How to Become a CPA in Less Than Nine Months

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-12-16-36-amI was 23 and ready for freedom.

Well, that didn’t happen. I signed up to take one of the most rigorous exams in the world and my life as I knew it would be on hold. I wanted to become a Certified Public Accountant and was going to do whatever it would take in order to get it–even if it meant changing my voicemail message to say, “Sorry I’m not available at this time. I will call you next year when I’m a CPA.”

And if you ask me about my dating life, I would have to say that it was pretty much non-existent. I was single and didn’t have time to mingle. I used the Becker online course to study for my exam and tried to be an obedient student. My online instructor, Peter Olinto, said, “Friday nights are not date nights for you anymore. It’s me, you, and these CPA materials. Keep staring at the book. This is your new Friday night date. You better start getting comfortable with it…fast!” All I could say was, “Yes sir! Books before boys.” And yes it was hard to stay focused. I was 23 years old. It was my prime time to date and I couldn’t even engage in meaningful conversations beyond the CPA exam. So, I looked for help.

I got an accountability partner in order to stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize. I also didn’t want to endure this brutal process alone while trying to maintain my sanity with everything else going on in my life. It was 2009 and I had just started working at one of the largest financial services firms during the midst of the credit crisis–and there wasn’t any sympathy for me because I was a recent college graduate. I was one of the “lucky ones” who had the chance to work in the Commercial Bank Controllers Group Credit Costs department. Long hours, new financial lingo, and the only millennial in a sea of Gen X’ers, Y’ers, and Baby Boomers. I had an incredible group of colleagues who helped me to navigate this new environment, but that didn’t stop me from going home thinking, “What did I get myself into? Can I really do this?”

My friend from China, Nuan, kept me going when I started to doubt myself and the ability to balance a new work life and CPA prep life. We studied every day in the DePaul University Library from 7-11PM. Weekends weren’t a chance to refresh and rejuvenate; it was an extended study time. Since the DePaul Library wasn’t open early morning on the weekends, we found ourselves paying for fast food snacks just so we could have a place to study. We reviewed the recorded lessons together, asked each other questions to really understand the material, quizzed each other on important concepts, and found creative ways to memorize the material through song and dance.

All of that focus paid off quickly for Nuan. She passed all four exams in less than six months with impressive scores above 85% across all study areas. Her CPA victory meant that she was going back home to China; I was going to lose my CPA buddy and one of the only people that I had a chance to speak to every day. I didn’t know if I could continue this journey alone, especially since the last two exams that I needed to pass were my weakest areas.

Always remember this: when one door closes, another one opens–this also applies to people. This person may be completely different from the last person, but they have something uniquely valuable that will prove to be a gem on your journey. Nuan introduced me to LaShonda–an experienced accounting professional seeking to become a CPA–who cracked the whip on me whenever I thought about skipping a study day. I was becoming restless. After a strict five-month schedule, I started to enroll in dance classes and dedicated less time to studying. LaShonda turned into my mama bear and I was back in the library studying the calculation and identification of miscellaneous items listed in financial statements.

As you can see, there were a few downs on my journey, but I ended my journey as a CPA in just nine months. I took my first exam in August 2009, which was Business Environment & Concepts (BEC)–passed! Second exam was scheduled in October 2009, which was Auditing & Attestation (AUD)–passed! Third was scheduled in November 2009, which was Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR). What was I thinking? I looked at my score report and noticed a big fat 71. Ouch! I needed a 75 to pass. My fourth exam was scheduled in January 2010, which was Regulation (REG). I got a 74. Really? Only 1 point away from success. Now, that’s what you call a heartbreaker.

I had 12 months to pass the CPA exam sections that I failed. My strategic scheduling allowed me to do just that. I had a chance to give all of my attention to FAR and REG and was able to pass both exams by May 2010. In August 2010, I received notification that I was officially a CPA! I can’t even express in words what that moment meant to me. It wasn’t just about me passing an exam; it was about me giving strength to anyone who has ever been told that they couldn’t do something. Here is an important reminder you need for success: if you can dream it, you can achieve it.

