What to Bring and How to Prepare for the CPA Exam 

The time has come. The daunting task of preparing for the Uniform CPA examination is upon you, and with it comes a well of information, advice, and techniques for how to adequately prepare. While sifting through your CPA exam study materials and thinking ahead to the day of the test can be overwhelming, try to focus on a one-step-at-a-time approach to fully engage with the CPA study material and set yourself up for success. The following includes helpful insights from CPA exam candidates who recently took, and passed, all parts of the CPA exam, as well as what to bring to your testing site. 

How to Prepare 

  • Begin studying as soon as possible. Studying in smaller increments over a longer period of time will allow for deeper understanding of the CPA Exam concepts that will be presented and also create less stress for the days leading up to the test. 
  • Start by watching any course videos available- they will give you a base of understanding and help you identify your strengths and weaknesses during your CPA exam preparation. 
  • Read the CPA study material thoroughly and remember that this is not a test you can study for merely through memorization. Read it, type it, write it, and review so that you are understanding the materials to their full extent. 
  • When working through multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations, be sure to practice the material at least once or twice for optimal understanding. If you are stuck, go back to your CPA study materials to reinforce the process and steps needed so that you are able to apply that concept in any situation. 

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Leading up Your CPA Exam

Now that you’ve prepared and studied, it’s time to begin processing the next step- the looming test date. The days before your CPA exam are crucial in making sure that you remain calm, focus on retaining the information that you have learned, and not panicking! How can you accomplish this? 

  • Skim the material, but don’t feel the need to go into a full cram-session. A review of the key concepts before the test will help keep your mind sharp and focused without overwhelming your senses. Universal CPA Review was kind enough to provide us with a few CPA exam day tips for final review are as follows: 

FAR – If you are studying for the FAR CPA exam, focus on the miscellaneous concepts that were giving you trouble, and review key mnemonics. 

AUD – If you are studying for the AUD CPA exam, focus on reviewing areas like the various transaction cycles. 

BEC – If you are studying for the BEC CPA exam, review a lot of that nasty IT information.

REG – If you are studying for the REG CPA exam, make sure to review the little rules for business law concepts.  

  • Make sure you know the exact location of your CPA Exam testing center and have an idea of how long the commute will be. Arrive at the testing center at least thirty minutes beforehand to check-in, ensure you have all of your materials you are allowed to bring inside with you, and clear your mind before your exam begins. 
  • Set out your testing outfit the night before. You never know what the conditions of the testing center will be, so it is beneficial to dress in layers. This allows you to remain focused on the task-at-hand rather than having the internal “too hot/too cold” debate distracting you. 
  • Pack what you will need the day before the test. Remember to keep it simple because very few items are allowed into the testing center. A locker or area to keep your personal belongings will be provided, but the space is limited.  The following are imperative items that you will need on your testing day: 
    • Notice to schedule (NTS) and two forms of identification (this must remain on you at all times) 
    • If your testing center allows food, bring a filling snack that will be easy to eat while you are taking the test. 
    • A way to stay hydrated. Again, check to make sure this is permitted at the testing center you are scheduled to attend, but most will allow a clear water bottle either in the session or to stay in your locker for when you choose to take a break. 
  • Finally, the age-old adage passed down through generations- rest! Do whatever is beneficial to relax the night before and sleep well. High quality sleep will translate into a focused mind, which will allow for logical thinking and a greater sense of preparedness as you begin your exam. 


During the Test 

Here we are- the test itself. You’ve thought about it, prepared for it, and the day has arrived. Final points to remember as the CPA exam begins: 

  • Time management is key. A countdown timer will be provided on your computer screen. Think through how much time you should allow for each area of the test so that you do not spend the majority of your time on one particular section. 
  • The sections of the CPA examination, known as testlets, will include multiple choice questions (the amount depends on the CPA exam section that you are taking). This is where the power of the process of elimination is key. Using that logical and well rested mind, think through the options that do not make logical sense and eliminate unnecessary choices. 
  • In addition to the multiple choice questions, the testlet will have either task-based simulations (6-7) or written communications (BEC only). 
  • If you don’t know the answer to the question, use the flag tool as a reminder to go back to that question later and continue on with the rest of the testlet. Eventually, once you have answered all the remaining questions, you can go back and answer the question you originally flagged. Many times you will be surprised how following questions can help you conclude the logical answer to the questions you flagged. 
  • Once you complete a testlet, you will be given the option to take a break. It is important to note that your clock does not stop while you are taking a break, so make sure to (yet again) manage your time wisely as this is the only point in which you are given the option of a break. 
  • When the entirety of the exam is complete, quietly exit the room and bring all items with you. The testing center will have a sign-out policy they will walk you through, and when all necessary procedures are complete you will be dismissed. 

There you have it! Yes, the CPA exam is an incredibly difficult, with pass rates around 50% for each of the four sections, there is no question that this is a daunting task. But with organized preparation before and during the test, success is within reach come CPA exam score release. day! This time-consuming process will be less stressful by following guidelines that will benefit you in the long run, and by taking a one-step-at-a-time approach it is possible to remain calm, focused, and prepared on your testing day. Good luck!