Becoming a CPA is not an easy task mainly because of the CPA test. The CPA pass rates for the exam have been right around 50% for the past few years. This might be discouraging to some but proper planning can help you get past this initial discouragement. When planning around the CPA there are many questions that you have to ask yourself. One of these questions is which CPA exam to take first. Let’s see if I can help you answer that question by taking you through my own trials and tribulations.
Questions to ask before you start your journey
People struggle with questions like:
- What review courses to use to help them with the exam
- Where should they study?
- When should they study?
- Who should they study with?
People also struggle with the question of which CPA exam sections are the easiest and which to take first.
What was my decision?
The answer for me as far as which test to take first was REG. I decided this because REG is related to tax, and tax was the area I was specializing in at school (I was getting a masters in taxation). I should also mention that I took two parts of the CPA exam while I was still in school, and I took the other two parts while I was working a full time job as a public accountant at one of the big 4 accounting firms.
You remember how I said I took REG first because it was my specialty — I got an 87 on REG and was immediately flying through the roof with excitement. I was saying things like, “Hey this will be like all other standardized tests that I take — a piece of cake”. That did not last long! I took BEC next and got a 77 on that exam, but I did not study much for it because I heard it was easy. Since I didn’t study much for it, I was convinced that this was just a minor hiccup on my road to CPA success.
FAR and AUD Sections of CPA Exam
Let’s move on to the next two CPA exam parts — Audit and FAR. Out of those two CPA exam sections, I decided to take FAR first because I felt like I just needed to get that out of the way to prevent my other sections from expiring. If I saved FAR for last and couldn’t pass it right away, I did not want to risk the section expiring. Needless to say, I failed FAR the first time. I was completely devastated.
What made it worse was that I used one of the more popular CPA reviews courses on the market. My firm paid thousands of dollars for this course so why didn’t it make get me that passing grade? Well I was determined to hunker down and pass it now. I wasn’t going to let some standardized test get the better of me. Boy was I wrong again. This was about the time that being an associate in a public accounting firm hit me like a stack of bricks. Being full time and in busy season drained all my energy and free time. I struggled getting through the FAR study materials as they were so boring and long. I failed once again. DARN!
I was completely devastated now. I tried to dedicate more time to the test the third time around, but I could only squeeze a few extra hours of studying in, and I finally passed with a 75. Man that was exhausting. Lastly, I took AUD and received a 76, much to my chagrin. I underestimated the CPA exam and barely squeezed by on all the parts. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Plan which section to take first!
What can you learn from my experience about the which CPA exam section to take first? As you can see from my struggles that you should take whatever section you anticipate to be the hardest for you during a time frame where you have the most flexibility in your schedule. You need to have enough time to study for the section that will be the hardest for you. If you don’t have time in your schedule right now, then don’t take the hardest section for you. Take the easiest section instead – whatever section that may be. FAR was the hardest section for me because I did not take that many advanced accounting courses in college. I focused all my graduate studies in tax. If all your focus in school was on financial accounting, then FAR would probably be your strongest. You might consider taking FAR when your schedule is a little less flexible.
If you use my story and guidelines, you should be able to determine which CPA exam section you should take first.