5 Easy Ways To Increase Your CPA Exam Scores

Increase CPA Exam Score TipsAll that really matters is that you score a 75 on your exam.  Adding 2 or 3 points to your score could mean the difference between failing, and spending another 2 months studying, or passing, and feeling a boost of confidence as you go into the next exam. Below are 5 simple ways to increase your test scores.

#1 Monday = Gameday

If at all possible take your exam on Monday. This gives you three full days to do your final review and cram as much information as possible. Many of the exam questions have a short-term memory aspect to them and having a fresh 25-30 hours of studying in your brain is a HUGE advantage. This is especially true for the BEC and Audit sections where much of the exam is about memorization rather than concepts.

#2 Cheat Sheets ARE allowed

As soon as you get your scratch paper “noteboards” and the clock starts, write down as much important information and mnemonics you may have created before you answer any questions. Also, be sure to jot down any of the basic formulas or ratios you may need (notice how I said basic, you do not need to remember all 30 ratios given in your textbook!) This will shield you from any brain farts or “my mind went blank” moments later on and gives you an entire resource of information to refer back to. If you’re not currently using mnemonics then I would highly recommend creating some since this is an easy way to add a few points to your test score.

NASBA Update: “Effective January 1, 2013, in lieu of scratch paper and pencils, exam candidates will be provided with two double-sided, laminated, colored sheets called “noteboards,” as well as a fine point marker for making notations.” This may effect your ability to use the new noteboards as a cheat sheet compared to the old scratch paper method. I would love to hear someone’s opinion about this new rule with regards to what is allowed and what is not.  If you have a quick second, and have personally used the new noteboards in 2013, please leave a comment below and fill us in! For more information about this please see NASBA’s posting  http://www.nasba.org/exams/news/noteboards-used-for-cpa-exam/

#3 Short Term Memory Boost

Bring your notes to the exam site and arrive 30 minutes early to review them. This is also a great way to refresh any vital information you want to copy down on your “noteboards” as discussed in tip #2. If it’s not in your mind at the last minute, you may not remember it in the exam room.

#4 Find the Odd Man Out

When doing the multiple-choice questions, usually three of the answers will all have something in common. The fourth is the odd man out, always pick this one if you come across a question that you are unsure of.

#5 Don’t Jump the Gun

Completely read through each of the A,B,C, and D answers before selecting one.  Often times you will come across a question where there seem to be multiple correct answers so do not just pick the first one that sounds right and move on.  There are questions that actually DO have multiple correct answers, an example of this would be an answer like “D: Both A and B are correct”. Tricky, tricky.

One last piece of advice I don’t want to leave out is to be sure and budget your time beforehand for all 3 MCQ sections and the SIMS. Write down how much time you have planned for each part on your scratch paper “noteboard” and stick to your schedule!

These simple tips, if implemented, will have a positive impact on your exam scores and could easily be the difference between receiving a failing or passing grade. Have any tips, strategies, or clever tactics of your own that helped you score higher on your CPA exams?? Helping other CPA candidates is what this site is all about so please share your thoughts in the comment section or share this article with others with just a simple click below!


  • Margaret

    Also using CPA Excel. I tested a year or so ago (3 times w/BEC) 69; 70; 69 darn…
    I don’t think I was diligent enough with studying. This time I did like you mentioned at least an hour or two on most days then heavier as it go closer to testing.
    I’m heading to take Auditing tomorrow. Thanks for the tips – I think they’ll help.

  • vinny chirico

    I took AUD (71) and Reg (83) so far, and i HATE these new notepads. Both times I went the pens barely work and half of whatever you write actually comes up on the paper bc of how crappy the pens are. It wasnt just one time this happened, it was both times, and the paper they give you is graph paper, so its really annoying when writing stuff down. Furthermore, you cant erase anything on it so if you run out of room ur screwed

  • Claire


    You mention as one of your tips to memorize only the most important ratios. Do you have advice on what ratios I should focus on?


    • Bryce

      Just focus on the main 3-4 ratio in your book, the ones that will most likely be tested on. My book had over 30 of them which was ridiculous.

  • Crystal

    The noteboards are not as convenient as the pencil and paper. I had smudges from my fingers when I flipped the noteboards over and had to be very careful not to lose information. It became a distraction and a stressor–unlike the trusty pencil and paper. I hope they switch back.

