The CPA Exam Can Be Like a Triathlon

IMGCAP(1)]Check out that picture. Yes, it’s me. And yes, I finished a triathlon.


OK, it was a sprint distance, not an Ironman, but still it was a 400-yard (16-pool-lengths) swim in Lake Michigan, an 18-mile bike ride followed by a 3.1 mile run. And yes, look at me. I am overweight. More than that, I am fat! But I finished. I was DFL…Dead Freaking Last. But DFL is not DNF (Did Not Finish). Twenty people didn’t finish; they got pulled out of the water, or fell off their bikes or more likely just gave up. So what does my triathlon finish have to do with your CPA Exam? All you have to do is finish. No one will know if you were DFL. All they will know is that you passed.

Passing the CPA Exam is like finishing a triathlon. It takes guts, will and determination. More than intelligence, it takes discipline. If you have the coursework to sit for the CPA Exam, you have the knowledge to pass the exam. However, are you willing to train? Are you willing to get on a schedule and get up every morning before dawn and do problems before starting your day, or at night do your evening problem set workout? For my triathlon, it was six months of workouts. Lots of days it seemed easier to just skip a workout. But I had a goal, so I put on my heart rate monitor and went for a walk, ride or swim.

Are you willing to commit your time, energy and focus to one event? Are you willing to pay for a trainer or a review course to keep you on track? The review course will help you focus on what is important and teach you the tricks of the exam.

In training for the triathlon, I took a “Triclass.” My Triclass had two important purposes. The first was to educate me with the information needed for my event. For example, we practiced transitions, where you get out of the water and get yourself ready for the bike ride. If you have never transitioned in a triathlon it can be quite intimidating, but practicing makes it not as scary.

We also learned how to train with a heart rate monitor, which allows you to effectively use your time training to gain endurance. The class’s second purpose was to help form a support system of people who were going through exactly what I was. We could complain together, and we could celebrate our small successes. Although we came from all different levels, we all had strengths to draw upon and weaknesses to learn from.

A review for the CPA Exam will help you to practice so you are not intimidated by the exam and train you effectively, so that the time spent studying is effective, just like a heart rate monitor. You will also find support from your peers in the review; they will be on the same path as you and making the same sacrifices. They will help you to train.

I passed my CPA Exam exactly 10 years ago. I know because I my daughter is almost 10. My husband wanted me to pass my CPA Exam before we had kids. I passed in August and I was pregnant in October.

I did not pass it on my first try. I originally took it the fall after I graduated from college and basically did nothing to study, except for some practice problems. I never had an issue in college with passing an exam, but boy was I surprised when I opened that exam.

Four years later, I tried again. I took a review, studied a ton, and I missed a condition by one percent. Devastated! At that time it was required to take all four parts at the same time. I was so upset, but I was determined I was going to pass. I studied again and passed three of the four parts and then finished the last one. So my advice to you as future CPAs — set your mind to the task ahead, make a workout schedule, take a review and you will see yourself at the finish line.

If the burden gets to be too heavy, take a breath, close your eyes, think of the Slow Fat Triathlete, and know that you can cross the finish line to the profession of a CPA. It’s a good place to be!

Jody L. Padar is a CPA at James J. Matousek, CPA, in Park Ridge, Ill., and is a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor.

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