CPA Exam: What Order should I take them?

This question comes up very often in the accounting forums and from my friends who are looking to start their CPA journey.  Over the years I have heard many different strategies and advice.  Each candidate is different and this strategy worked for me…

I am the type of person would give up on exams after failing the first,  and needed momentum, motivation to keep moving forward.  I also lacked confidence and discipline.  I chose a ‘lighter topic’ if you look at the Wiley Books, Auditing is smaller than FAR and REG, but a little bigger than BEC.  Audit was my first choice because I also heard it was very tricky and alot of candidates cannot pass it without auditing backgrounds.  My exposure to auditing was 1 class, and working with external auditors.  I needed a pass to motivate me to study harder.  Being out of school for 10 years I have lost my good study habits and could not sit still for 2 hours or more.  Audit was the perfect choice.  It was ‘hard’ for me, but it was easy to study for.  Audit is mostly memorization and the multiple choice questions (MCQ) are based off of theory, not calculation.  Its so much easier to do 200 Audit questions than 200 FAR questions.  I didn’t have to commit crazy hours into preparation.  I put in about 4 weeks of studying for AUD.  This was BS studying too.  Reading and doing MCQ while checking facebook, web surfing, texting friends etc!  Unfocused with many distractions.

Some people suggest taking the hardest first like FAR or REG because once you pass those, the 18 month clock starts ticking.   This advice doesn’t work for me.  I could not dedicate the long hours and hard work into these sections without some kind of motivation.  I also did not have the discipline to sit and study for over 2 hours every night.  My first pass in auditing energized me, revitialized me, and motivated me beyond any words that can be written or described.  This started a train that could not stop and would not stop!!!  If I had half assed FAR or REG and failed, I would’ve given up, and would not be a CPA today.  I would’ve been discrouraged because I lacked motivation, momentum, discipline, and confidence.  Whats so hard about passing audit twice if the clock runs out?  Imagine passing FAR and REG, but can’t pass BEC or AUD?  It happens to many candidates.  I read many blogs about CPA candidates and some of them can’t seem to pass BEC or AUD, but can Pass FAR & REG.  Google The Cooking Accountant, this poster failed BEC 6 times and that was her last one.  Another71.com’s web master named the site after getting 3 consecutive 71s on BEC.  So the take the ‘Hardest’ – FAR or REG strategy in my opinion sucks.  First you have to commit many hours into studying, if you do not have the confidence and discipline its going to be really hard to commit those kind of hours.  The difference in my own study habits was so contrasting.  For audit, I could not study more than 2 hrs a day, by the time I took FAR I could easily study 3-12 hours.  I was like a machine!

After the first pass I chose REG next.  I heard REG either is the hardest or 2nd hardest.  I also had limited taxation and law exposure.  I worked in corporate accounting in general accounting departments for years so FAR for me was my ‘easiest’.  Since I passed audit, I was on a natural high and had so much confidence and studied REG really hard and pulled a score in the high 80s!  I put in long hours of study, multiple choice questions and even studied while on vacation!  Without the audit pass my REG study habits would’ve been shot.

I chose BEC next.  In 2011 the CPA exam was going to change and I wanted to take BEC just to see how I do.  I only had 3 weeks to prepare for BEC… I already knew I had passed REG before my BEC exam so I knew even if I had failed I would feel good going into the new year being 50% done with the CPA.  I had a hellish 3 weeks.  No breaks, only one night off which was to watch Harry Potter 7 pt 1, which happened to be the same day after I received my kick ass REG score :)…my second pass in REG turbo charged me to study even harder.  I was putting in 5 hour nights after work!  Imagine coming home after work and straight up studying for 5 hrs till midnight-1 am every night???  Would a candidate with nothing to build on do this?  I doubt it.  During my BEC studies I learned these ‘awesome’ terminator style study habits.  I pulled off a score in the low 80s for BEC! 

As the end of the year came, I felt so good.  My new years resolution for the past 10 years or so since I graduated college has been to pass the CPA exam…My new years resolution for the first time ever was to pass 1 more part of CPA, and to get the license!  I prepared 8 weeks for FAR in the intense terminator style studying like BEC, in the last 4 weeks.  FAR has so much material to cover.  I knew this might be the ‘hardest’ but I had so much motivation and put in every effort to pass this on the first time.  Even if I didn’t pass this on the first time, I wouldve had 5 windows to pass before my Audit would’ve expired.  This was my last chance, my last shot to seize everything I ever wanted!  I used the song “Lose yourself” by Eminiem as my theme song for FAR.  So I passed FAR with a score in the upper 70s. 

So this is order I took the CPA exam in…

AUDIT – 4 weeks of crappy studying. 

REG – 7 weeks of studying (5 crappy weeks 2 intense weeks)

BEC – 3 weeks of studying (3 weeks intense!)

FAR – 8 weeks of studying (4 weeks intense!)

Audit & BEC were very easy to study for.  Study = reading/memorizing and most importantly multiple choice practice and simulation practice.  BEC did have some crazy cost accounting and inventory calculation problems that did take a long time to do, but REG and FAR had much more.

Its been about 1 year since I got my last passing CPA exam score and I’ll never forget it as one of my happiest moments in my life.

HERBERT QUIONG, CPA, CGMA

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About Herbert Quiong, CPA, CGMA

CPA from New York & Member of the AICPA View all posts by Herbert Quiong, CPA, CGMA

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