I'm Taking the CPA Exam Archives

The Routine vs. the Exam

Vol. 5, Issue 4

By Jaryl Mordeno

The alarm rings at 9 a.m. each day. I get out of bed, put on my running shoes and go for a jog. As I run, I mentally prepare myself and plan my day. When I get back home, I eat breakfast and drink coffee. Then, I sit at my desk and work.

I spend four to six hours a day studying for the Uniform CPA Exam. The first hour is dedicated to reviewing flash cards I made in previous days. The second hour is spent on answering multiple-choice problems. During the third and fourth hours, I go over and break down missed problems; I also make flash cards on concepts I find difficult. Finally, I commit the last hours to learning new material. I take short breaks after every hour to replenish my body and restore focus.

I knew taking on the exam would require a great deal of dedication, discipline and drive. I have studied countless hours to prepare and, as expected, found that the material is challenging. However, coming up with a routine was the unexpected obstacle.

When I began preparing for the exam in June, I had a simple plan: Study for eight hours each day. I applied this method and eventually burnt out after a few weeks. From this experience, I discovered that the mind has a limited capacity from day to day. On good days, I would push through six hours. On other days, I would shut down after only four hours. The key to establish a stable routine is that quality hours outweigh quantity hours of studying.

It’s been three months since I began preparing for the exam. I’ve learned a great deal of material, but additionally have developed a better mindset to breakthrough limitations.

Jaryl Mordeno is a student at California State University, Los Angeles, and works for the Walt Disney Company. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.


Volume 5, issue 1

But Wait: There’s More!

By Ray Medrano

The hands on my watch noisily move: click, click, click, click. It’s finally 12 a.m. Surely it must be there! I dash to my computer to check … but there’s nothing. I stare at a blank space hoping for something to appear. But nothing does. Hours pass; again I check. Nothing. Finally, I stare again and see the word, “Credit.” I fall on my knees; my eyes fill with tears like a soccer player having just scored the winning goal. I lift my hands to heaven and shout “Thank You!” I now have credit for all four parts of the Uniform CPA Exam.

I’m almost a CPA (what an odd thought). No more late nights at the local Starbucks earning enough loyalty stars to try every food item sold there for free. No more eating chocolate covered espresso beans the week before an exam to gain those extra study hours. No more answering thousands of simulated questions and wishing I could just sleep on top my study materials and somehow absorb the knowledge through osmosis. In the midst of my euphoria, it slowly hits me: I’m done with testing. It’s now time for the Ethics Exam.

The Ethics Exam is a 50-question nightmare. I call it a nightmare because, like most nightmares, you find yourself in scenarios that are very unlikely to happen—and you find yourself completely ill equipped to handle them. The questions hone in on an accountant’s behavior that are so specific, I doubt most senior partners could answer them correctly. As if our 300 multiple choice questions and 26 simulations cumulating in 14 hours of testing wasn’t enough, let’s slam candidates with a “bonus” 50 questions designed to squeeze them yet again. Mercy you say? The Ethics Exam doesn’t believe in it. However, the Ethics Exam does have a good sense of irony. It’s the only exam accountants must take that is open book, with all study notes, and unmonitored.

My final muse is this: Don’t give up. I know the feeling, I know the disappointment, I know the heartache and it sucks. But if you endure until the end, you can do it. And remember, in the end, it’s just an exam. You are more than a number and title.

Ray Medrano is a staff accountant at Heberger & Company. You can reach him at ray.zigger@gmail.com. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the Uniform CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.



Spring 2014

Hell Week: Just What it Sounds Like

By Ray Medrano

“Hell week.” It’s a term not just reserved for the Navy Seals. This is the term I affectionately used for my two weeks before taking the next portion of my Uniform CPA Exam. Here’s the recipe: a 40-hour work week, 30-hour study week, five to six hours of sleep a night, food from wrappers and boxes, headaches, eye aches, back aches and hand cramps. And the bitter crème on top? A serious caffeine addition. Then repeat. These were my weeks before Audit; these were my weeks before my final CPA exam.

If you know what I’m talking about, I’m sincerely sorry for you. If you don’t know, I’m jealous of you. There’s an piece of wisdom that states, “Study plodding brings prosperity, but hasty speculation leads to poverty.” If that’s you, I applaud you for your consistency. However, for the rest of us, “hell week” is crouching at our door.