    I also used the notes by jotting several mnemonics. This would help later as a reference tool–or jog my memory on something else I randomly remembered and also jotted down. I scored 70-75% on my practice exams and received much higher scores on the real exam. So do not be afraid to take your exam if you are close.

    • Bryce

      Right on Crystal, thanks for the info!

  • Gilbert

    I didn’t like the note-boards. I’m old school and like using pencil and paper. Having a note-board made it seem as though I was in a staff meeting giving a presentation on what I’ve learned. It increased the stress and was more of a distraction than a help. I’m not sure who’s idea it was to use these boards, but hopefully, the word would get out and the boards would be an option and not a regulation.

  • Candace

    Thanks Bryce…I appreciate your answers…and only a week for review is reassuring as I’ll be down to the wire trying to get through all the FAR material with week to spare before 5/28/13 exam date..!

    My textbook is heavily marked up with pencil comments as I process each section.

    I’m printing out all the slides and flashcards and using those as summary review before taking the PQs and EQs and TBSs. And I’m printing out and reviewing the TBSs especially where I went wrong.

    A couple areas I’m having to review multiple times such as Statement of Cash Flows…also heard that Bonds, Leases and Pensions are worth reviewing…and of course Non-profit and Government Accounting..! Yikes…so much to review. The CPAExcel comments in the front of the textbook of more difficult areas is a good guidepost…a longer list than I just mentioned.

    I created my own flashcards for the financial ratios and considering doing some more for key journal entries (which trip me up), IFRS differences with GAAP and some of the key formulas/concepts such as Dollar Value LIFO and Equity Method (as an example).

    CPAExcel text is very methodical but very dry. I find it helpful just to change up the studying to also have the Wiley Focus Notes by my side on some of the key areas and review them…cutting to the chase on certain sections.

    Yes, they say to take the exam to get beyond 75…but I’m also focusing on better than that to ensure I pass as a “one-hit wonder”…take the exam to get 100!…We’ll see…have not seen anyone on any forum do that yet!

    Thanks again Bryce for your website.

  • Candace

    Hi Bryce, Thanks for all your articles and in particular; ways to save 100 hours studying and this one on simple tricks to increase your score. I too am using CPAExcel to study for FAR (my first exam). I’m finding the amount of material daunting! My exam date is May 28th. I’m on page 280 (April 21st) and 834 pages to go! I’m concerned as to whether I can get through the two volumes and practice questions and have time for review. I’m a visual person so find the videos helpful but as you mentioned in another article, it takes more time. I have a number of questions:
    1. How many weeks did it take you to read through the CPAExcel 239 sections of FAR?
    2. How much time did you allow for final review after completion of the study text material?
    3. You mentioned practice exams – how many practice exams did you do and were they part of CPAExcel or some other review material?
    4. Many people supplement their review with Wiley Test Bank. Did you find that necessary when studying with CPAExcel?
    5. Did you prepare any additional notes or flashcards beyond the CPAexcel material or did you simply review the text, slides and practice question details? I am considering doing some on formulas, journal entries and IFRS differences but may not have time to do them. Your thoughts?
    6. CPAexcel doesn’t emphasize mnemonics. Did you find mnemonics helpful in your prep? And if so, did you refer to other sources for them?
    7. And finally what did the last 1-2 weeks look like for you when were preparing for FAR? Especially wondering if you have suggestions on preparing for the SIMs.

    • Bryce

      Hey Candace, no problem, thanks for the support!

