The CPA Exam’s Biggest Surprise

The CPA Exam’s Biggest Surprise

  •  Updated:March 19, 2019
  • Bryce Welker, CPA
  • CPA Review Courses
  • Comments (62)

There’s nothing like sunny beaches, summertime concerts, and girls in bikinis strolling past your window all day long. That is of course, unless you’re trying to study for the CPA exam.

My apartment was only steps away from the sand and off in the other direction was a string of endless bars that occupied the party filled city of Pacific Beach, California.  Not exactly the optimal location for calculating bond amortization.

Already half way through it, I felt like I had passed the point of no return. 2 exams down, 2 to go.  But sometime in between the sacred local holidays of Taco Tuesday and Wine Wednesday, I completely lost my motivation to finish the CPA exam.

I became more distracted than a 5 year old at Chuck E Cheese’s with all the activities going on around me. From volleyball games to birthday parties to BBQ’s, the result was always the same, I felt guilty whenever I would go and even more left out when I stayed at home to study.

All these distractions and mental noise took me to my breaking point and forced me to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask myself, “Why the hell do I even want to be a CPA? I mean, do I really want it?  WHY!?”

My CPA Exam Motivation

Asking myself “why” made it very clear what I was actually after.  I wanted the $5,000 bonus my work offers for passing the CPA exam, and I also wanted to prove my peers wrong who told me it’s “impossible” to pass all 4 sections the first time while working a full-time job.

So what were my underlying motivations? Money & pride. That sounds pretty shallow on paper, but at least I was honest with myself.

As soon as I figured out what was motivating me, my drive kicked into high gear and I launched back into study mode filled with a sense of purpose and meaning. I remember printing out a sign with big bold letters and placing it at the foot of my bed that read “$5K – Let’s Do this B!”  Cheesy? Yes, but I was forced to look at it everyday and it helped to keep me focused and motivated.  (I dare you to try it out for 1 month; you’ll be surprised at how something so simple can be so effective!)

After that I found some new coffee shops outside of the city to study at.  I would go there straight from work just to make sure I didn’t get seduced into a night of debauchery with my roommates. It became the summer of “I can’t make it tonight” and “No, I’m busy” except now when I told this to people the disappointment in my voice was replaced by a subtle excitement.

What I Actually Learned From the CPA Exam

Looking back on it, I realize how much I changed during that summer.  I cut myself off from old friends that were bringing me down. I met new ones that had similar goals and interests. I learned how to buckle down and study after a grueling 10-hour day of work.  I learned how to forgo short-term pleasures in order to reach long-term goals. I discovered that working with a meaningful sense of purpose makes life much more enjoyable than going through the motions and following the crowd.

The CPA exam is more than a test of mental capacity and knowledge.  It’s a test to see how well you are able to balance your life after your priorities are turned upside down and you no longer have a single hour in the day left to go to the gym.  This type of stress forces you to become more efficient in all areas of your life, from your relationships to your study habits.

The valuable life lessons learned along your CPA journey may very well be the most important things you learn while studying for the CPA exam. This type of transformation and self-discovery goes far beyond accounting principles and has the power to transform your personality and your character for the rest of your life.

Thanks for reading this post. You guys rock and I’m so grateful for your support and kind words. I continue to write on this blog purely because of you so let me know what I can do to help.

Now go CRUSH IT!


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  • Mark
    Posted at 22 March, 2016 17:00 PM Reply

    Thanks for the mid-exams motivation! i went on a trip to Thailand after passing the first two and am now struggling to motivate myself for the last two but this helped! Time to conquer REG! Fortunately (well unfortunately), I don't live in PB (awesome place) so there aren't quite as many distractions... Cheers!

    • BWelk
      Posted at 31 March, 2016 19:40 PM Reply

      Glad to hear you are ready to tackle it again!Bryce

    • Sabrina
      Posted at 7 January, 2016 23:51 PM Reply

      Hello, I work for a financial institution in public accounting. I have a degree in accounting but I have graduated a few years back. What part should I start with? What software should I use in preparing myself? I am a big fan of understanding the material and practicing through lots of examples/ questions. I am not too much into memorizing but if needed I will make the effort. I will greatly appreciate your opinion. Thank you.