Harsh words? Maybe. But let me remind you of this: “hell week” is just that, a definite parcel of time. You will get through it, you will test and you will wait, and then wait and, once again, wait. It’s an odd feeling, just waiting with nothing to study. Like Schrödinger’s cat; you’re in a state of both CPA life and death. There’s no way to change your answers when you wish you chose “B” instead of “C.” There’s nothing that can supplement a poor simulation response. And no changing, all testlets are closed; you are now just waiting. And the truth is, the waiting can be just as hard as any exam, often bringing with it worry and apprehension.

For those of you who find yourself in the waiting: be encouraged. The waiting, like “hell week,” doesn’t last forever, and any worry or apprehension is pointless. In the grand scheme of things, who can add a single hour to their life by worrying? What’s done is done. Pass or fail, it’s now in the past. Breathe. Take the waiting as a moment of rest: you earned it and you deserve it. And when you get those results, breathe. If you retake, then retake with a vengeance. If you pass, welcome to exam five: Ethics. Good grief, the rabbit hole just gets deeper.

Ray Medrano is a staff accountant at Heberger & Company. You can reach him at ray.zigger@gmail.com. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.


Winter 2014

No Credit, No Show … Oh No!

By Ray Medrano

No credit, no show. It’s a moment like no other: You realize you missed something very, very important. “Ray, how could you have forgotten something so important?!” Yet, I knew the answer. My mind wasn’t there. Like an scratched record or damaged CD, my mind had lost its eloquent flow and was replaced with skipping monotone elevator music. How did this happen? It happened because my heart had gained control by bulldozing my methodical mind. And my heart was busy breaking. 

Two weeks before my final exam, my father died. I was shocked. I don’t mention his death for sympathy—or for comfort—but rather to make a point: Sometimes, no matter how prepared we are, life’s happenings can ruin our best intentions and plans. 

In 1848, William Harrison was elected as the ninth president of the United States. While he isn’t as well known as Washington, Lincoln or Madison, Harrison did do something I think is worth mentioning. During the election, instead of opposing accusations from his opponent, who called Harrison an old man who loved his hard cider and spent his days secluded in a log cabin, he embraced the propaganda. Harrison began distributing bottles of hard cider and incorporating the log cabin imagery into his campaign. He took what was meant to hurt him and chose to make something good come from it. 

Sometimes, we just need to ride the wave of life and make the diamond wfrom the coal. Now, I have another reason to pass the Uniform CPA Exam. My goal in becoming a CPA has always been to honor my God by kicking the Exam’s butt. Now I have an addendum to that goal: I’m going to pass the Exam in the next few months because it’s what my dad would have wanted. While he can never again come to me, I one day will go to where he is, standing in the presence of Jesus Christ, worshipping our God forever. These are the thoughts I sit down with as I review for my last exam.

Ray Medrano is a staff accountant at Heberger & Company. You can reach him at ray.zigger@gmail.com. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.



Fall 2013

Strike One! Down, but Not Out

By Ray Medrano

I stared at my Uniform CPA Exam portal in unbelief: 62. The deep joy and relief that lingered from my successful FAR and REG results quickly turned to a knot of pain and hurt deep within the pit of my stomach. If you would have asked me how I felt after completing the exam, I would have said, “Great.” Audit was the subject I liked in school. Forget tax, with its waffling rules and ephemeral regulations; give me a nice solid audit and I’m happy. I breezed through my college class with little effort and even spent a majority of class time talking and flirting with the brilliant and beautiful girl next to me. But still, the fact remains: I failed. The sting of failure lingers. I think the hardest part about failure is choosing to learn from it, and not letting it consume us. 

Of all the things to write about in this blog, why admit that I failed? I believe that failure is not a cause for discouragement, but an opportunity for people to better themselves. Years ago I heard it put this way: “Though a righteous man falls seven times, yet he gets up.” I’ve never forgotten those words. They give me something to strive for, a characteristic to envy and an unquenchable drive to never give up. Simply put: Though I fall, I will get up because failure is not who I am. Failure is merely a lack of success. And if it’s just a lack of success, then I just need to work a little harder. 

The CPA Exam doesn’t define me. Nor should it define any of us. Whether passing takes us several years, or a few short months, we’re still ourselves. Yes the CPA license speaks of our specific knowledge, but it doesn’t speak to our experiences or any of our other qualities we bring into this profession. Passing the exam is a hurdle on the journey of our lives. I may have failed one exam, but I’m certainly not beat. And when I pass, there will be a solemn moment of giving thanks; an offering of my accomplishment back to the One who strengthened me to do it. After that: lots and lots of cake.