      Answers to your questions:
      1. I can’t remember how long that section took me to read, however, I did not allow myself to get hung up on any one section. My advice, write notes on the section as you read it on anything that you think there might be a question about. Do your best on the MCQ’s and really review the questions you missed, then move on, keep the progress going.
      2. For FAR i took 5 days for my final review, looked something like this: Thursday 4 hours, Friday 4 hours, Saturday 8 hours, Sunday 8 hours, Monday 4 hours.. take test Monday afternoon.
      3. I only used CPAexcel’s practice exams during my final review, I would take them until I could score at least between an 80-85% on them consistently.
      4. I did use one of Wiley’s test banks to supplement for I believe my Audit exam. This was my first exam so I thought, hey why not, but I didn’t use them after that because I felt like CPA excel prepared me well enough.
      5. YES, take notes for sure! During my final review I would flip through every page (sounds tedious but ended up paying off big time for the 5-6 hours it took) and made a summary of all the things I highlighted/wrote down on the pages as I studied. I also made flashcards for a lot of the definitions I knew were important, not a ton, but enough to cover the main topics.. *Tip: Don’t BUY the flashcards, the actual learning for me took place when I had to physically sit my butt down and right them out, helps a lot with your long term memory skills.
      6. I did create a few of my own mnemonics and acronyms for certain material, however I would never refer to other sources since I believe it is much easier to remember a mnemonic/acronym that you created vs. one that was created by a review course. I would recommend this. For example, if you have a husband/boyfriend named Dave, and the acronym for some random thing is, ADWF, you could use “All Dave Watches is Football”, sounds cheesy but if you make them relate to your life on a personal level they are much easier to remember.
      7. The last 1-2 weeks, remember to book this on your calendar so you have no major social distractions and let your friends/family know this is important time for you. To prepare for the SIMS I felt like taking the Final Review Practice Exams was good enough (especially after 7-8 of them). For additional practice on SIMS you might want to check out CPA review for Free and Fast Forward Academy CPA review because they offer free practice ones.

      Hope this helps, cheers Candace,

  • Charles

    Hey Bryce, I will be taking my first CPA exam this July in Auditing. I work full-time as internal auditor but it won’t hinder my preparation for the exam. I will have to balance my professional life and studying time. Are there any more useful tips and advice for first timers like myself?

    • Bryce

      Well since you will be auditing at work all day as well as studying for the AUD section, you should definitely take one day off a week where you don’t even think about accounting and recharge your batteries. I did this every Sunday and it gave me something to look forward to throughout the week and make plans to do something fun on that day. This is HUGE because most people get burnt out and even though they are “studying” they are actually just going through the motions and not retaining any of the informations. Hope this helps, cheers and good luck!

  • JK

    The noteboards are Terrible! I hated it, the markers I was given were half dried out. Just another item at the exam to stress you out.

    • Kerry

      I agree that the noteboards are horrible. They are manageable & get the job done (better than nothing), but they are a pain. Also, they don’t give you any erasers! That was the worst part. Wear a jacket you don’t care about if you write a lot when solving problems.

  • Patrik


    Back in the game and mustering up confidence to retake REG

    1) are there any mnemonics for REG

    2) I need test questions! Where can I get access to test bank? Willing to pay but free would be appreciated.

  • faisal

    Hi Bryce,

    I am not your regular student out of college. I am married with children and
    have a full time job. I am taking Regulation in April. How do I stay focus.
    Need help.


    • Bryce

      Hi Faisal,
      I have never been married and don’t have any children, however, staying focused is all about consistency. Even if it’s just one hour per day, set aside a certain time of the day where you can study in a quiet place. Make sure your wife understands how important this is so she can help you. If the house is noisy I would recommend finding a local coffee shop, library, or bookstore where you can go to study.

      Another great way to make sure you are being held accountable to your goal is to put up a calendar in your bedroom where you will see it everyday. Before you go to bed each night write in how long you studied for, if you didn’t study that day you have to write “0 hours” on the calendar. This was always a good reminder for me and made me consciously think about when I was going to study because I HATED seeing “0 hours” written.


    • Gilbert


      I can sympathize with you on this one! I found it easier to study as soon as the kids went to bed, when the kids were taking naps during the day, and waking up in the early hours of the night to study when the house was quiet. It definitely is challenging; however, letting your spouse and kids know that this is a critical time for you is key. One of the other main things that helped was to stick to a schedule. I’ve heard it said that 3 hours maximum a day is sufficient for CPA study. It may be different for you, but however much time you need, try to stick to it as much as possible. As most parts of the exam run about 3 – 4 hours, teaching your body to get used to this routine will put you in a better position on exam day. Last piece of advice that helped me get a better grip on the exam was studying during lunch break at work, coming in about an hour early or staying an hour after work to study. Hopefully, this will help you in the future on other parts of the exam.

