conclude on the last day of May)? By that point in time, what do you want to have accomplished? Having a specific goal firmly in your mind is a big help in passing the CPA Exam.

If you live in the US, you probably know that college teams are playing a lot of basketball these days in what is known as March Madness. What can we learn from those folks who compete in March Madness on their way to selecting a national champion? I have two things that I want to point out.

1. First, you don’t become a championship basketball team by accident. In life, we often blame things on luck. That is nonsense. Back in October, these players and these coaches set a goal for themselves. Perhaps it was more like a dream at that time. They wanted to be one of the teams that got into March Madness and then did well in the tournament and went all the way to the championship. I’ll bet those players and those coaches have worked on reaching that goal virtually every day since that time. They have put in hours and hours of preparation. They have risked failure. They have made sacrifices. They have practiced when they were probably sick of practice. They have worked long hours and then worked some more. No one doubts this. In fact, we expect such an effort of people who want to be great.

You don’t achieve great things by preparing in a mediocre fashion.

While they have been practicing, what have we been doing? We sit on our couches and watch those teams play and we yell at the television: “Why don’t you play harder?” I wonder what it would feel like if one of those players turned to us and said, “Hey, why don’t you study harder for the CPAExam?” Wouldn’t that be appropriate? We want the players on our favorite team to work extra hard and succeed to make us feel good. We want someone else to do the real work so we can share in the success.

In truth, how important are those basketball games to our daily lives? What is important is what we do in our own lives. Do we want to succeed? Do we know why we want to pass the CPA Exam? Are we willing to put in the work that is necessary while knowing that we still risk failure?

Do we prefer to sit on the couch and watch or do we do the hard work and succeed? That’s a very basic question in life.

Many teams with talented players do not win. Talent alone is never enough. Those teams either don’t practice enough or they never quite develop the teamwork that is necessary. There are no guarantees when you compete. I cannot guarantee that you will pass the CPA Exam no matter how hard you prepare. I can guarantee, though, that you will fail every time if you don’t prepare. Life is like that. You have to be able to deal with the uncertainty. You do the work for one reason: to stack the odds in your favor.

The April-May testing window is now open. It will close at the end of May. Many of you will be happy with your CPA Exam progress at the end of those two months – not everyone but hopefully most. Don’t sit on the couch. Do the work. Stack the odds in your favor. Have enough ambition to take the risk and throw yourself at that exam. The people who are still playing in March Madness did not get to that point by playing it safe and secure. If you are going to be successful on the CPA Exam, it will not be luck. Plan out what you want to do each day and make sure you get to that goal.

Make it happen.

2. Second, during March Madness, I always find it interesting that you frequently see the same coaches do well year after year. A few new names do bubble to the surface every March but a lot of the same names seem to be successful year after year. I often ask myself: What makes one coach a winner almost every year while another moves up and down in a random fashion? How do you become that successful on a consistent basis?

I am a big believer that success breeds success. A person learns how to be successful and then maintains that level of quality on each new endeavor. One of the reasons that I like candidates to take and pass the CPAExam is that I think it helps them learn how to be successful. It is a life lesson that provides you with more than just getting past a tough exam.

I had lunch last week at a local Chinese restaurant and my fortune cookie fortune was one that I kept and taped to my wall: “Great things are accomplished only by the perfection of minor details.”

We often view success as coming from some type of huge victory or epiphany. That might be right occasionally but I’ll bet in most cases, success comes from figuring out all the small things that need to take place and then making sure they are done correctly. What needs to happen? How can we do it correctly?

What has to happen for you to be successful on the CPA Exam? Make a short list.

--Make sure you have the time available to put in 60-100 hours per part before you take that part.

--Work all the problems on CPA Review for Free for the part of the exam that you have chosen.

--Read each answer carefully, especially for the problems you miss. Never guess when you are practicing (although you should guess on the exam itself).

--Take 10 word notes on the questions you miss. What you really want is to improve the chances of getting a similar question correct the next time you see it. You want to stack the odds in your favor.

--Work all the questions you missed a second time. You don’t need much improvement but you do need some.

--When you get to the exam, read the questions carefully and try to tie each of them into something you have learned. Don’t worry about perfection – just work to get enough right to pass. Don’t get hung up on the questions that you don’t know – search for the ones that you do know.

Okay, there are probably a thousand more things you can do but, in many ways, the best idea is to get started by keeping things simple. Successful coaches and successful people have a goal and they determine the steps to get to that goal. Then, they put in the time and energy so that there really is “the perfection of minor details.”

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