Which Order to Schedule the CPA Exam?

To pass the CPA exam, you need to successfully complete 4 sections in 18 months.

You could try handling it the way Arnold Schwarzenegger handles that bar full of bikers at the start of Terminator 2: by completing all four sections in 16 hours over 2 days like an invincible half-human/half-robot, effortlessly crushing all in the way.

And if you're superhuman enough to manage that, why not? Realistically though, most of us don't have it in us.

Because of the difficulty of each section, we'd suggest you study for one section at a time, and pass them individually.

So which order should you do it in?

There are a number of different strategies that candidates adopt. We weigh up the pros and cons of each.

Starting with the Section You Recently Studied

Graduated college recently?

Why not do the section with the material that's freshest in your mind from your most recent study?

If you've recently done a semester of accounting that's closely related to the material covered in one particular section, that's 6 months of preparation you can build on right away.

Taking the Most Difficult Section First

You have 18 months to pass all four sections of the CPA exam. With 3 sections left to go after you pass the first, your 18 months means you have about 6 months per section.

If you're worried about whether 6 months per section will be enough, doing the most difficult section first has an obvious appeal.

You can spend longer preparing for this first section, and it won't eat into your time for the other sections.

Once you've passed, you've got the most difficult topic out of the way with your full 18 months intact. That's some real momentum.

And if you fail? Well.. failing a section is nothing to celebrate. But at least you haven't failed with clock ticking on your previously passed sections.

This strategy lets you spend a little longer preparing for the exam. That's good if you need it. But remember, the longer you spend preparing, the longer it will take you to enjoy the reward.

Taking the Easiest Section First

This next strategy turns the last one on its head. Why not start with the easiest?

The real strength of this approach is in understanding the psychology of taking on a task as large as the CPA exam; it's intimidating.

But once you've passed your first section, it's that little bit less intimidating. You're also committed to your role now. That helps with maintaining the self-discipline you need to keep studying hard.

So which section is easiest? On the face of it, it looks like BEC. After all, it has the highest pass rate.

Is it really the easiest though? While BEC has the highest pass rate, it also has the lowest enrolment. That's because it's the section that many candidates leave until last. Part of the reason the pass rate is higher is because it's the more serious candidates who make it this far.

How Much Does This Matter?

Scheduling your sections in the best order can give you an extra edge. But that's all it is, an edge.

The truth is that every section is difficult and they all take a lot of work. It means a bit of sacrifice in the here and now for a reward you won't enjoy immediately. It means evenings spent studying when perhaps you'd rather watch a movie or be social.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong order in which to take these sections. What really counts is spending the hours on the right preparation.

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