Ray Medrano is a staff accountant at Heberger & Company. You can reach him at ray.zigger@gmail.com. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.



Summer 2013

Passed ... But Wait, There’s More!

By Ray Medrano

Staring through a thin glass window watching hill, tumbleweed and brush roll by, the word sank deep into my heart: “Passed.” As I read that single word, my whole body felt numb. I blankly stared at the passing scenery while traveling back to Fresno after finishing the second section of the Uniform CPA Exam. Why did I wait so long to see if I had passed FAR? I suppose it’s the same reason all of us hesitate to check: Fear. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” However, this insight doesn’t make those confidence-boring thoughts go away: “Do I know enough to pass? What if I failed? I studied so hard, can I really go through all that again? But when you see the word “Passed,” your confidence begins to grow. You can breathe a little easier. 

While studying for my second exam I learned that perspective is key. Passing the CPA Exam involves a lot of time alone. However, sometimes there are people that come into our lives randomly. Maybe they’re intrigued by us or fascinated by our ability to hold three highlighters in one hand, whilst chewing on a pen and yelling at our computer after missing the same review question thrice. But, whatever the reasons, while they are with us, it’s nice. They become a sweet oasis from our brutal regimen of conceptual ingestion. They provide us much-needed micro-breaks and remind us that life continues outside of our testing. Life keeps going, and so must I. 

Yes, after taking two exams I’m tired. Yes, I’m now talking eye supplements to be able to study just a little bit longer. But I remind myself of these words spoken by a wise man from the 2nd Century: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal …” While many of us will have differing goals, at this point, we all need to remember why we’re doing this. And then—press on.

Ray Medrano is a staff accountant at Heberger & Company. You can reach him at ray.zigger@gmail.com. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.



Spring 2013

Customer of the Month? You’ve Got to be Kidding Me!

By Ray Medrano

CPA. Three little letters that hold so much significance. Growing up, “C” was for cookie, and that was good enough for me. “P” logically was for pizza. And “A” was always for apple. All items I wanted to eat. And I was happy to get any of these three. Many years later I find myself striving to earn these same three letters, but this time, they mean much more than a simple snack. 

One Sunday afternoon, as I was getting my fourth refill of iced green tea, the coffee house staff surprised me: I was customer of the month! My picture is now hanging on a plaque in the lobby over the drink bar. I’m on a first name basis with all the employees and, the funny thing is, I don’t even drink coffee. I received my gift and thank you card, sat down at my computer and pondered my life. What was it like before FAR? Where did the blissful days of movie marathons, impromptu trips to Pismo and random night drives to Yosemite go? I stared down mournfully at my free drink and my pens, highlighters, text books and mini whiteboard. 

Let me be honest with you: Did you graduate? Congrats! Now comes the hard part. The Uniform CPA Exam is not for the weak of mind or heart. It squeezes you like a snake; it tries to choke your dreams, and seeks to crush your hopes. Perhaps my outlook is so dark because I chose to take the undisputed hardest portion of the exam first but, hey, I’ve always been adventurous. So here I am, preparing to stare down the FAR-beast with nothing but my hours of mental pushups and endurance trainings to rely upon. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “Work as if everything depended upon your work, and pray as if everything depended upon your prayer.” Well Mr. Booth, I’ve done both. Now FAR-beast, let us dance.

Ray Medrano is a staff accountant at Heberger & Company. You can reach him at ray.zigger@gmail.com. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.




Fall 2012

Taking the Plunge

By Ableen Tai

You’re out of school. You’re working at an accounting firm. It’s not busy season and you actually have some free time. Life is great! Then it hits you: You have to pass the CPA Exam and get licensed. You feel your walls closing in. A tight feeling builds in your throat. Not only to you have to work now, but also you have to study for four parts of one of the most challenging licenses in the professional world.

Take a deep breath. You can do this. It’ll take some dedication and some weekends staying in, but you got this. I started the process long ago. Oh, I’ve passed REG! Then BEC! Oh dear, busy season is coming. CPA Exam? What? I have to take care of my clients and make sure my returns get out on time. This exam can wait.

Months pass and busy season is winding down. Phew! I got those returns out on time. I’ll just take a quick break and start studying again later. Nope. Never happened. Months pass by and the CPA Exam is a lingering thought in the back of my mind. Another busy season comes and I start to think: I was supposed to start studying! And now my exams have expired. Sigh.

