Memories of the CPA exam

CPAs share their stories of meeting this unforgettable milestone.
By Samiha Khanna

Matt Walker, audit senior at Thomas Howell Ferguson in Tallahassee, Fla., is excitedly awaiting results from the fourth and final portion of his CPA exam, which he took at the end of August. He is eager to complete all license requirements, including passing all sections of the exam, so he can finally earn those three important letters after his name.

“The CPA title will give me professional credibility, as well as increase my own personal confidence by knowing that I can achieve the goals I set for myself,” Walker said. “The first section of the exam I passed was Financial Accounting and Reporting. At the time, I had three more sections to take. But as I told my mom, that was indeed the greatest accomplishment of my life.”

Matt WalkerMatt Walker

Unfortunately, studying has conflicted with Walker’s other passion. “I would structure my entire study plan around work and the New England Patriots’ and FSU Seminoles’ football schedule,” he said. “I am a huge football fan, so every minute studying during a Pats or Noles game multiplied the torture.” But weeks of sequestering himself from friends and family paid off.

No matter their age, all CPAs are able to relate to preparing for the rigorous exam. Like the SAT for college students and the bar exam for lawyers, the CPA exam is more than just a test; it’s also a rite of passage for the profession. Most CPAs recall long hours and late nights while studying a mountain of material to reach that esteemed milestone. With the CPA exam currently in one of the periodic review processes that will result in an updated version in 2017, we asked several CPAs to share their stories about studying for and taking the exam.

Joe Marchbein

Joe Marchbein, CPA, CGMA
Manager, Jack P. Fitter, CPA, APC
Chesterfield, Mo.

“On workdays, I would come home, kiss the wife and kids, eat a quick supper, and go upstairs,” said Marchbein, who took the exams in 1985 at age 31. “I’d close the door to a room and study for several hours. I vowed that I did not want to go through the procedure again if did not pass the first time—there had to be a life beyond passing the exam. I think that process forced me to really study and pass so I did not have to repeat the process. I was so relieved when I got the results. I just wanted to relax. I had a hamburger and baked potato while watching the St. Louis Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Pirates. My wife likes to say I passed because my handwriting is not easy to read and the graders couldn’t read it. That’s her idea of humor.”


Michael Elliott

Michael J. Elliott, CPA
Principal, Dittrick & Associates Inc.
Burton, Ohio

“The CPA exam was by far the most difficult exam I have ever taken. I started studying in the months following my wedding. I was working full time, about 65 hours a week, and then studying for the exam for 15 to 20 hours a week. My wife joked that she hardly remembered we were married because she never saw me! I also remember being so paranoid about the auditing portion of the exam that I memorized my college auditing textbook in preparation. (Clearly, I’m a tax guy.)”


Jeanne Wiener

Jeanne L. Wiener, CPA/PFS
Tax manager, Young, Craig & Co., LLP
Mountain View, Calif.

“I sat for the CPA exam in Los Angeles in 1983, which meant that you took the exam over two days with a thousand other people at the sports arena. We sat at long tables on the floor of the arena with nothing but No. 2 pencils. My CPA exam mentor told me that if I got stuck on a problem, I should get up and take a walk around the arena. I was about half way around the perimeter when I figured out how to solve the problem. I dashed back, wrote down the formula for what would have been my answer (had I had time to actually do the math), and finished just as they told us to put our pencils down. They accepted my answer, and I passed the exam. After the Board of Accountancy issued my certificate, my boyfriend (now husband) and I went out to dinner at the most expensive and elegant restaurant we could afford.”


Nic Wigglesworth

Nic Wigglesworth, CPA
Senior, Tax Services, Anders CPAs + Advisors
St. Louis

“On the day of my last section of the CPA exam, I was about a mile from my house when a driver made a casual left-hand turn on a red light in front of my vehicle. I T-boned the side of their car. Normally, this would be an unfavorable experience, but the pleasure of walking out of my last test was such a relief that even a car accident couldn’t bring me down. Weeks later, I was notified that my vehicle was totaled, but the bad news was negated once more when I learned that I officially passed my last section of the CPA exam.”


Joy Child

Joy C. Child, CPA/PFS
Vice president, AAFCPAs
Westborough, Mass.

“One of my parents’ friends was a CPA, so my mother thought if I was majoring in accounting, my ultimate goal should be to become a CPA. I first took the CPA exam in May 1978 at Wichita State University in Kansas, where I also was in my senior year of school. Before I took the exam the first time, I had a very vivid dream about what my scores would be. I woke up and immediately wrote down the numbers. When I got my scores, all of the numbers were within one digit of what I had dreamed. After 37 years in the profession, I agree that getting my CPA was a good decision.”

Samiha Khanna

Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.

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