      • BWelk
        Posted at 15 January, 2016 04:02 AM Reply

        Hi Sabrina,This article I wrote will help you choose the best order to take the exams in: If you are a visual learner and plan to learn by watching the video lectures then Roger CPA Review is your best option. If you prefer to self-study and learn from reading the textbook and drilling lots of practice questions then Wiley CPAexcel would be the best fit.Cheers,Bryce

      • Edward c
        Posted at 1 December, 2015 18:18 PM Reply

        Hi Bryce, I have been used becker for years, however , my score already around $70-$85. I feel the becker review doesn't cover all range of exams.This made me can't pass all sections within the limited time. If I would like to buy the other review for practicing questions only( specially for simulations). Which one would you suggest? Thanks.Edward

        • BWelk
          Posted at 30 December, 2015 20:18 PM Reply

          Hi Edward,Wiley CPA test bank is going to be your best option for additional practice questions.Cheers,Bryce

        • Lilly
          Posted at 13 November, 2015 03:05 AM Reply

          Hi Bryce,How and where did you start studying for the exam? Did you only use the cpa review book or something else. I honestly have no idea where or how to start studying for the exam . I want to start all over again since I did not learn anything in college. What do you suggest I should do?

          • abe yi
            Posted at 30 September, 2015 02:49 AM Reply

            Bryce,Thanks for the tips. And to fellow readers, he couldn't be more legit! Very timely on his responses in email and a genuine guy who just wants to help fellow CPA preparers. His book definitely puts a new perspective into taking the exam. Information you can't really put a price on. Once again, thanks a lot of everything Bryce!!

            • BWelk
              Posted at 1 October, 2015 23:44 PM Reply

              Thanks Abe, good luck in your studies!

            • Edwin Hernandez
              Posted at 11 June, 2015 02:56 AM Reply

              Hi Bryce,I will definitely buy your book and the CPA review from this website. I am almost done with the 150 hours. I am currently taking Non-Profit and Ethics during the summer will take Corp Tax in the Fall Semester. I will then sent my application of intent and get in CRUSH mode by January of 2016.

              • BWelk
                Posted at 23 June, 2015 14:11 PM Reply

                Awesome to hear Edwin, thanks for your support!!

              • Reyna
                Posted at 10 March, 2015 21:55 PM Reply

                Hello Bryce,Great content on this website! I am going to take and crush all four parts this year! I am determined to do it, and I will be buying your book to help me get prepared. A tip that I use: I get so easily distracted with everything around me, so what I will do is set a timer on my phone for an hour, and during that hour, I study nonstop-no distractions allowed! After my hour is up, I take a 5 minute break, and indulge in whatever stupidity was trying to distract me. Then, I go for another and another!

                • BWelk
                  Posted at 2 April, 2015 01:34 AM Reply

                  Good to hear Reyna, thanks for your study tip!!

                • Grant
                  Posted at 9 January, 2015 19:48 PM Reply

                  Hi Bryce,I've recently come across your website - great contents and advice, thanks so much. I want to sit for CPA exam within a year or so, but still currently taking classes to meet the 150 credits requirements. From your links on the Wiley CPAexcel, it looks like those 8 classes (24 credits) would work, is that correct? Also I majored in Finance in college, did take 3 accounting classes back then, and plan to register for the test in VA where they require "accounting degree or equivalent." Do you think that would work?Thanks again for the great website and happy new year.Grant.

                  • BWelk
                    Posted at 12 January, 2015 21:56 PM Reply

                    Hi Grant,Yes those 8 classes should work, however I'd definitely recommend calling CPAexcel first to make sure all the credits will transfer properly.I'm not sure about the specific requirement rules of VA, going to need to contact them for an answer that you can rely on.Good luck!Bryce

                  • Tom
                    Posted at 29 December, 2014 23:14 PM Reply

                    Hey Bryce! Great website! I just graduated and have several months before I start my job and am looking to get the CPA out of the way now. I don't really know where to begin with any of this, but my company pays for Becker. Only problem is Becker isn't offering live classes for the section I want to take first at this time. Do you have any advice? I'd really like live classes but it seems like there aren't many out there. Keep up the great work!!

                    • BWelk
                      Posted at 30 December, 2014 16:12 PM Reply

                      Thanks for the support Tom! All the major review courses have gone away from Live classroom lectures and are now focusing on their online courses. Becker is the only one I know of who offers live classes throughout the US.Happy new year!Bryce

                    • Mark
                      Posted at 3 December, 2014 01:40 AM Reply

                      Bryce,A friend of mine has Wiley CPAexcel and I already own Lambers CPA Study Review. My question is that would it be beneficial for me to use both to study for each section or do you see this as a problem mixing both review courses? My thoughts were I would do all the chapters and lessons in each. Thanks for the help.

