How to Conquer the CPA Exam or Anything Else: Strategies for Reaching Your Goals

Illustration of woman walking up stairs

As I was wrapping up my studying one Saturday night at a local Starbucks, I was stopped by a man who recognized the Becker study book I was packing in my bag. “Are you studying for the CPA exam?” he questioned. He continued, “I was going to go into accounting in college, but got my law degree instead. I didn’t want to have to take that exam. I’ve heard it’s just God-awful.”

This wasn’t the first time someone had referred to the CPA exam as a horrible, almost-impossible exam. It seemed that almost every CPA I talked to had stories of defeat, stress, and extreme anxiety. They used words like “nemesis” and “beast.” Comfort stories on the web are hard to come by; there are online forums devoted to sharing CPA sob stories all over the internet. Why would anyone want to put themselves through such misery?

For every CPA sob story, there is also someone ready to give you a tip on passing. Test-taking tips are always helpful, but success comes from changing your mindset. Changing the way you think about the test and how you listen to nay-sayers around you makes a world of difference when it comes to achieving your goal. It’s not only about passing the CPA exam, but changing the way you tackle your goals. If you want to pass the exam with the least amount of stress and anxiety as possible, or maybe you’re tackling some other mountain in your life and you’re questioning your capability, consider changing your attitude with these 6 powerful approaches.

  1. Tune out the nay-sayers. In the start of my CPA journey, I realized my biggest hurdle wasn’t finding the time to study for the exam, but rather the negative connotation the CPA exam had adopted in my head. After hearing dozens of negative viewpoints, I had come to be afraid of it. What I didn’t realize is that the sob stories are louder than the success stories. People are more likely to spend ten minutes telling you how they failed and had to retake the test twice than they are to tell you how they passed on the first try after plenty of studying. Once I started taking others’ opinions with a grain of salt, I gained a huge boost of confidence.
  2. Remember that everyone’s experience is different. Remember that nay-sayers are validating their experience. Your experience doesn’t have to be like everyone else’s if you don’t want it to be. Know that you are capable of creating your own positive experience. Passing the CPA exam takes focus and dedication. If you want to pave your own road to a CPA designation, focus on your own needs and capabilities, not on someone else’s opinion.
  3. Don’t dwell on your mistakes. Mistakes are what make us great. If you get tripped up, maybe fail an exam, take a step back and assess what you can do differently. Look at mistakes as a navigation tool to move you in the right direction. The last thing you need is to hold a failure over your head that’s going to cloud up your motivation. Digest it quickly and keep moving.
  4. Decide you will pass. When I finally decided to take the plunge and get the CPA ball rolling, I declared to myself I wouldn’t fail a test. I passed all four parts on my first attempt. I’m a single parent of two small children. I didn’t have time, money, or patience to fail any of the parts. Failing meant more time taken away from spending quality time with my kids. I knew I would give my all to get through with flying colors. You may have to make a few temporary sacrifices, but they’re only temporary. In the face of any obstacle, decide you’re going to reach your goal, and then figure out what it’s going to take to get you there.
  5. Find your fuel and keep the fire burning. We all have some sort of passion inside us that keeps us moving. Ask yourself why you’re taking on this challenge. Are you doing it to advance your career? To gain confidence? To prove you’re capable? Or are you taking on this challenge just because your boss is giving you an ultimatum? Maybe you are having a hard time finding your fire. If you’ve come this far, I guarantee there’s a spark somewhere deep inside. Your job is to find the spark and ignite it. If you are seeking a smooth CPA exam experience, be passionate about your goal and what you are trying to accomplish. Fuel the fire, and keep it burning.
  6. Envision the final result. Dare to dream. The final result is already yours if you can see it and feel it. Just like coaches teach their athletes to envision the game-winning score, you should coach yourself to envision yourself as a certified CPA. Write CPA after your name on your business card and tape it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror. As silly as it sounds, seeing is believing.

You can accomplish anything if believe in yourself, and the CPA exam is no exception. Success is a mind game. If you are passionate about what you do and train your mind to stay focused on the positive and tune out the negative, you will discover the recipe for success. Carry it with you to your next challenge.