Senior Campus Recruiter
New York, NY
It seems the phrases I say the most as a campus recruiter are, “Do you have a plan for the CPA?” and “Make sure you get a head start on the CPA!” Of course, those three letters are vital to anyone with a career in public accounting, and I have even heard the certification dubbed, “the gold standard” by an executive at a major financial firm. It is indeed, the gold standard in certifications, giving its licensee a reputation of trust, accuracy and diligence. Obtaining your CPA is essential, but certainly not an easy task.
You may ask, between all four parts of the exam, the review courses, the expiration dates, and the cost of it all, “Where do I begin?” New York Tax Associate Joshua Eikenberry is one of two McGladrey employees recently awarded the 2011 Elijah Watt Sells Award by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for outstanding performance on the Uniform CPA Examination. Josh and B. J. Dinter, associate in the Minneapolis office, were among the 37 award recipients who passed all four sections of the Exam on the first try within the same year with a cumulative average score above 95.5 on all four sections. More than 90,000 candidates sat for the exam in 2011. You may join me in saying, “Not too bad!”
Josh has been paying it forward in the New York office, holding study sessions to help employees prepare for the exams. It is the “critical importance of planning for the exam, both on the macro level (i.e., completing all 4 parts in 18 months) and on the weekly/daily level (i.e., what do I need to accomplish today/this week?),” Josh explains. “I used Becker and I found that the planning tools they provided were most helpful in this regard.”
Luckily, McGladrey and Becker CPA have a very close relationship. At the time a full-time offer is signed, we are able to offer the Becker course free of charge to employees. This certainly takes off a large portion of stress for many. McGladrey knows how important it is to complete this exam in a timely manner. Busy season can become an obstacle, and not completing the exam may, after a while, hold professionals back from moving up.
“In most cases, individuals have to self-motivate to complete the CPA exam,” Josh explains, “which means sticking to the plan and being disciplined about putting in the time are both, difficult and critical.” Josh mentions that all plans need to be flexible, especially when many months are involved in this process, but if plans change, a new plan must be made that accomplishes the same goal.
“In dealing with both of the items above, I was extremely fortunate that I was able to study for the exam full time the summer before starting at McGladrey. I decided to take July-November completely off and make passing the exam my full time job. This made it easier to stick with the plan and be focused. I was also extremely fortunate to have the full support of my wife; especially when I would not have any income for 6 months. It turned out to be a great way for us to get through it; since I was studying 8 hours a day, I just closed up shop in the evening and on weekends (with a few exceptions) so we could spend that time together. We were lucky to have the resources to work it out this way so that there was virtually no strain on the relationship. I think for those with families, including those in the planning process it is critical for everyone to be on board with what the process will entail and how much time it will take.”
Here are Josh’s tips on preparing and taking the CPA:
- I tried to minimize distractions and really focus on the material—with material this dry, it’s easy to get distracted, so I turned off my phone and tried to find a nice, quiet place where I could focus. I also tried to keep a regular schedule of working on the material at the same times every day, which helped keep me disciplined.
- That said, I made a point of taking regular breaks (every 90 minutes or so) to get up and walk around, check email, think about other things, etc. It’s hard to cram all that information into your head and taking the breaks helped me come back fresh
- Since I was using the Becker system, I did my best to follow their guidelines, such as really working through all the material, review the things I missed, working with the mnemonics, and focusing on the most likely topics for the test.
- I gave myself daily goals for the material so that it seemed more manageable. It was easier to focus on what to do that day, rather than having the whole test laid out in front of me.
- On test day, I tried to relax as much as possible and be confident, knowing that I’d put in the time and the work. Also, I found in the practice tests that it was easy to make mistakes just because I was rushing through the questions, so when I was taking the actual test, I tried to be thorough and not rush. I made sure to go back through each question at the end and make sure I hadn’t missed little details that they threw in to trip us up.