CPA Exam Test Taking Strategies

After studying my butt off and passing the CFP® exam, I have no desire on taking another test again.


There was a brief moment (about 2 seconds to be exact) where I thought about taking the CPA exam.

Then reality set in and I have looked back ever since.

Previously, I shared Amber’s personal story on how she passed the CPA exam and became an accountant.

Better her than I.  :)

Today, I have a guest post from Bisk Education on proven CPA exam test taken strategies.

So if you’re brave enough to sit for the CPA exam, this post is for you.  Enter Bisk…..


Have you been deeply embroiled in a CPA exam review course?

You’ve probably done nothing but eat, breathe and sleep accounting for months.

If you are feeling confident about the subject material but are still looking for ideas on how to best navigate the actual test-taking process, these tips are for you.

The CPA exam is a notoriously difficult test; according to published pass rates, most people fail.

So learning and following some basic tricks of the exam-taking trade can be just the edge you need to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

First, don’t spend the 24 hours before your exam frantically cramming in a nonsensical (or even sensical) fashion. Most experts recommend spending about 500 hours studying over the course of four to six months before sitting for the CPA exam. If you’ve followed their advice, you know this stuff. Don’t stress yourself out and jumble your orderly, educated brain. Your time in the final hours before the test is much better spent eating healthy and sleeping well. At least eight hours is ideal.

The morning of the exam, focus on the necessary logistics.

  • Do you know how to get to the testing center?
  • Is your car gassed up?
  • Do you have the necessary forms of ID?
  • Have you laid out a comfortable outfit?

Remember, you must enter the testing room with only the clothes on your back, and they have to stay on your back. If you are too warm, that sweater can’t just be shed and flopped over your chair. You have to sign out of the room, put the sweater in your assigned locker and sign back in – a waste of precious time.

Budget Your Time

Once you have handled the basic tasks that provide for your mental and physical well-being during the exam, the most important thing you can do is budget your time wisely. Time management is the essential key to passing the CPA exam. The trick is to weigh the amount of time it takes to complete a multiple choice testlet with how long it takes to do a task-based simulation (TBS), but in managing your time, always be guided by how much each is worth in the scoring matrix.

Let’s put that theory into practice. In three sections of the CPA exam – Auditing & Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG) – the multiple choice questions are worth 60% of your score, while the task-based simulations make up the remaining 40%. Given that, you’d want to spend roughly 60% (or just under 2.5 hours) of a 4 hour test on the multiple choice testlet and the rest on the task-based simulation testlet.

In the final section of the exam, Business Environment & Concepts (BEC), the multiple choice testlets are worth 85% and the written communication exercises only 15%. Since it only takes 75 points to pass any section, if you did exceptionally well on the multiple choice questions, you could skip the written communication tasks. It’s not recommended, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind when budgeting your time.

Familiarize Yourself with the CPA Exam Format

In addition to taking care of yourself and managing your time, the third leg of the CPA exam success stool is to be familiar to the point of comfort with the exam format and software. Any quality CPA review course’s materials should help you accomplish that, but also spend as much time as possible reading through the AICPA website for the official CPA exam tutorial and sample tests. If you’ve done both those things you know a couple hard-and-fast rules of the CPA Exam game :

  •  The multiple-choice question testlets must be completed before you are allowed to proceed to the task-based simulations or, in the case of the BEC, the written communication tasks.
  • You can jump around within a testlet, skipping back to previous questions and ahead again, but once you’ve closed out of that testlet, there is no going back. It is a fait accompli, as they say. In fact, because every section of the exam except the BEC is adaptive, you’ve already been graded on that completed testlet to the extent that your performance has determined how difficult the next set of questions will be.

Within the parameters of those two immutable facts, here are a few quick and dirty strategies to increase your chances of success:

  • Double Read & Double Check: Be sure to read each question and all the possible answers thoroughly at least twice to ensure that you understand what the examiner is looking for. The AICPA Board of Examiners isn’t above being tricky, and it’s easy to overlook a “not” or some similar word that completely changes the meaning of the question. In the same vein, be sure to re-check your calculations in all TBSs.
  • Cherry-Picking is Acceptable: There’s nothing wrong with grabbing that low-hanging fruit first. Within every testlet, answer easy questions first and come back to the more difficult ones later. They are all worth the same amount of points anyway, and this plan of attack may just bolster your confidence. This technique can be particularly helpful in the TBS testlets. Scan quickly through each of the 6 or 7 simulations and decide which ones you can knock out of the park quickly and effectively.
  • Keep Moving: If you get stuck on a question, skip it and move on. Agonizing over one thing for too long will only serve to frustrate you and undermine your confidence. Besides, by moving forward, you just might uncover a tip or some factoid that triggers your brain to recall the necessary information within a subsequent question.

Don’t Let TBSs Psych You Out

Task-based simulations – they just sound vastly more difficult than multiple choice questions. But you’ve taken your sample tests. You know that when you strip them down, they are just word problems testing your comprehension – drop-down menus, spreadsheets, fill-in-the-blanks, true-or-false, and maybe a chance to showcase your Internet research skills. You can do this!

In summary, it goes without saying that no amount of test-taking strategy can replace good, old-fashioned exam prep. Certainly don’t depend on it to do so. However, it is only logical to stack the deck in your favor by implementing these common sense tactics. In a difficult, high-stakes test like the CPA Exam, any leg-up you can get may mean the difference between a passing and failing score!


Get the Money Dominating Toolkit

  • 6 Tools to Get Your Money Back on Track
  • The Ultimate Goal Achiever Workbook
  • 2 Free Chapters to my Best Selling Book
  • 21 Days to Destroy Your Bad Habits Worksheet

Comments | 4 Responses

  1. says

    CPA exam was definitely a beast. I used the Yaeger program and studied through their whole course and passed it first time all 4 parts. However, I do really well on tests so that probably had part to do with it. These are some pretty good tips.

  2. Ricahrd Baldini says

    I do not do well on test so I am nervous. I also had a hard time deciding on which review class to take. I choose Becker CPA over Rogers CPA hence my name. So far Becker has been good. I am studying my bum off.

  3. Chelsea says

    “Cherry-Picking is Acceptable… They are all worth the same amount of points anyway”

    This is really bad advice and is patently untrue. Harder questions are, in fact, worth more than easier questions.

    The following is directly from the AICPA: “Multiple-choice testlets vary in difficulty—there are two levels that are labeled “medium” and “difficult.” Within the testlets, items often vary substantially in their difficulty levels, but across testlets, those labeled “difficult” contain harder questions on average than testlets labeled “medium.” Every candidate receives a medium testlet first. Succeeding testlets can be either medium or difficult, depending on a candidate’s performance (for more information about multi-stage testing, see FAQ #3, below). The scoring procedures take the difficulty of all questions into account so that candidates are scored fairly regardless of the difficulty of the testlets they take. “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>