How I Passed All 4 Sections of the CPA Exam in a Span of 3 Months

how to pass the cpa exam in 3 months

This is my official scoresheet from NASBA. Update: I’ve now streamlined this study approach and teach it for free in this online training…

 

 

As you can see in the image above, I passed all 4 sections of the CPA exam in a span of exactly 3 months.

The funny thing is, I’m not exceptionally smart…. in fact I have very average intelligence

(I give a lot of credit to the Review Course I used…

And… to be completely honest, I studied for FAR for a few months and failed it once. So yes, all-in-all, it took me longer than 3 months to pass all 4 sections. But, after failing FAR that first time and experiencing the actual exam, I realized I had studied completely wrong.

And after that, I blew through the 4 sections without failing again, and in 3 months.

Keep reading… I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it.

Study Aids I Used for the CPA Exam

First of all, there is a big misconception out there about which review course is “the best”. Just because you hear about a certain review course the most does not mean it’s the best- especially if you are trying to pass the exams and work at the same time.

To me, the biggest disadvantage to most CPA review courses is that you have to repay for access after a year or so. The reality is, in a lot of cases, life happens and passing all 4 of the sections ends up taking longer than you plan on.

I know several people that have had their access run out and they’ve either had to repay or “bootstrap” their studying. That’s ridiculous.

Anyways… back to what I used.

To study, I used two resources:

Why did I choose CPA Excel?

The 2 main reasons I chose CPAexcel:

  1. Their “Use-it-until-you-pass” Guarantee. Even when they update the course or add new material, you get all the updates for free and never have to pay again- even if it takes you 3 years to pass.
  2. The bite-sized lessons format. Other review courses have everything broken down into just a few extremely long and tedious lectures and lessons.

There are several levels of CPAexcel, and for me I didn’t need the books or any physical study aids, so that saved quite a bit of money. Every line of text that’s in the books is also included in the online lessons. Once I logged in online I didn’t need to use anything else to study. The online study suite for CPA Excel includes the video lectures, actual past CPA questions on each topic with detailed explanations, proficiency questions, flashcards within each mini lesson, slides from the video, the study text, and a student discussion forum for each topic.

What I Did Wrong the First Time

The main thing I did wrong the first time was spend too much time watching videos and “reading” study text. You know how when you’re reading about accounting you’re not really reading?? Your eyes are just following the words down the page but nothing is actually going into your mind?

Well… it’s extremely hard to make any progress if you do that for 10 minutes, then realize it, reset and cuss yourself out, and then end up doing the same thing again. You’ll quickly become burnt out, and you’ll blow your study time for that day and not get anything done. I banged my head against the wall in this fashion leading up to my first attempt at FAR, which I failed like I mentioned.

Not to mention that if you try to learn it all it’s incredibly overwhelming. It is just so much freakin’ information. Especially FAR and REG.

You should only go back and watch video lectures if it’s something that you really don’t understand.

The other big mistake I made was spending a lot of time on the harder topics. I’ll get more into this and what to do instead in the next section…

The Right Way to Study for the CPA Exam

It’s all about doing questions, reading review notes every chance you get, and listening to audio notes constantly.

Over and over and over.

How to use review notes:

You want review notes that you can read on your phone. Then, every time you have 5 minutes, just pull them out and read. Swear off reading news, Facebook, or playing games on your phone until you pass, and replace it with reading your review notes every chance you get. Eating is some of the best secondary study time (meaning besides your core study session each day).

How to use audio notes:

This will be no surprise… get some audio notes on your phone and listen to them constantly. While you’re commuting, riding the bus, working out, walking around, and any other time you’re doing something else.

How To Use Your Main Study Session Each Day

The thing I liked about CPAexcel is that when you’re doing multiple choice questions in study mode (which you’ll almost always want to stay in), you can click each answer and see why that specific choice is either right or wrong. Looking at a question and making an attempt at it and then seeing that you’re right or wrong and why is a much, much easier way to learn versus reading or watching videos.

Here’s a big tip: as you go through the multiple choice questions, you’ll come across “key pieces of information”… this might be a type of question that you keep missing, it might be one little rule or formula that would help you answer lots of questions on the topic, or any form of something that you just feel like you should write down.

