Jun 19, 2019

CPAs: Tailor Your Support of Exam Takers to Their Needs

Jessica M. Dunlap, CPABy Jessica M. Dunlap, CPA

If you’re a CPA, I’m sure you have a horror story or two from when you were studying for the CPA Exam. I know I do. And as a manager, then partner, in a firm, time and again I saw staff stress and struggle to find their unique way to slay the exam dragon. It doesn’t have to be that way. Every knight in shining armor had a team of support before setting off on their quest. Partners, managers, and coworkers need to be the blacksmiths and squires to each CPA Exam taker as they prepare their personal journey toward success.

Young accountant gaining CPA Exam advice from experienced coworker.Recently, I transitioned to a career in teaching at the collegiate level. In my new role, one of my goals included providing a course that encompassed a CPA Exam review. But it wasn’t going to be “my” advice. The first assignment I gave to students was for them to create their own study plan. When I was in public accounting and I would hear someone tell a staff accountant what they needed to do to pass, I would think, “What if that doesn’t work for their life?” With my course, I was insistent that each student needed to look over the material and determine for themselves the order in which they would accomplish all of the sections and be able to take a simulated exam by the end of the semester. You see, sharing your own methods and tricks may not be the right path for everyone. The goal of CPA friends, colleagues, and mentors – at work or at school – should be to help the prospective CPA develop the tools he or she needs to pass each part of the exam, each with his or her own flavor. If a particular plan is developed that fits their life and will get the job done, roll with it – even if it seems an odd path to you.

This doesn’t mean you should be hands off. Each week my students check in with me to determine if they need to alter their plan. Sometimes they require guidance or a refresher on a specific point. Create a support network to help the prospective CPAs work through concepts they may have forgotten or may have never learned. Establishing an environment that supports study and that emphasizes how failing to plan is courting failure have been key aspects of my class, and should be incorporated into your professional support program.

People seeking to pass the CPA Exam must plan up front with the end in mind, but they also need support, encouragement, and sometimes someone to hold them accountable to their plan. When passing the exam, we all slay the dragon in our own due time. Supporting each individual, and each individual plan, as they travel their path to becoming a CPA is, one might say, chivalrous.

Jessica M. Dunlap, CPA, is a professor of accounting at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., and served on the PICPA Board from 2017 to 2019. She can be reached at jdunlap@francis.edu.

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