The Certified Public Accountant, or CPA exam, represents a standard test requirement for anyone who wants to earn a license to practice accounting as an independent account professional. While a person can still work within organizations as an accounting employee, the CPA licensing provides both an independent certification of skill for promotion as well as the ability for the accountant to work on his own as an independent professional and business. As a result, the exam passing and related license can very important for a number of reasons.

Understand Individual State Requirements

The CPA exam has a number of requirements in each state, so it’s critical for an applicant to first understand what those specifications are before getting started (different state requirements). This ensures that an applicant has the right prerequisites taken care of ahead of time before getting started with the studying phase in a given jurisdiction. Requirements can include a college degree or a certain number of credits taken in college-level accounting classes, personal references for recommendations, or accounting-related work experience. Some states also require a minimum number of ethics courses as well.

The Exam Structure and Start

Along with criteria, an applicant also needs to understand the nature of the exam as well. The CPA is available in four sections, so an applicant needs to apply to the American Institute of CPAs for the sections he wants to test. Once started, the applicant has a year and half to complete all four parts. When approved, the AICPA will then provide exam seat numbers to the applicant to take the CPA testing at a local testing facility. This is usually at a participating university location. With a testing number provided, then begins the studying phase.

Study Preparation, Tools and Method

Preparing for the CPA exam is not suggested as a do-it-yourself home affair. Many students often take a preparation program or course to help gain an advantage in testing performance. However, there are plenty of training programs available. That doesn’t mean they are actually beneficial. Further, these programs can be very expensive with no guarantee of positive results. Other options include books, films, and software. They use similar techniques but require far more self-discipline to complete the training. Three of the leading training programs include:

• Bisk – The BISK CPA Review offers both a guided review program as well as a self-learning option with online training courses. Each program can be ordered independently, and the company has been providing CPA training since 1971 (
• Gleim – Gleim is a multi-exam training service, covering a variety of accounting-related licensing tests from regular CPA work to internal auditing and tax preparation. However, it’s products are entirely geared for self-training using books, software, DVDs, and online videos (
• Kaplan – The Kaplan CPA Review is another program offered by a big name in standardized test training. Kaplan offers a self-training package with books, software and online support (

Many students use a combination of a training course as well as companion book and software. Because the CPA exam itself can be long as well as broken into a number of sections, it involves an incredible amount of preparation. It’s not enough to understand accounting as a subject, a person needs to understand the testing methods used and how to pass them as well. Practice exams, training on the psychology on the exam process, and getting information from exam veterans who’ve been through the process and stress experience. All three of these factors together provide the best approach to a CPA exam.

Timing the Study Work

In terms of studying itself, many suggest focusing on one exam section at a time. There are four sections total in the CPA exam, regardless of the state it is taken in. This approach follows a salami-slice mastering of the exam versus trying to absorb everything all at once. However, all agree a student can’t study enough. The more familiarity a student has with a section area, the more comfortable he will be during the exam itself. Since an applicant has 18 months from the start to complete the exam process and all four parts, going section by section with heavy studying makes more sense in retrospect.

Actually passing the CPA exam only requires a score of 75 in each section. However, many feel like they flunked the exam during the process because it can mentally grueling. In fact, a number of successful test-takers will see their best score in the first section and lower scores going forward due to exhaustion. That said, all one needs to do is pass to gain a CPA, so ultimately that’s the focus one should always have, no matter how hard a section test may feel. It is doable; thousands have passed and gained their CPA licensing.