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Master the CPA Exam With an Online Master’s in Accounting

20 Dec
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After you’ve earned your degree, passing the Certified Public Account (CPA) exam is the only obstacle to becoming a licensed CPA. It’s a rigorous exam that may require hundreds of hours of studying. Since approximately half of the test-takers fail on their first attempt, you’ll want to go into the exam well-prepared.1

This post will cover the structure of the CPA exam and study tips and strategies that will help you pass. In addition to exam prep, learn more about how a top master’s program, like William & Mary’s Online Master of Accounting, can ensure you are well-prepared to take the CPA exam and pass on your first attempt.

Exam Requirements for the CPA Exam

The exam is offered only four times per year, once per quarter, and you must pass all four sections within 18 months.2 Understanding the exam requirements, including how to register, the application process, and the exam structure, will help you avoid overlooking any important details.

Eligibility Requirements

The eligibility requirements and procedures for sitting for the CPA exam differ by state. Check with your state’s board of accountancy to get the most up-to-date requirements. Most states require at least the following from CPA candidates:3

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • A certain number of accounting and business courses
  • 150 hours of coursework, which is more than most bachelor’s degrees require
  • Minimum age of 18
  • Residency status

Application Process

You’ll start the process by submitting an application through your state’s board of accountancy. Each state has its own application procedure and required documentation. The total cost for the CPA exam will be between $2,000 and $5,500. This includes the cost of the application, exam, re-exam and review course.4

Exam Structure

The 2024 exam will consist of four sections, and you’ll be given a testing window of four hours to complete each one, following the “Core Plus Discipline” format. This is a change from the 2023 format, which consisted of four set sections. The three required sections for the 2024 exam are:5

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

Additionally, you’ll choose one of the following sections as your discipline area:

  • Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)
  • Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
  • Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)

Study Tips and CPA Exam Prep

Taking a structured approach to exam preparation will optimize your studying and increase your chances of passing. Though 16 hours of testing may sound daunting, the following tips will help you implement an effective plan to comprehensively cover the exam's content.

Establish a Study Schedule

You can expect to study for 350 to 450 hours in total for the CPA exam. Since you’ll be investing so many hours into preparation, you want to ensure you invest your time wisely. Create a study plan that realistically fits into your day-to-day schedule. It’s a good idea to set aside 20 to 25 hours per week for studying.6

Create a Study Plan

The CPA exam covers a lot of material. Begin by breaking down the syllabus into manageable parts, focusing on one exam section at a time. Allocate more time to the topics you find challenging and less to those you’re comfortable with so you won’t waste your time studying subjects you already know. Set specific goals for each study session, such as mastering a particular topic or completing a set of practice questions. Regularly review and adjust your study plan based on your progress and understanding of the material.7

Use Test-Prep Resources and Practice Tests

The official CPA exam blueprints will give you an idea of what you need to know for each exam section. The blueprints are published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which administers the exam. They’re put out once or twice a year and are an ideal starting point for organizing your study plan.8 Because of the time pressure involved and the amount of material you’ll have to study, it’s usually worth it to invest in a reputable study class.9

You can also search online for practice tests or practice questions to give yourself a chance to get a feel for the format ahead of sitting down for the actual exam. Taking practice exams or taking the time to review questions can also do wonders for putting your nerves at ease on test day.

Test Strategies for the CPA Exam

After all of your studying, you should be well-prepared and confident on test day. During the test itself, the following strategies will allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and not get tripped up by technicalities.

Time Management Techniques

You’ll have only four hours for each test section, so an effective time management strategy is essential. Begin by understanding the time allocation for each part of the exam. Task-based simulations generally require more time than multiple-choice questions. Practice under timed conditions to get a feel for the pace you need to maintain. During the exam, keep a close eye on the clock and spend your time wisely. Try to spend less than three minutes on each multiple-choice question and 12 to 15 minutes on each task-based simulation and written communication question.10

Approaches for Different Question Types

Tailor your strategy by question type, since each one is structured differently. You must answer multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations and written communication questions. Not all of them are graded, but you won’t know which ones count and which ones don’t.11

  • Multiple-choice questions: A good strategy is to read each question carefully and try to answer it in your mind before looking at the provided options. Eliminate obviously incorrect answers to improve your chances of selecting the right one. Practice multiple-choice questions regularly to familiarize yourself with their patterns and to improve your ability to quickly identify the key points in a question. There’s no penalty for guessing, so make sure to answer every question
  • Task-based simulations: Focus on organizing your response in a logical, clear manner. Pay attention to the details provided, as they often contain clues as to the correct approach
  • Written communication: The written communication tasks require you to write clear, professional, and concise responses. Practice structuring your answers with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. Focus on staying on topic and addressing the specific question asked12

Prepare to Become a Certified Public Accountant With an Online Master’s in Accounting From William & Mary

With William & Mary’s prestigious Online Master of Accounting program, you’ll get a top-tier accounting education, learning the skills you need to become a leader in the accounting industry and pass the CPA exam. Our program’s CPA exam first-attempt pass rate is in the 90th percentile, as ranked by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Whether your ambitions lie in public or corporate accounting, you could be prepared to sit for the CPA exam and advance your career in as few as 16 months.

Take the CPA exam with confidence. This specialized online master’s program helps you practice and refine the skills you need to pass the exam, and it also helps you progress toward fulfilling your CPA coursework requirements. If you need additional coursework beyond your graduate degree to complete your 150 hours, you’ll be eligible to take any of our online courses across programs based on availability and instructor approval.

Get started on the path to earning your CPA. Schedule a call with a helpful admissions outreach advisor today.