The Five C's for Success

One of my favorite college students from last semester sent me an email. She said that she had been studying diligently for her first part of the CPA Exam but was getting a bit nervous. She wanted to know if I had any last-minute advice.

I told her that for decades I have suggested that candidates who are getting ready to take the CPA Exam should focus on the “five C’s.” I am a big believer that anyone who puts in a sufficient amount of study time probably has enough knowledge in their head to pass. Thus, the key to success during the exam is making sure that this knowledge gets out of the head and onto the test. The five C’s can help that to happen. They can assist you in maximizing your points. And, that is really what you want – to be able to earn all of the points that you deserve.

Here are five C’s that I would like for you to think about as the day gets closer.

1. Be Careful. I have given thousands of tests over the years and I am always shocked by how careless a person can be during a test. 1 + 1 does not equal 3. The word “not” cannot be ignored in the middle of a sentence. A question about individual income taxes is different than a question about corporate taxes. Read each word of the information provided in each sentence. Don’t skim through a question and then guess at what it is asking. Check your math. I cannot tell you how many students have wound up in my office crying over the years because they made careless errors on an important test that cost them the grade they wanted. I have one suggestion: Practice being careful. As you work study problems, get into the habit of taking care. Too many people are sloppy when they practice (because it is just practice) and pick up bad habits that carry over to the actual exam. When you practice, always be as careful as possible. As they say in sports, the way you practice is the way you’ll play.

2. Be Consistent. Each of the four sections of the CPA Exam takes hours. Candidates often start out strong. For about 15 minutes. Then the adrenaline starts to slow down and they suddenly feel exhausted and trouble starts. In school, most tests look like 100-yard dashes where you have 30-60 minutes to show what you know. Slowing down is not really an issue. Each part of the CPA Exam is much more like a marathon where you must maintain a strong, steady pace for an extended period of time. The questions you face at the end are just as important as the questions at the beginning. When you get to the end, you want to be as strong as when you first started. Your goal should be to get as many questions right during the last hour as during the first hour. That is a challenge, but you can do it.

3. Concentrate. Never lose your focus. When I talk with candidates, they often tell me about the room being too hot or too cold or that the chair had a squeak or a light had a flicker. That is nonsense. You cannot let small inconveniences distract you from your one true goal. When that exam begins, the only thing that is important is the question you are looking at. To help your concentration, take a break every 30 minutes for a minute or two just to give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries. But the rest of the time, you have to ignore absolutely everything in the world but those questions. I often tell candidates in live review courses: “if the building catches on fire, I want you to be the last person to leave because you did not notice the smoke and flames.”

4. Stay Calm. Success on the CPA exam is important to you and to your career. It is easy to get overly excited, like a young child on Christmas Eve. Such excitement is not helpful. It quickly burns up your internal energy so that you become exhausted before the test is half done. Keep your mind on calm things as you wait to get started. Think about a mountain stream or snow falling or a pleasant melody – whatever works for you. If you were going to pitch in an important baseball game, you would want to be just as calm as possible. The same is true for the CPA Exam. Never clinch your jaw because that is stressful. Stay cool and calm.

5. Have Confidence in your own ability. Believe in yourself. Any doubts that you carry with you into the exam room will hold you back. Put in the study time and you have every reason to believe that you know enough to pass. You won’t make 100 but that is unimportant. You know enough to get 75. Believe that and act that way. In virtually everything you do every day, confidence is helpful. And, that is especially true for the CPA Exam.

Want to maximize your score on the CPA Exam? Remember, the five C's:






Those five will not guarantee that you will pass, but they will help ensure that you get all the points you deserve and that is very likely to be enough to pass!


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