After two busy seasons I decide it’s time to make it happen and start studying again. I had to repurchase my review materials, as the old stuff is out of date. This new material isn’t that bad. I listen to the lectures and take notes. After each lecture, I answer questions and review at the end. I passed REG and BEC again and now have scheduled the last two exams.

If you keep focused after work, you can easily pass all four parts in less than a year. Think how great life will be once you are a Certified Public Accountant. I encourage you to keep at it and if at first you don’t succeed, definitely try again. Good luck to all test takers and remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Ableen Tai is a tax senior at Armanino McKenna LLP. You can reach her at ableen.tai@amllp.com. We will follow her, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.




Summer 2012

One Down, Three to Go!

By Marc Kurose

I’ve been working as a tax accountant for four years, with the CPA Exam hanging over my head the entire time. I’ve tried videos, questions, study guides—and crossing my fingers and hoping really, really hard—in varying combinations and never had success. Regardless of the study method, the one constant that any exam candidate can agree on is that, at some point, everyone has to put the rest of their life on hold and pay the required dues in time and effort. 

I’ve taken each section multiple times, always trying to convince myself that it was possible to continue working and enjoying life, while trying to chip away at the exam (and failing). Finally, my career has reached the point where—with increasing responsibility and demands on my time—I understand that there’s really no other option: I need to pass.

When I retook and passed FAR in May, I took two weeks off from work. I was originally hoping to study at least eight hours a day during the week, aiming for about 80-plus hours of total study time by the exam. However, this time around I used Kaplan flash cards and, though my actual study time was probably closer to 50-60 hours over two weeks, I was able to cover all the material. I only went through the practice exam twice, and I also had time to make it to the gym and feel somewhat relaxed leading up to the exam. 

The lesson is that everyone retains material differently. Focusing on lectures, reading material or endlessly repeating practice problems just was not working for me. Instead, the flashcards let me break the material down into tiny, manageable sections while letting me take advantage of the fact that I do wonderfully with more randomly presented trivia. 

The keys for me boiled down to committing the time, which meant locking down my schedule so that studying was the only thing on the task list—and finding an efficient (for me) study method. Each section is difficult, but not impossible. Good luck to everyone else taking the test!

Marc Kurose is a senior associate at Frank, Rimerman + Co., LLP. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.


Spring 2012

Here We Go Again …

By Rob Campbell

Well, here it is. Time to take the CPA Exam—and actually pass. Having taken the exam once I feel better prepared. I have a good feel for how my preparation materials compare to the actual test; and—more important to me—I have a sense of confidence I did not have the first time around. If I learned one thing last year, it was that I can never do too many practice questions. My biggest issue last year was I allowed time I had allotted to study to be consumed by other things. Now that I understand the Exam tests you on how well you know the material—not simply whether you are familiar with it—I realize that these study sessions must be written on my calendar in pen, not pencil.

This test has been looming over my career for six years, and I cannot wait to get it completed. If I could go back in time and do it straight out of school, I would in a heartbeat. Normally, I take a vacation after tax season to celebrate another year survived, but this April will be when the real time commitment begins. I have cancelled my cable subscription, purchased the latest preparation books and set up a well-lit, comfortable desk in my apartment to get the work done with no distractions. I plan to tackle BEC first to get since I felt fairly comfortable with that material. I will then move on to REG and save FAR and AUD for last.

I am mailing off my Application Remittance Form this week, a far easier process since I have already jumped through all the qualification hoops of sending transcripts and work experience to the California Board of Accountancy. I will say that the CBA website is fairly easy to use once you are registered. Now I just need to survive tax season and dive into the material. I will keep you up to date on my progress and study habits.

Rob Campbell is an employment tax credits manager at KBKG, Inc. We will follow him, and other aspiring CPAs, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.



Winter 2012

BEC Section Conquered!

By Beth Attebery

I did it. I took the BEC Section of the CPA Exam—and I passed! The overall exam experience turned out to be significantly less intimidating than I had imagined.

The check-in process at the testing center was … interesting. At my location, lockers were provided, as you are not allowed to bring anything—as in, not even a tissue for a runny nose—into the exam area. I was required to empty out all of my pockets, be scanned by a metal detector, have my fingerprint taken and smile for the camera. The testing center itself was quiet, and I found it easy to concentrate and focus. I would definitely recommend wearing layers; my center ranged from freezing to comfortable.

