It is snowing here in Richmond, Virginia, today. We have at least 6 inches of snow on the ground. It is cold and still snowing. So, I have a day that I can use. I am stuck here at the house. How should I spend my time? I have decided to talk with you about how to achieve success on the CPA Exam. For me, that’s an extremely good use of time.
After being in the CPA Review business now for 35 years, what is my advice to you? Not the person beside of you, or the person in front of you, or the person behind you. No, what is my advice to you?
This morning my wife and I were having breakfast at our kitchen table. The newspaper did not arrive so she was reading from her iPad. “Here is something” she informed me “that sounds like advice that you might pass along to CPA Exam candidates.”
It was a few words from John C. Maxwell. And, she was right. This is what I want to say to you today.
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success or happiness is found in your daily routine.”
At the university, I am always amazed by how many students want to make better grades without making any changes in their study habits.
--Study a little, make a bad grade.
--Study a little, make a bad grade.
Then, they come to me, often in tears, and confess “I guess I am just not cut out for this accounting stuff.” That’s pure nonsense. No one ever makes improvement without making change. And that improvement will be much more effective if it becomes part of your daily regimen.
I have always argued that I could help anyone learn to pass the CPA Exam but that is true only if the person is willing to change.
Let’s say that you are planning to take a part of the CPA Exam at the beginning of April—in about five weeks. However, you’ve already failed that part previously. And, you don’t see how you can improve. You are stalled. You are sure you are going to fail yet again. Unfortunately, for most candidates, their next response seems to be: SPEND MORE MONEY. They assume that they need another expensive study program that will show them exactly the same information that the last expensive program provided. That’s not a change. It is just throwing money away.
Success is not based on how much money you spend. Success is based on how efficiently you spend your moments on this planet. If things are not going as you would prefer, YOU MUST MAKE A CHANGE. Daily life should be built in such a way as to bring you the success that you truly want. If you are not willing to change, you probably don’t really want the success.
So, what is my advice? First, don’t make lots of quick changes. People tend to jump from one strategy to the next looking for some magic pill for success. There are no magic pills. Second, consider all of the various changes that you could make in getting ready for your next part of the CPA Exam. It is hard to make wise choices if you do not weigh out your options. Be as open to creative change as possible – what could you possibly start doing differently? Third, pick something and make the change. Get on with it. Try it for a while. See how something new works for you. It is not a tattoo. It is not permanent. Make a change but only after you think about the options. Fourth, evaluate the results. Has the change helped? Are you feeling like you are attaining a better understanding of the material? Fifth, if you are not completely satisfied, try a different change or maybe attempt a slight variation. I have long argued that being able to evaluate and evolve were essential characteristics for success in every aspect of life.
So, if you are preparing to take a section of the CPA Exam in a few weeks and you want to do better, what changes could you consider? Here are just a few thoughts that come to my mind here on this snowy day.
--Try to add a specific amount of study time each day. Most people waste lots of hours every day. Is there a way that you could work in 30 additional minutes of study? Just thirty more minutes of daily study can make a huge difference in your score.
--Study at a different place. I have found that moving around every couple of days was helpful to me. If I always study in the same way and at the same place, eventually I just get into a rut and begin to slow down. A little movement – for example to my living room table – automatically seems to get the energy levels running higher.
--Keep a diary of your hours studied and what you managed to accomplish each day. It is important to realize that you are making progress or you will have the tendency to get discouraged.
--Work more questions. I think most review program focus too much on learning material. That’s what school is for. The CPA Exam is about one thing: answering questions. It is not school. When we created CPA Review for Free, the entire idea was that a candidate could pass the exam by working enough questions and learning from those answers. I believed that was a great idea back then. I still think it is a great idea now. Plus, working questions is more fun than reading and learning material. It is just easier to put in those extra hours.
--Exercise more. Yes, I know you don’t have much time but lack of physical exercise simply makes people work more slowly. They become lethargic. Investing time in a bit of exercise can get the brain cells working faster. You may actually be able to gain time in this way.
--Find a study partner. I am not a big believer in studying all the time with someone else but I do think an occasional joint study session can be beneficial. You get to exchange ideas and approaches. You see a different perspective. You can ask each other questions. Once again, it pushes you to become more active and involved which helps to provide both energy and enthusiasm.
--Take very short notes. Too many candidates spend an enormous amount of time rewriting material. I know for some that can seem helpful but it is a slow process that rarely provides a benefit worth the cost. I know I am being redundant but this is not school. You are preparing for a tough exam in a few weeks. Your notes should serve one purpose – to jog your memory. Keep them short and essential.
--Having written those notes above, look over them as frequently as possible. Never leave home without your notes and then study them quickly whenever you have even a few free seconds. I had to go to the doctor on Monday because I have been bothered a bit with ear infections. I had to sit in the waiting room for about 10 minutes. As I sat there, I said to myself: “If I were studying for the CPA Exam right now, I would pull out my 3 by 5 note cards and use this time to study and add some points.” Sure, why waste time? Always be ready to study if the opportunity arises.
--Stay off the Internet and television. I realize there is so many interesting things that you can watch. They are all so hypnotic. It takes some real self-discipline to change that type of pattern. Facebook and HBO and Netflix are very addictive. That stuff might be fun but it does NOT lead to success. Change those habits.
--Don’t seek perfection. In school, you are supposed to learn everything the teacher shows you. That’s the whole reason for being there. The CPA Exam is entirely different. You only want to grasp enough material to pass. Perfection is not required. In fact, seeking perfection is counterproductive because it takes so much time. And, also makes you feel guilty if you miss a question. Instead, once you have studied a topic and answered the questions, move on. Don’t go back over the same material again and again trying desperately to squeeze out one more point. It is always more important to cover many things a little than one thing perfectly.
I could go on and on about possible changes but you get the idea. If you are going to improve, you must make changes. Think about what those changes might be. Evaluate and evolve.