Do-it-yourself guide to online CPA exam prep

The certified public accountant (CPA) title designates a qualified accountant as a licensed professional capable of providing an official opinion on the accuracy and fairness of financial statements. According to the licensing body AICPA, trained accountants must complete the "Three Es"--Education, Examination and Experience--to qualify as a certified public accountant. The CPA examination is the culminating requirement in a process that includes a bachelor's degree, and at least one year of work experience supervised by an actively licensed CPA.


A closer look at the CPA exam

The Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, or CPA exam, serves as the licensing examination of the accounting profession in the United States. Developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, the CPA exam is a rigorous two-day test in four sections:

  1. Auditing and attestation (AUD)
  2. Business environment and concepts (BEC)
  3. Financial accounting and reporting (FAR)
  4. Regulation (REG)

Questions may involve multiple-choice or written communication, spreadsheet and form completion, database searches or task-based simulations. Together, the four sections of the exam comprise 14 hours of testing.

How to prepare for CPA exam

From gathering information about the test to exam-day logistics, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) offers a detailed road map for taking the CPA exam. When it comes to preparing for the exam, however, the AICPA exhorts CPA candidates to "Study, study, study … Take a review course or study on your own."

With the help of online CPA exam prep materials, you can create a do-it-yourself CPA review course. The following seven steps can take you through the process of studying on your own:

1. Learn about the CPA examination. The American Institute of CPA's website lays out the structure of the CPA exam, question types and recent changes. Review the latest Content and Skill Specification Outlines (CSOs/SSOs) to learn the scope of the subject matter covered on the current version of the CPA exam. The knowledge covered on the CPA exam changes frequently, tracking the evolution of accounting practice. AICPA's clearest presentation of key information on the CPA exam can be found on the Uniform CPA Examination FAQ page.

2. View the official CPA exam tutorial. The AICPA publishes a tutorial covering test instructions, including how to navigate the exam and what tools, such as a calculator, will be available to you.

3. Take sample tests. Sample test software functions both as a practice resource and as a diagnostic tool to guide your exam preparation. Begin with the official sample tests provided by AICPA. For further exam practice, look for online CPA exam prep sites with practice test questions, such as Wiley CPA Exam Review and CPA Exam Practice Tests. Some sites offer access to free questions, while others charge a subscription fee for access to full sample tests. With a 4000-question database and an online program simulating the actual test environment, the Wiley CPA Exam Review's online-test bank is the most authoritative source for sample questions outside of AICPA itself.

4. Review accounting subject matter. Taking an online CPA exam prep course may be the most comprehensive and convenient means of reviewing accounting concepts covered on the exam. But you can also prep for CPA exam online with the help of downloadable software, flashcards, online lectures and study guides. For example, CPA Excel offers DIY studiers access to lectures on targeted topics, priced a la carte. Becker Professional Education sells print, mobile and online CPA exam prep flashcards with 1000 key points of information covered on the latest version of the exam.

5. Learn on the go. Make CPA exam preparation a part of your life for at least several months before sitting for the test. Mobile CPA prep apps bring your prep drills everywhere you go. For example, Lambers CPA Review offers an iPhone app with flashcards, practice exams, quizzes and interactive videos.

6. Develop a test-taking strategy. To develop tactics for passing the CPA exam, it may help to consult an expert. A tutor can train you to test smart on the CPA exam. There are several sites dedicated to connecting those who prep for CPA exam online with a CPA tutor.

7. Prepare exam-day logistics. Last but not least, take as much stress as possible out of the two CPA exam days by planning logistics, well in advance. Review AICPA's test-taking policies, pack your bags, and arrange travel and accommodations well in advance, if necessary.

The CPA exam can seem like an arduous ordeal. By planning your study prep, step-by-step, you can make this daunting milestone more manageable. The effort generally proves worth it, when the reward is professional mastery and membership to the elite profession of certified public accounting.

More test prep resources on OnlineSchools.com:

About the Author: