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How to become a CPA
What it really takes

Checked for updates, April 2022.

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the professional title given to accountants who have passed the CPA Licensure Exam and have met specific requirements. All CPAs are accountants but not all accountants are CPAs.

For Motivation Monday! Or just any day of the week

Quite obviously, the first step to become a CPA is to get into a good school and earn a degree in accounting. Having a degree is the most basic qualification towards getting certified.

Then, candidates must pass other sets of rigorous requirements. Here are some practical tips and motivation boosters to help you get those letters beside your name.

Know the Requirements

This may sound very basic; but, it is really important to know the requirements. The certification rules vary in different states and countries. The board of accountancy in your area implements and observes them. These requirements are generally classified into education, experience, and examination qualifications.

The board of accountancy requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting or some specific number of units in accounting. The certification also requires that you complete and pass the CPA licensure exam. Candidates are required to pass each exam part with a grade not lower than 75%. Additional rules and conditions may be set by the board.

The exam consists of four, seven, or eight parts, depending on where you are taking it. In the U.S., the Uniform CPA Examination consists of four parts – Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulations (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC).

The rules really do vary so it is important that you check the specific requirements observed by the board of accountancy in your area. They will also be able to guide you in the application process.

Now, I want to talk more on the personal-motivational aspect of becoming a CPA.

Preparing for the Exam

The CPA Exam is tough. The low passing rates in the previous examinations prove it. However, no exam is too hard with the right preparation. To pass, you need to allocate sufficient study time to your schedule.

Depending on mastery and level of understanding, some may need to devote plenty of time. And candidates faced with other responsibilities will need to find balance in managing time. Here's the point. Whatever amount of time you allocate, make sure it is sufficient and worthwhile.

But how much time is sufficient? It depends upon how proficient you already are with the exam areas and your ability to learn. If you are having a hard time understanding the topics, then you might need to stay in front of that lamp a little longer (and focus a little harder). Nonetheless, some say that the time you allocate should not be less than 20 hours per week for 5-6 months of preparation.

Obtain a list of the topics covered in the exam and study the items. Changes to the CPA exam are made every time so stay updated. Go to a review school. The reviewers and the study guides they provide will help you pass the board exam.

To the students who are still working on their bachelor’s degree: please do not take your college subjects for granted! Study the concepts and absorb them into your system now so that you won't have a hard time in your formal review later.

In preparing for the exam, answer as many problems as you can and understand the theory behind them. You may get surprised to find questions in the actual exams that are similar to those you already have encountered. That is because accounting problems are based on accounting concepts. And they will always be. So study, understand and practice. Keep in mind that what separates passers from non-passers is proper preparation.

Push Yourself Consistently

Consistency is always key! The hardest part of the CPA Exam preparation is fueling yourself to go further. This won’t be much of a problem if you are a very disciplined person. However, many of us are not. We tend to get lazy after solving four or five problems. We plan but act as if we are not up to something. We procrastinate and later realize we don't have enough time.

Clearly, you need to break those habits if you want to become a CPA (and in achieving anything you want, really). There is a proper time for everything. Study when it is time to study and sleep when it is time to sleep. Take breaks in between your study hours but not to the point that you are already wasting hours.

Do not let distractions take you off the track. Focus. You are headed towards the prize. Remind yourself of the rewards after you pass the exam. Stay motivated and act on it. Too much motivational talk, eh? Thank me later.

Inside the Examination Room

During the actual examination, say a little prayer before starting the exam. Be positive but not overly confident.

Manage your time well. Don't use much of it by trying to answer very difficult questions. Answer as many items confidently as possible. Your goal is to accumulate as much points as you can. The examiners don't give penalties for incorrect answers so it is in your advantage to attempt to respond to every question; do not leave any item blank.

Do not get sick on the exam day. Be careful not to catch a cold or digestion problems, or anything! Get enough rest the night before your exam. You will need a great deal of concentration and presence of mind inside the examination room so you must prepare both mentally and physically.

Some jurisdictions allow candidates to use their own calculators. If yours does, make sure your calculator is in good condition. Have the batteries replaced. You don't want it to go crazy or give up while you are taking your life-changing exam.


The CPA license is awarded to a select few – to those who deserve it. It is a symbol of excellence, an emblem of achievement. Moreover, it is a platform that will introduce you to bigger career opportunities. Like anything worth chasing however, it will require some work! So, there you go. Stay excited. Believe in yourself; have faith and act on it. You will make it. Let us end this long pep talk with a quote from Paolo Coelho.

"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it."
– The Fifth Mountain
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