The problem with taking notes the normal way is that no one ever goes back and looks at their notes. The right way to use these “key pieces of information” is to enter them into Brainscape as flashcards. Brainscape is a free service, and once you’ve created a deck for a CPA exam section, you just need to download the Brainscape app on your phone and any new cards you create or other changes will automatically sync so that you can study on your phone whenever you want. Creating these flashcards of “key info” is a critical step.

Another Secret Weapon: Use the Mobile App!

Once you’ve purchased CPAexcel, you can download the mobile app from the App store, enter your login details, and use the app for free. The CPAexcel mobile app is awesome. I used it all the time.

The “Quick Quiz” feature is money. I liked to have it set to 5 questions at a time. In your app settings, you choose which exam section to pull questions from for your “quick quizzes”, and then whenever you have 5 minutes, you just open a quick quiz and you’re instantly studying.

I mean, the CPA exam sucks… it’s a ton of work and it’s hard. So you need to commit yourself to spending every spare second you have to just studying and thinking about it so that you can get it done and out of your life.

That’s where the mobile app comes in… on the bus, waiting in line, that 5-10 minutes before you actually fall asleep, right when you wake up… do a quick quiz. Or do several.

Using review notes, audio notes, and the CPAexcel mobile app throughout each day was what made the biggest difference for me.

You do still need the videos…

But, you will still need the study text and video lectures… here’s why: as you go along doing questions, you’ll start to wonder yourself how things actually tie together on a certain topic, or you’ll realize you need to memorize a key piece of information… when that happens, you’ll go to the study text or video lecture to figure it out, but because YOU’RE actually looking for the answer you’ll remember it the first time.

The other time you’ll need the videos and study text is when you run into a topic that you just don’t know yet at all.

My Biggest Secret to Passing So Quickly

In CPAexcel, you can generate practice tests of comprehensive questions. Doing comprehensive practice tests of 30 questions over and over is the absolute best way to spend your time.

The reason is, you end up seeing the questions proportionally.

That means that you'll see question on topics in the same approximate proportion that you'd see on the real exam. The reason this works so well is that you end up mastering the stuff that is the most likely to show up on the exam. The really hard topics that only make up 2-3% of the questions don't really matter.

But what most people do is they spend hours trying master the hard topics and that's not what will make or break your score.

So... again, in CPAexcel, using the test builder, generate comprehensive practice exams of 30 questions at a time and do them over and over. When you're reviewing your answers, create flashcards of the ones you missed using Brainscape.

Then when you're about a week out, go through all the flashcards you made and master them, and keep doing the sets of 30-question-practice-exams.

That's how to pass the CPA exams quickly with the minimum amount of study time.

What to Do A Week Before You Sit

And here’s the final secret. So you’ve plowed through every topic and done hundreds and hundreds of questions and created a deck of Brainscape flashcards.

The week before you take the exam, you need to go through your flashcards and as you look at each one, try to write out the answer. Simply go through your flashcards over and over again until you can write out the answer to every single card correctly the first time. If you go through these steps, you’ll have a much higher chance of passing than if you studied the “traditional way”. I hope this helps or at least gives you some ideas!

Other articles you might like:

Are Watching the Lectures Worth Your Time?

My Full Review of CPAexcel…

Which CPA Exam is the Hardest?…

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Have a question or comment? Ask away below...

27 Comments

  • minal

    Reply Reply May 7, 2014

    very helpful but that you can do with any study material.
    Is cpa excel is same as another 71 or ninja?

  • admin

    Reply Reply May 8, 2014

    Hi Minal- CPA excel is much more complete than the materials you’ll find at another71.

    Another71 has good supplemental material, but the only thing I used was CPAexcel.

  • Nichole

    Reply Reply May 15, 2014

    Thank you for posting this. I bought the Roger info, which uses the wiley test bank, and thought ‘ok. If I can get through all the videos, read the books, and get at least a 80 on each wiley section then I will pass’. Yeah…no. Starting with FAR seemed like a great idea but I didn’t feel I was ready. So I studied for months and became a zombie…74…So i bought the Roger Cram and the Ninja notes….74..again…I was so sure I would pass so I had started on to REG using the same method thinking…’I do taxes for a living. Reg won’t be bad’…73…Kinda gave up after that. This seems like a much better way of doing things. Thank you.