                      • BWelk
                        Posted at 8 December, 2014 11:48 AM Reply

                        Hi Mark,Definitely DON'T use both of them. That is way overkill and you will be much better off just using CPAexcel and then if you come across a difficult and confusing subject then use Lambers as a secondary resource.Cheers,Bryce

                      • Thwe
                        Posted at 9 July, 2014 02:33 AM Reply

                        Hi Bryce, I came across your blog at the point of desperation in trying to figure out what to do, how to study, and if this journey is, if at all, possible. I passed Audit last February, just days before giving birth. And the rest is history.. trying to get back into the game of studying and struggling for a balance between a career and a family life. So, here I am, almost 18 months later, I am left with 3 more parts to pass. Yes, can you just feel my frustration? I failed BEC with 71 twice, and regulation was just too sad to even mention. And there is the beast, as they all call it, FAR. Everyone thinks I am insane to take all three parts in this 3rd Q. What do you think? Or should I just walk away at this point? Thanks, Thwe

                        • BWelk
                          Posted at 12 July, 2014 16:59 PM Reply

                          Definitely don't walk away and quit!! Do whatever you have to do in order to knock those other 3 sections out! Sacrifice everything that's not essential in your life and make this your #1 priority, it's worth it, I promise.-Bryce

                          • Sarah
                            Posted at 4 February, 2015 17:59 PM Reply

                            Hi, I'm just curious if you ended up finishing the exams. I have a similar story; I passed FAR just before giving birth and failed AUD twice, and just got a score of 73 for REG. I would appreciate any advice you have for me. Thanks!Sarah

                            • Thwe
                              Posted at 5 February, 2015 14:30 PM Reply

                              Hi, I let Audit expired, and now back to square one. I thought of retaking them all, but not when I am not 90%+ ready because I know I will just end up wasting away the money failing them all again. I think that we both have studied at least 50% of the material and all we really need is to focus and give 110% of ourselves. If you are in a situation to give yourself 20-30 hours studying time a week, go for it. I don't have that time. I work full time and am currently in busy season and I know I just can't concentrate to study. It's still on my mind, but in a distant at this point. Good luck with your decision and your journey!!Thwe

                          • Karim
                            Posted at 13 June, 2014 12:25 PM Reply

                            Hi Bryce,I am trying to understand the work experience requirement for NY. I did work as a controller for several years under the supervision of a Florida licensed CPA. As a controller, I performed various accounting functions to include internal audit and financial reporting. Assuming I can track him down, do you believe this experience would qualify?Thanks Karim

                            • BWelk
                              Posted at 15 June, 2014 06:59 AM Reply

                              That should qualify if he was an actively licensed CPA when you worked for him. Read here for more details and links to the official requirements from the state's website:

                            • monica garland
                              Posted at 26 May, 2014 20:22 PM Reply

                              Hi Brycethat was a great article. I graduated with my bachelor in Accounting in fall of 2012. I just started the CPAexcel coursework, but I get distracted easily. I was wondering is best for me to actually start studying for CPA exam and take the four exams first then taking the extra course work to meet the 150 hours to be certified? Please help and thanks so much!

                              • BWelk
                                Posted at 27 May, 2014 04:47 AM Reply

                                Thanks Monica!That could be a wise decision but only if you treated studying like a full-time job and set aside 5-6 hours a day of quality study time. If you are close to fulfilling the 150 credit hours, personally I would just knock it out so you can close that chapter in your life. But if you have ways to go then putting that on hold for a short time is not a bad option.Cheers,Bryce

                              • Danielle Elberg
                                Posted at 10 February, 2014 07:47 AM Reply

                                Well written Bryce.I feel the same way. The experience of managing the study for the CPA exam does change you as a person. It re-designs your character and makes you stronger. It builds your confidence but can also brake your will if you allow negativity to leak in. Life is all about timing and balance. Knowing when to take the road not taken and balancing everything that comes along the way. You have to be in the right state of mind to take the journey and remain focused (impossible) and in control while you stumble and fall. Get up and keep fighiting. Never give up as you are a champion and one day will I. Passed AUD, BEC & FAR. Studying for REG & have to re-take expired AUD.

