What Exactly Should You Study for the CPA Exam?

While the process to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) takes a serious commitment of time and energy, many people find it is a path to a uniquely rewarding career. Candidates must show that they have the necessary education, and then prepare to sit for four separate exams. To have a chance of passing the tests, students are best served with a Master of Accountancy from an institution that will provide them with all the information and experience they need to be a high-level accountant or manager for almost any kind of organization. This guide shows students how to become a CPA, with a detailed discussion of CPA exam requirements and components.

Steps Required for Meeting CPA Requirements

There are many steps to the timeline for meeting CPA requirements, and the exam itself is only one part. First, students must complete the minimum education to sit the initial exam. The pass rate for the CPA exam is a score of 75 and candidates may need to sit each section more than once.

If educational requirements are already met, students will find their applications go through relatively quickly. They should only apply for exam sections when they expect to take the test within six months of application. Once the applications are approved, students may start to prepare for each individual exam by researching the covered topics thoroughly, with the use of study tools and exam review. The exams are completed, with retesting as necessary.

While candidates prepare for the exams, they should continue to work, or study in higher education as a means to complete the CPA certificate qualifications. With a fully completed CPA exam and eligibility for the certificate, candidates apply to their state’s board of accountancy to become a Certified Public Accountant.

Eligibility and Education

Eligibility to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam is based on a state’s individual prerequisites. Many states require that all candidates possess a minimum of 150 semester hours of education before they can receive a CPA certificate. This is based on the assumption that the knowledge of all subjects called for by a state’s board of accountancy goes too far beyond the baccalaureate level of knowledge. Candidates often find that the additional education of a master’s or higher degree makes a big difference.

Many states oblige candidates to have 24 semester hours of upper-division or graduate accounting education to sit for the exam. The certificate demands 48 semester hours of accounting and business-related education, of which only six can be tallied from internships or life experience. Most states also need candidates to have a year of work experience as an accountant, although paid internships usually count toward this requirement.

What to Study for the CPA Exam

           Once candidates have met the basic education CPA exam requirements, they must prepare for the actual exam. They should start by researching the concepts they will be expected to know. After all, accountancy is a concept that is constantly changing.

The American Institute of CPAs, the governing body of the CPA exam, notes that any changes to federal law or the release of new accounting pronouncements will become applicable within the exam framework six months after the information is available. This means that students have to remain educated on current financial rules and accounting standards, because it is highly likely that they will be tested on it.

The AICPA also recognizes that many who pass the CPA exam will be required to meet International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). They may need to know the standards to work in an international company, an American company that owns businesses abroad, or to audit entities with similar arrangements. As such, students should study both generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and IFRS for each exam section.

Study Tools for the CPA Exam

Most candidates benefit from the use of study tools to help them meet the CPA exam requirements. The type a student will choose depends largely on the person’s knowledge base and learning styles; and using more than one is highly recommended.

There are several books on the market with review chapters and sample exams that candidates can use for practice. However, given the frequent changes to accounting standards and tax law, students should make sure that they are only accessing content that is newly updated. Even a study course from the previous year may have significant misinformation.

Candidates have access to online courses, video lecture series, books, and even classes to help them study and practice for the exam. Ultimately, experience is also a good preparation tool since the vast majority of those who sit for the exams will fail at least one, so they should use that experience to bolster their knowledge for the next round.

Exam Sections

The CPA exam consists of four separate parts, the sum of which have a maximum of 14 hours for testing. Auditing and Attestation, and Financial Accounting and Reporting, are up to four hours each. The remaining two, Regulation, and Business Environment and Concepts, can last up to three hours each.

The sections of the exam are typically taken separately, and contain five or six content areas. They are designed to represent a test for knowledge as well as the ability to accurately record information and communicate with hypothetical clients. Most jurisdictions expect candidates to pass all four sections within 18 months of the first passed exam.

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD):This exam section covers an accountant’s ability to audit a financial situation. The candidate must show that he or she can plan the arrangement, examine internal controls, obtain and document all information, accurately review the engagement and the documentation, and prepare to communicate the results with a client.
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): The BEC exam tests a candidate’s skill at applying general business concepts to specific scenarios. It requires a great deal of broad knowledge on different topics, including general economic concepts, financial management, the best way to use informational technology in accounting standards, business structure, as well as strategic planning and accurate measurement of all controls.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): This section comprises all the typical standards someone seeking a master’s degree in accountancy must know. Candidates must show that they understand financial statement concepts and standards, the typical items included in a financial statement, all the types of transactions and events, how government entities should report finances, plus accounting for nongovernmental institutions and nonprofit organizations.
  • Regulation (REG): REG covers all issues related to government and organizational regulation of a business or other entity’s actions and records. Specifically, candidates should expect this exam section to test them on their knowledge of business ethics, law, federal tax procedures, and taxation for property, businesses or individuals.