    • admin

      Reply Reply June 25, 2014

      Thanks for reading Nichole. I also failed FAR my first time with a 74- brutal.

      Yeah I really think a lot of people make it too hard. You just need to pound questions and forget about trying to actually learn everything from the lessons… because that’s impossible.

      If you hammer the questions you’ll kind of see topics in the same proportion you’ll see them on the exam and you’ll have the most exposure to the most common topics on the exam.

  • Ashley

    Reply Reply May 21, 2014

    Okay, so How long, time wise did you study for each part (hours, days)? did you do this routine every day? you said you have “very average” intelligence, but passing all four parts in three months is exceptional in my opinion. how did you do in college classes and which part did you find the hardest? i’m assuming FAR since you failed it once before passing. i am just graduating and trying to register as soon as possible, so these tips are very helpful. thanks for answering!

    • admin

      Reply Reply May 21, 2014

      Ashley-

      My main routine was to get up at 4:30 or 5am and study for two hours before work.

      After work I didn’t have the mental horsepower to actually study simulations or multiple choice, so I did easy stuff like flashcards.

      I feel like the mobile app was what really bridged the gap for me- anytime I had even 2 or 3 extra minutes, I would do a 5 question “quick quiz” on the app- so dozens of those everyday really added up.

      I actually thought REG has the hardest material. FAR has the most topics, but most accounting classes you have in your undergraduate program relate more to FAR-type topics than REG.

      I really failed FAR the first time because I studied completely wrong. Once I saw the test in person it dawned on me how to study the next time and that’s when things clicked.

      Also, about 10 days out from each test day I crammed like a fiend- tons of multiple choice questions and reviewing all of my own flash cards I had created.

      I hope that helps.

  • Nate Ibrahim

    Reply Reply May 24, 2014

    i’m currently enrolled in a review program which isn’t cpaexcel. So im stuck in it for a while. What’s the quick way to benefit from cpaexcel with the least cost? would paying a premium for the test bank and flash cards help do the job? Please advice! 🙂

    • admin

      Reply Reply May 28, 2014

      Hey Nate- The best bang for your buck would probably to get access to just the CPAexcel Test Bank.

      Then you can just hammer through questions, which to me is the most beneficial thing you can do. The flashcards would be a good add-on, it’s just up to you if you think they’d be helpful.

  • Dylan B.

    Reply Reply June 24, 2014

    Hey, I am very interested in the mobile app and i was wondering whats the cheapest way to just have access to all the mobile apps quick quizzes and study material? Thank you for your time.

    • admin

      Reply Reply June 24, 2014

      Hi Dylan- To have mobile app access to everything, you would need the Silver Course.

      The Silver Course gives you access to all the electronic study materials- there’s just no physical textbooks.

  • Luis

    Reply Reply June 24, 2014

    I recently graduated from college and I will like to take the CPA exam. But in order to do that first I need a job to save up money for the reviews and the test. How much was your total expenses? And if I wait until I gather the money, will I be to late? I am just scared I will forget stuff.

    • admin

      Reply Reply June 25, 2014

      Hi Luis-

      I bought the Gold course and it was right around $1200. Like I mention in my CPAexcel review, if I personally was doing it over I would just go with the Silver course because I never used the physical textbooks.

      To answer your question: You’re smart to realize that the more time goes on, the harder passing the exams will take. While forgetting the stuff you learned in college is a factor, to me it was more about getting it done while I was still in that college mode of studying and then taking exams.

      There’s several people I work with who put it off and it’s been 3 or 4 years now and they just can’t even seem to start the studying process.

      The nice thing about CPAexcel is that your access never expires until you pass. I’d say getting your CPA license is a great investment in your future, so purchase a review course when you can and start going through lessons.

  • Eric

    Reply Reply August 8, 2014

    Hello, Thank you for the information. Im Interested to get CPA Excel app for Android. But, the app seems outdated. what else do you recommend I do, or should i use the app. I think it hasn’t been updated on the play store since 2012. And im taking Audit exam Aug. 30th. I want to make sure im getting the best and updated material. Is there another app to use?