      • Bryce

        Great advice Gilbert, conditioning your brain to focus for 3-4 hours in preparation for the the exam is such a great point and something I’ve never thought about. Thanks for your input!

        • Shilpa Jain

          Hi Bryce,

          Thanks for all your articles and in particular; ways to save 100 hours studying and this one on simple tricks to increase your score.
          I am from India and came to US after marriage..I had done India CA +B-Com in education but now little bit confused about the procedure to apply for CPA and which books should i refer..
          Could you please help me out in my queries..
          1. What is procedure to apply for US CPA specially for INDIAN CA + B-Com..In which cities i can apply.I had working experience of 4 year
          2.Which books i should refer and till the time i get registered for CPA ..Can i use the books of 2013 (Some people are selling online in 100 bugs).

          Thanks in advance

          • Bryce


            I would recommend getting 2014 books. If you are looking for something less expensive go with Wiley CPA books, only about $60 each on amazon.com. You don’t want to be studying material that might not even be on the exam.

            As far as your education and experience requirements you’ll need to use a foreign credential evaluation service to know for sure. Each state board of accountancy has a website where you will find a list of these.


  • Ale

    Hi Bryce,

    I am in the works of ordering my study material from CPAExcel, and my goal is to take the BEC exam before the dead-March window begins. I keep reading comments about creating mnemonics to help memorize material for this section. Would it be at all possible for you to share the ones you created? I would find it very helpful, as I am not very creative in creating things of that sort.

    I am very hopeful that I will pass, but I can’t help getting nervous and anxious – even when I haven’t even begun studying!

    Thank you very much for your help (and if anyone else wants to share their mnemonic creations, I would greatly appreciate it too!). :)

    • Christa

      Haven’t started studying either so I don’t know how relevant this is but here is an auditing one I learned in school for remembering the COSO framework:

      C-Control Activities
      R-Risk Assessment
      I-Information & Communication
      E-Environment (Control)

      Knowing this actually landed me my current job as an internal auditor, and that mnemonic is how I remembered it in the interview :)

      • rashen


        C – Control environment and E – existing control activities

  • Moriah


    Great website! I’m going to take my first practice exam for FAR on Friday and the test day is on the 24th. What kind of scores did anyone get on their practice tests and passed the actual exam later ? I wonder if I should reschedule the exam if I score below 75 on the practice exam Thank u!

    • Bryce

      Thanks Moriah!

      I usually scored about 70-75 on my first practice exam, then I would go over all the ones I missed and keep retaking it until I scored at least 85%. Sometimes this would take 7-8 tries (15-20 hrs) but was totally worth, best way to do a final review in my opinion. Good luck, buckle down at least 2 or 3 days prior to totally focus, and Crush it!

      • Moriah

        Thanks Bryce!
        I’m still waiting for my test score. I scored 75% and 80% on my FAR practice exams. Time didn’t permit to retake the practice exams, but thank you for the advice. My biggest obstacle on test day was that I couldn’t sleep the night before. It’s funny how something that I didn’t expect became the biggest obstacle. I still took the test, and I’m hoping for the best. I will retake if needed. I’m taking AUD next week, and my only goal is to sleep the night before and show up for the exam, pretty basic. Thanks for the great info and responding to questions! I’ll report back when I have good news.

        • Bryce

          I know what you mean, I could never get much sleep before my CPA exams. Good luck with the Audit section Moriah!

          • Moriah

            I just found out that I passed FAR with an 85! I can’t believe it. I thought about canceling my test that morning because of zero sleep. I guess anything is possible! Thanks Bryce for the encouragement!

  • Hannah

    I took BEC with the new noteboards last week and used them to jot down important formulas and mnemonics. It was very helpful and I didn’t have any issues doing it. =)

    • Bryce

      Good to hear Hannah! Thanks for your comment, I know a lot of people are worried about this so I’ll be sure to spread the good news!

  • Chantel

    Extremely useful! It definitely beats the meltdown I had prior to taking (and failing) the exam.

    • Bryce

      Thanks Chantel, your going to kill it this time!

Over 3,500 CPA candidates have subscribed to my newsletter. Don't get left behind, get FREE updates about how to pass the CPA exam on your first try!

Your email is safe with me. I hate spam too!

Crush Reviews                                       Crush The CFA                                     CMA Coach