                                • Bassam
                                  Posted at 5 February, 2014 16:49 PM Reply

                                  That's one inspiring post Bryce, thank you for sharing it. keep in mind you motivate hundreds of CPA candidates from this website, and I'm proud to say that I'm one of them.Thank You.

                                  • DevangiST
                                    Posted at 20 December, 2013 07:22 AM Reply

                                    THANKS A TON for this post Bryce!!I am sailing in the same boat as you were. Cleared 2 sections of the exam on first try with a whopping score of 98 in AUD. Unfortunately being perfectionist and detail oriented person, i have lost so much of time. (Feel terrible when i have to refuse my 3 year old to spend time with her) As i am preparing for FAR section i completely seem to have lost it! i only have 4 months to pass FAR and BEC and somehow i just don't feel like i can do it. i was so ready to GIVE UP! However i felt much better after reading your blog and knowing that there are other people as well who struggle just the way i do and its so important to stay focused and self motivated. I can't thank you enough for being such a torchbearer for people like me!

                                    • Bryce
                                      Posted at 22 December, 2013 12:49 PM Reply

                                      You are definitely not alone in this ongoing battle! Thanks for the kind words, stick with it you are almost in the clear and it's totally worth it!-Bryce

                                    • Rod J
                                      Posted at 7 December, 2013 03:07 AM Reply

                                      Bryce,I have pursued the CPA without being employed. Basically, I have become a full time CPA student, and have taken small tutoring jobs here and there. My family wishes for me to stay 100% focused, and finish all 4 sections before my 26th birthday on April. The problem that I'm having is that despite the fact of all my time, I am not being successful at managing my time. I was able to pass FAR, and I'm waiting scores on AUD, so I might be two sections away as of tomorrow. At this point, I am so used to studying all day long that if I try to job hunt or stop studying I feel extremely guilty. Do you have any advice to those of us who have "all" the time in the world but are losing motivation?

                                      • Bryce
                                        Posted at 9 December, 2013 12:18 PM Reply

                                        I would suggest breaking up your days into 2 hour study sections. This will maximize the amount of information you are able to retain and also allow for you to relax in between sessions or blow off some steam at the gym/running/biking or any other exercise you prefer.For example:9-11 am: study11-1 pm: gym/eat lunch1-3 pm: study3-5 pm: relax/go to coffee shop/take a walk/run errands5-7 pm: studyThis will help maximize your efficiency so you are actively learning and aren't just going through the motions trying to finish as many chapters as fast as possible.Cheers,Bryce

                                      • Leora
                                        Posted at 7 October, 2013 02:53 AM Reply

                                        Bryce,Thanks for a very motivating post! Have you passed your PETH Exam yet? Can you give me any tips or suggestions for that?

                                        • Bryce
                                          Posted at 7 October, 2013 12:04 PM Reply

                                          Hi,Yes I passed the ethics (PETH) exam, however it took me multiple tries because I didn't take it seriously. My advice would be to buy the PDF version of the textbook, read through it once while taking notes of the different topics and writing down the PAGE NUMBERS. The exam is actually much trickier than the actual CPA exam in my opinion. There are many "trick" questions where there are multiple right answers so be sure to read all the answers before you answer.The good thing is you can take it 3 times online and if you need more attempts you only have to pay like $75 for another 3 attempts.Cheers,Bryce

                                        • Fatma
                                          Posted at 17 September, 2013 00:27 AM Reply

                                          That's really true, the most important thing during my journey was setting priorities and keep saying no,! I am sorry, I can't make it! But at the end I know am better person who can beat others challenges with a smile on my face :)Wish you all the best and hope your next post will about how to pass the 4 exams from the 1st try while working 10 hours a day!

                                          • Tom
                                            Posted at 16 August, 2013 10:17 AM Reply

                                            Bryce. Though I have just started back up my studying, I feel ready to take on the challenge. I have taken this exam and the following a lot more serious than previously and am hoping I am rewarded for it. My failing FAR in 2012 had me bummed, and busy season right after was a killer. But you are absolutely right about changing your mind completely and looking at new value in your daily routine. Today is my off day. 13 days till my exam I plan on going in these final days. Crazy how an exam can change your life and the way you view things.

                                            • Bryce
                                              Posted at 26 August, 2013 23:57 PM Reply

                                              Glad you got back on the horse and are going after it again Tom!