As a general rule, these exam sections may be taken in any order. Some students prefer to take what is perceived as the harder or longer sections first. The BEC test, as a more general assessment of a prospective accountant’s knowledge of business and corporate finance, has the highest overall passing rate.

CPA Test Format

Each of the exams is broken down into a number of pieces for candidates to complete. The pieces, called “testlets,” feature a combination of multiple-choice questions or test-based simulations. 

  • All four exams have three testlets with multiple-choice questions
  • AUD and FAR have one section with seven different simulations
  • REG has a section with six simulations
  • BEC offers a simulation with three communication-based tasks

Although the multiple-choice questions are all drawn from the same bank of questions provided by the Content Specifications Outline, they are delivered in random order throughout the testlet to minimize the incidence of cheating. Candidates should remember that the questions often demonstrate situations that are quite subjective. In this case, they should select the answer that is the most correct for the unique financial situation, from a selection of available answers that may all be technically correct.

Retesting and Certification

It is not uncommon for candidates to not pass on the first or even second try. The low pass rate of 45-55 percent means that students should expect to take the exam more than once, using the results of the prior exam as an effective study tool. In reports for past exams, candidates can see where they did well and what areas they need to work on before retesting.

If students do not pass a particular exam, they can retake the exam as soon as the next quarter. They do not need to pass one exam before they apply to take a different exam section. Those who sit for each exam should also keep deadlines in mind. Most states require that all exams be passed within 18 months, or else the first passed exam must be retaken. Additionally, some states pose a deadline between passing the CPA exam and applying for a CPA certificate. As such, students should have all paperwork ready to apply for certification soon after they pass the final exam.

The Master of Accountancy program at The University of Scranton will help prepare you for the CPA Test so that you could achieve your goals!

For more information on the Master of Accountancy program visit our website.

 

Count on a Great Accounting Resume!

Professional Accounting Resume Tips

Your resume has to stand out in a pile of papers. Once it is noticed, it also has to demonstrate you know the accounting industry.

An effective resume delivers the information employers need up front and then provides something memorable or different.

A professional accounting resume is no different, with your skills presented front and center. Using accounting lingo naturally throughout also shows you’re familiar and comfortable with the everyday language you will need. 

The basic role of a resume is to demonstrate to an employer that you can handle required tasks using acquired skills supported by proper educational qualifications. What people often forget to do is shape their resume to the job description presented to them.

Career Objective Related to the Accounting Position

As an accounting job candidate, you should talk about the company in your objective, making it as specific as possible and linking back to your skills. Use short-term goals first, rather than long-term, generic goals. “To be employed at a company I respect at a job I love” doesn’t cut it anymore, if it ever did.

Keep this objective short, just one or two sentences.

What Accounting Companies Look for in a Hire

Those who hire for accountancy positions do not want generic resumes that could be sent to any employer out there. Start with that idea as you build your resume.

Employers want to know your skills, clear examples of work ethic and effort and, finally, some hint of your personality. A professional resume for an accountant provides this in clear sections with bulleted lists, not a narrative. Your story comes in your cover letter, which should be equally focused without rambling.

List Accounting Skills, Competencies, and Credentials

A resume needs to persuade with facts, not speculation. If you don’t have the skills the company is requesting, you probably shouldn’t be applying. To make your resume stand out, add a quick narrative sentence at the top of this section, saying, “As well as possessing the skills you have noted as requirements, other skills make me a more compelling prospect.”

Then list your applicable degrees, certifications, and other education. People often separate these, into education and skills, but there’s really no need – they all speak directly to your ability to do the job.

A master’s degree gets noticed quickly in a professional accountant resume, especially if you’ve been able to complete it in a shorter amount of time than is usual. Being a CPA or noting you’re currently pursuing a CPA or other similar, major qualification is important, too. It shows you know what is expected and that you are developing professionally even while seeking employment.

A truly well-crafted resume will cite examples of how a degree or qualification helped solve a real-life problem at work.

A familiarity with laws and legalities can be hard to get across on a resume but it’s a skill employers do look for and notice. If you’ve taken special courses or classes in these areas, note them. If you haven’t, look to learn this critical information, as well.

Any awards or special distinctions come at the end of the resume. There, those related to accounting come first. Then follow those only with those relevant to the position to which you are applying.

Essential Accounting Software Skills

Finding out ahead of time the software a company uses is a good step. That way, if you’re familiar with you can put it at the top. If you’re not, you can research it and learn it.