A ton of people experience many unsuccessful attempts at trying to pass the CPA exam because they think it’s all about aptitude. Your aptitude is what will get you in the game. If you don’t think you are intellectually competent enough to take the exam, you won’t even consider the CPA as an option. Never. But aptitude doesn’t compare to attitude when you seek to win. Only those who have an attitude of perseverance will keep going after failing multiple times. Only those who have an attitude of victory will keep studying, even after finding out the pass rates are less than 50%. And only those who surround themselves with dreamers, achievers, and believers can really test the limits of their potential and see how far they can go. I am so grateful for my CPA support team. And I owe my mother 100 Thank You’s for introducing me to the idea of becoming a CPA and for believing in me more than I believed in myself.

Now, I want to empower and inspire others to do more than they think is possible. You should set a goal that is so immense that you shock yourself when you achieve it. There is somebody who has everything they need to become a CPA and just need that extra push.

That person just might be you. Are you thinking about becoming a CPA? The CPA exam may be tough, but it ain’t got nothing on you. You’ve got this!

Here is what you should consider if you are thinking about pursuing the CPA designation.

1. Understand What You Need to Know

  • What are the CPA exam education requirements for your state?
  • What are the CPA exam license requirements for your state?
  • How much does it cost to take the exam?
  • How long do you have to pass all 4 parts of the exam?  You have 18 months from the date of your first “Passed” exam to pass the remaining three (3) parts of the CPA exam. The 18 – month deadline is shown as an expiration date on the score report of your first exam.
  • What are the different sections of the CPA exam and what is the length of time given to take each one?
  • Contact your State CPA Society for more exam updates and instructions. I am a member of the Illinois CPA Society and follow their website in order to find important resources and CPA exam links.

2. Find Scholarships

  • National Association of Black Accountants Awards CPA Review Scholarships
  • State CPA Societies Award CPA Exam Scholarships
  • Do your research. There are more scholarships available if you take advantage of professional organizations and CPA review prep sites.

3. Create a Strategic Plan

  • What will you need to do in order to pass all four parts of the exam within 18 months?
  • You can take the exam eight months out of the year. There are four testing periods. Be strategic. You can take two tests in one exam window if you schedule an exam at the beginning of the month and another exam at the end of the month. For example, I scheduled my AUD exam the beginning of October and my FAR exam the end of November.

4. Review All The Lessons

  • You can’t skip lessons just because you are not fond of the material.
  • I enjoyed the Becker CPA Review lessons because I found my instructors to be very entertaining. Find ways to be excited!

5. Master The Questions

  • Questions from the CPA Review course gives you an idea of the type of questions that will be asked on the exam. I used the Becker CPA Review Course.
  • Answer the questions repeatedly.
  • Review the explanation for all questions that you answered incorrectly.
  • Aim to get over 90% on all questions given during your study sessions.

6. Don’t Give Up

  • Never let the word “no” stop your flow.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
  • Failure is valuable feedback that you can use to master a topic.
  • Nobody will care how many times you had to take the exam. All that matters are those three shiny letters that will grace your resume.

Let’s connect!

 Have you started studying for the CPA exam? Why do you want to become a CPA? Individuals with the CPA designation are in demand and have a higher chance of proving their credibility to employers before they even meet you. This is all done through the power of LinkedIn. Let the world know that you are a CPA by adding your credential to your LinkedIn profile.  Click here for your FREE copy of The Ultimate LinkedIn Cheatsheet.
I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments below. Thanks!

Charlene Rhinehart

I’m Charlene - International Speaker, Published Writer, & Career Strategist. I help women skip the most common career mistakes, move from fear to confidence, and enhance their professional profile so that they can create a life that is better than their dreams.

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