Friday, May 1, 2020

CPA Exam Sections: What's the Best Order to Take Them?

Usually, some of the first and most frequently asked questions CPA Exam candidates ask include:
  • In what order should I take the sections of the CPA Exam?
  • Which section should I start with?
  • Which section is the easiest (hardest)?

This is all relative and depends on how comfortable you are with the materials, when you last learned the subjects in school, and if you encounter these subjects at work regularly (such as tax or audit). You can start with your toughest subjects to get them over with and to not let your credits expire. Or, you can build confidence and momentum by taking and passing your easiest part first.

One of the most popular recommended orders used to be: BEC-AUD-REG-FAR or B-A-R-F (get it, barf?). The idea behind this sequence is that your knowledge of the subject matter for each section builds and leads into the next section. You are more likely to remember what you studied on the last part and it would reduce your study time for the next parts.

It looks like that theory is less popular these days, as both Wiley and Becker recommend the order: FAR-AUD-REG-BEC or F-A-R-B. According to them, the research shows that FAR is the hardest part because it covers the most material. They also feel that the subject matter of BEC is the easiest to handle for most candidates.

My original plan this go-round was to take what I THOUGHT would be my hardest to easiest sections in the order: BEC-REG-FAR-AUD. After taking the Exam, I found the ACTUAL order of hardest to easiest sections for me was: REG-FAR-BEC-AUD. Surprisingly, I had to study an excessive amount to pass REG (and I failed it once). And funny enough, I ended up passing them in the order of B-A-R-F.

Here is how I studied for each part, and the reasons why I took them in this order:

BEC: Passed.
I took BEC first since that is the section I always seemed to have a hard time with. I watched all the Wiley videos and did all the knowledge check questions (true/false) at the end and the multiple-choice questions for each part. Then, I did the Task-Based Simulations (TBSs) when I got to the end of each section. I used the app's flashcards and flashcard quiz, and the paper flashcards. Even though I had work experience with budgets and cost accounting, I still looked up any concepts that I needed to reinforce or could not remember from school. I used Wiley’s Focus Notes to review the concepts throughout my studying and as a final review the day before the Exam.

REG: Failed.
I took REG next because I wanted to get it done before the TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017) went into effect. I usually like the Law sections but found studying it this time to be tedious. The result was not great.

AUD: Passed.
I took AUD next because I needed a confidence boost. I have always loved Audit, worked as an auditor, and understood the concepts (maybe there is something wrong with me??). I took a similar approach to BEC (above) but with much less studying. I was glad I did not need to study that much.

REG: Passed.
Studying for REG was like studying for BEC (above), but with even more study effort. This time, to make sure I passed, I also used Wiley's Mentoring feature (where the professors explain the answers to student questions) and their Virtual Class Sessions. And I went through the flashcards to try to memorize many of the concepts. I think these study aids helped a lot and made a huge difference.

FAR: Passed.
Like BEC (above), but I did not have as much time to study. I was forced to take this part before I lost credit for BEC, and this was while Covid-19 was getting started here in NY. Like REG (above), I used the Mentoring feature, but I did not have enough time to watch the Virtual Classes. I used the app a lot to do questions and review flashcards. I even purchased a new GAAP textbook and referred to it for many of the modules. I highly recommend reviewing the GAAP hierarchy, so you are familiar with the layout (either in your CPA Review software, review text, online or in a reference book).  

Which CPA Exam section did you start with or hope to start with? Hopefully, my experience can help you with your studying for the CPA Exam. Good luck!

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