As you know, I cannot provide details about the exam itself, but I will say this: if you put in the time to study, you will find that the test is manageable. I’m not saying the exam is easy. It isn’t. However, if you study, practice and prepare, you’ll find that you can pass.

The worst part of the exam for me was the waiting. It takes about four weeks to learn your test results. I took the AUD Section in early January and will not know my score until early February. Websites like www.another71.com keep you up to date about score release dates. Also, be warned, the California Board of Accountancy posts scores 24/7; I received my score on Thanksgiving—“thankfully” it was good news.

Beth Attebery is a tax manager at Henry C. Levy & Co., CPAs & Consultants. We will follow her, and other candidates, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.



Fall 2011

Test Day Arrives

By Beth Attebery

The day has finally arrived. As I write this, I take my first section of the CPA Exam this week. In the midst of my final preparations for the exam (flashcards, practice tests, review notes, repeat), I realized that there is a whole set of policies and procedures that I need to review and follow simply to be admitted to take the test!

First: What to bring? The NASBA website states that you must bring your Notice to Schedule, along with two forms of identification (the Candidate Bulletin outlines forms of acceptable primary and secondary IDs).

Second: What not to bring. The list of items not allowed in the testing center includes just about everything. No watches, no pencil, no PDA, no calculator, no purse, no eraser, no large earrings (interesting), no food and/or beverages and the list goes on. The items you are likely to need (pencils, calculators and scratch paper) will be provided by the testing center, as will a locker for any impermissible items that you may have with you. The NASBA site also states that you should be prepared to have your picture taken and be fingerprinted. I presume that it is because of these procedures that exam applicants are required to arrive 30 minutes before the scheduled exam time. Exam entrance feels like airport security.

Well, enough talking about it—back to the books. Every second counts; wish me luck!

Beth Attebery is a tax manager at Henry C. Levy & Co., CPAs & Consultants. We will follow her, and other candidates, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.


Summer 2011

Go TIme

By Beth Attebery

After seven weeks of waiting, I finally received approval to sit for the CPA Exam.

Once you’re approved to sit for the exam, it’s go time. You must log in to your California Board of Accountancy account and select the test sections you wish to take. Then the CBA notifies the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and sends you a payment coupon. Only after NASBA receives the fee(s) for all of the selected sections will you be permitted to schedule your exam. NASBA will send you a Notice to Schedule that you will use this to schedule an exam date. To schedule, you must work with another agency: Prometric. The Prometric website is user friendly and provides calendars of locations and sections where each exam section is offered. I recommend familiarizing yourself with these sites.

During this time you should also be planning how you will prepare for the exam. If you take a review course (available live, online or self study), you will need to coordinate your test dates with your review schedule—especially if you plan to take a live course. All of the major vendors—including Becker, Gleim, Roger and Kaplan—have sections on their websites that help you navigate all the steps required to successfully apply, schedule and study for the exam. As for what review course is best and in what order you should take the exam? There are many schools of thought out there. Your Google research is as good as mine.


Beth Attebery is a tax manager at Henry C. Levy & Co., CPAs & Consultants. We will follow her, and other candidates, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.

Spring 2011

First Steps

By Beth Attebery

A few weeks ago, I began the arduous process of applying for the CPA Exam. I think the application process is meant to prepare you for a career of interacting with the Internal Revenue Service.

There is a 25-page handbook that I recommend printing from the CBA's website. The handbook does a decent job of outlining the steps you need to follow in order to successfully apply. You need to be prepared to submit official school transcripts directly from all relevant educational institutions to the CBA.


Once the transcripts have been submitted, the next initial steps are easy. You will create an account on the website, complete the application and remit payment of $100 (for first-time applicants). Once these initial steps have been completed, the CBA will assign you a Unique Identifier number. This number will follow you as you take the Exam. Another important point (that is re-iterated multiple times in the application process) is that the spelling of your name on the application must exactly match the identification that you will present at the testing center. If your ID will be your driver’s license, for example, you should complete the application spelling your name exactly as it appears on your license.

I completed the first five steps in the handbook in about an hour. About a week later, I checked the website and found that my payment had been processed, I’d been assigned a Unique Identifier Number and my application was in process. The handbook and website say that they will email you at certain points throughout the process. I have found that information is posted to your account on their website before they send you emails. If you want to move through the process as quickly as possible, monitor the website, not your email.

Beth Attebery is a tax manager at Henry C. Levy & Co., CPAs & Consultants. We will follow her, and other candidates, as they continue through the different stages of taking the CPA Exam in later issues of YEP Connection.