Finding out can be as simple as calling up and saying you’re applying for a job and wanted to know the main software the company uses.

If you have special skills in software programs used in accounting that go beyond the usual QuickBooks or Microsoft Excel, mention that, too. Many accountancy programs apply to specific industries, such as banking, warehouse management, or healthcare. Broadening your technical expertise to include some of these industry-specific packages is extremely useful.

Familiarity with Quickbooks, Sage50, Xero, Turbo Tax, or even something basic such as the Wave Accounting app for small business, goes a long way to increasing your attractiveness to a broad range of employers, as well.

Accountancy Employment History

Be as detailed as possible by bullet pointing responsibilities and accomplishments achieved in various job positions. When information is specific such as “managed databases for multiple company offices” or “reduced credit repayment to under 90 days for 80% of clients”, it demonstrates the changes you are likely to bring to the new job.

The most common way to present this past information is chronological, but it’s not necessary. Add only those positions where you did work relevant to the current position. Write a sentence at the top, telling your prospective employer that you’re doing this, so they don’t have to speculate why they see strange gaps in your employment.

This way of presenting your employment history is something different and therefore memorable, without being in any way confusing.

Final Impression

In your closing paragraph, explain why this role is important to you and what you do to keep your interest level high and your knowledge growing. Character traits you want to get across are that you’re organized, manage your time well, welcome change, and communicate effectively.

Broadcast Your Accounting Career Resume

Finally, with this great resume in hand, it needs to be seen.

The big firms are a great place to start, but don’t forget to post your resume on city or regional job boards. Finance and accounting organizations also post job listings, such as this one at the American Institute of CPAs. They also allow you to build career profiles, asking the questions they know employers want to know. Because accounting recruiters know the jobs and can organize them well, these type of sites are great places to have your resume seen.

Interviewing can be an intimidating task. Having a strong resume behind you will not only impress your prospective employer but, will give you confidence throughout your interview. If you have never built a resume before, use the above as an outline or give your existing one a refresh.

To learn more about the Master of Accountancy program at The University of Scranton, click here.

What’s the difference between an MBA and a Master of Accountancy?

Students contemplating a career in accounting may be wondering which career path is right for them. Students often take one of two careers paths: a Master of Business Administration with a focus in Accounting, or a Master of Accountancy.

To help students understand the differences between the two programs, both of which are offered by The University of Scranton, here’s what they should know:

Graduates with an MBA focusing on Accounting:

  • Hold a generalized degree

An MBA in accounting is a path for students completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting. This degree program offers the technical core of an MBA with a broad overview of accounting and the skills needed to obtain a job in today’s technology-based business environment

  • Flexible career choices

An MBA with a focus on accounting provides graduates with a variety of job opportunities upon course completion. For those who aren’t sure which field they want to pursue, or who may want to change roles later on, this degree provides that flexibility.

  • Fill many roles

Considering the vast array of knowledge gleaned from an MBA, a graduate can fill many roles within a company. A growing number of businesses require their employees to “wear many hats,” to which this degree lends itself.

By completing the Master of Accountancy program, graduates:

  • Have a deeper understanding of accounting

The online Master of Accountancy program at Scranton offers a challenging curriculum that provides students with a deeper understanding of accounting skills, practices, and theories. Coursework isn’t a broad patchwork of accounting techniques, but a series of in-depth courses that build a foundation for comprehensive and insightful learning.

  • Can specialize in a specific area

Students have the ability to customize their programs and take courses that focus on a specific area of accounting such as taxation or fraud. An increasing number of companies are looking for job applicants with tailored accounting skills, meaning graduates with deeper knowledge of special topics don’t just stand out in a pool of candidates – they’re sought after.

  • Are better prepared to sit for exams

To obtain a career in accounting, many graduates decide to take licensing exams in a specialized field. The coursework involved in the Master of Accountancy program better prepares graduates to take exams such as Certified Public Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, or Certified Management Accountant.

  • Can work for the Big 4

If the goal is to work at one of the four biggest accounting firms – KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, or Deloitte, completing the Master of Accountancy is the right career choice. The Big 4 look for candidates with high-level skills, advanced degrees and licenses.

The MBA and the Master of Accountancy lead to high-paid employment in the accounting field, with the skills necessary to negotiate a higher salary and better benefits. Both paths offer qualifications that are valuable to an employer and show a level of commitment and skill that’s in demand in today’s workforce.

 

To learn more about the Master of Accountancy program at The University of Scranton, click here.

To learn more about an MBA in Accounting at The University of Scranton, click here.