Today’s post on passing the CPA exam focuses on more pre-prep issues: applications, state-specific requirements, and scheduling strategy.
The application process for taking the CPA exam requires extra care and patience. The most important thing to remember is that requirements vary by state, so it is vital to make sure that you meet the requirements in the state where you plan to take the exam, and where you plan to work after passing the test. Being recognized as a CPA is a two step process – first you must pass the test, then you must obtain a license from the state where you will work. I live and work in Illinois, so all of my paperwork and preparation revolved around Illinois requirements.
Applying to take the exam also requires two separate steps. The first step is applying to take the exam in general – this application provides to the testing authority all the proof that you meet the requirements to take the exam. The second step is applying for permission to take the individual sections and paying the applicable fees for each section.
All information about the exam, and links to the testing authorities in all jurisdictions where the exam is offered can be found at www.nasba.org. This page should be your go-to resource for any and all questions you have about the logistics of taking the test, as well as the most current information regarding upcoming changes to the content and format of the exam. The FAQ section under the CPA exam section is especially helpful. That site should be bookmarked by everyone even considering taking the exam.
Here is where some scheduling strategy comes in. I am going to use Illinois as my example, but remember that every state is different in how they operate. The situation I am describing is very common, though.
I completed the first part of the application process, which then put me in position to apply to take specific sections. The document you receive after you apply to take specific sections is called an NTS, or Notice To Schedule. This means that you now have the ability to contact a Prometric testing center and schedule your exam section. In Illinois, you can apply for any number of sections at a time, but the NTS is only good for six months from the date of issue. Also, the six month countdown starts the day the NTS is issued, so don’t do this part of the process until you are ready to take some sections!
If you apply to take more than one section at a time, the cost for each section gets cheaper. So, if you sign up to take all four within the six month window, you get the best price per section. However – you only have six months to take all four sections! Also, testing only falls in the first two months of each quarter (Jan-Feb, Apr-May, etc), so the timing has to be taken into account.
I started studying a couple months before I wanted to start the six month window, so that I would have time to take all four sections. I didn’t apply for an NTS until I was ready to take the first section. That way, I could take that part immediately. Then, I still had almost the full six months to prepare for and take the other three sections. In general, this gave me two months per section. Without prior planning, this wouldn’t have been possible.
Remember – everything you need can be found starting at www.nasba.org.
Next time: The big decision – how should you review for the CPA Exam?