    • admin

      Reply Reply August 9, 2014

      Hi Eric- the app works fine. It’s tied into the CPAexcel site so it’s not so much about the actual app on your phone. Really the app is just a framework that let’s you view an optimized version of the site.

      Anyways- I don’t have another app I’d recommend. If you’ve purchased a CPAexcel course, you just download the app and put in your username and password it gives you access to all the questions and flashcards.

      Hope that helps.

  • FutureCPA

    Reply Reply August 9, 2014

    Do you think the CPA Excel Study Guide would be a useful purchase?

    • admin

      Reply Reply August 9, 2014

      Do you mean just the physical textbooks? Such as from Amazon.com?

      I think you could study that way- I just highly prefer the actual course because all of those premium study materials are at your fingertips all in one place. Instead of holding your spot where the answers are in the back of the book and flipping back and forth, you can just focus on answering questions if you have the full course.

      Just the study guide is a huge money-saver obviously, but that’s probably the main benefit.

      • FutureCPA

        Reply Reply August 9, 2014

        Not sure if it’s the text book on amazon. I plan to get one of the packages, but when I go to the CPA excel website there is a drop down for course supplements and this is where I see the study guide. So thought this would something additional one might get on top of the course

        • admin

          Reply Reply August 9, 2014

          Ok gotcha- yeah I went and looked at them. I think they are essentially a paper version of the “core materials” that would come with any of the main course packages. So I would say if you’re going to purchase either the Platinum, Gold, or Silver course you could skip the study guide. The Platinum course comes with everything that CPAexcel offers- which again, I think the core study materials contain everything the study guides have and more.

          • FutureCPA

            August 9, 2014

            Got it. Thanks. Also do you think their flash cards and focus notes are suffice or do you advise making your own?

          • admin

            August 9, 2014

            I used the flashcards a lot, but you’ll also want to make your own that you write out in your own words as you go through the study process.

            The focus notes are new and they didn’t have them when I used the course- they’re mostly for having all the formulas, acronyms, and mnemonics all in one place. So they sound like a great supplement to have.

  • FutureCPA

    Reply Reply August 10, 2014

    Hey I had another quick question. I don’t plan to sign audit reports so is there really a point to get a license vs just getting a cpa certificate?

    • Nate

      Reply Reply August 10, 2014

      I would say it’s worth getting your actual license. It seems like even the states that are two-tier are planning on moving to just a license and not a certificate.

  • FutureCPA

    Reply Reply August 17, 2014

    If you are approved to sit for an exam in one state, for example Colorado and if you want to transfer to another state like Montana, do you have to resubmit your transcripts so the Montana board can determine your eligibility to sit for the exam?

  • Justine Martinez

    Reply Reply September 17, 2014

    Hi I just wanted to get your thoughts on Becker review since I see you have used CPAexcel and reviewed a few others. My job will only pay for Becker and i want to know if you feel your tips transfer across.

    • Nate

      Reply Reply October 10, 2014

      Hi Justine-

      I think Becker is fine. It can definitely teach you everything you need to know. If your firm is paying for Becker, great. For people paying for their review course on their own, CPAexcel is a much better value.

  • Daniel

    Reply Reply January 18, 2015

    Hey,

    I just purchased CPAWiley Platinum and I am studying 3-4 hours a day doing everything the lesson plan and sometimes it is just mind numbing. I read what you did, and just taking the Past Exam Questions, Diagnostic Exam, and Comprehensive Exam will prepare a person for the test? I would love to take the test at the end of the month (January 30). Just a little guidance would be great.

    Dan

    • Nate

      Reply Reply January 19, 2015

      Hi Daniel-

      Thanks for the comment.

      I didn’t use the diagnostic exam. I just went through the exam questions in practice mode for each lesson, but I would try to understand each question and the answers before I moved to the next question. For me this was much faster than reading the chapter (which is definitely mind-numbing), watching the lecture… blah, blah, blah…

      I detail exactly how I studied in my Superfast CPA course if you want to copy my strategies.

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