How To Overcome CPA Exam Anxiety

December 2, 2020

Is test anxiety treatable? Is there a way to overcome those anxious feelings? According to the professionals, there are several things that can help reduce CPA Exam anxiety and bring a healthy work/life balance to your test prep. 

Reduce Stress, Boost Confidence, Maximize Your Results

In many cases, test anxiety is directly connected to anticipated problems. If the problems can be identified, solutions and/or preventions can be found to alleviate them. The AICPA provides steps “to help lessen stress and boost confidence on exam day,” in the document, 8 Strategies for CPA Exam Success.

The 8 Steps Focus On Reducing Stress By Knowing What to Expect & Being Prepared:

  1. Recognizing the exam process as a marathon, not a sprint,
  2. Being familiar with CPA exam content,
  3. Studying sufficiently and using resources including an excellent CPA review course,
  4. Moving beyond memorization into understanding and comprehension,
  5. Practicing good time management,
  6. Simulating the testing experience,
  7. Making good use of your support group, and
  8. Accessing accurate information at official sources. 

The Keys to Victory: Prep, Organize & Manage Your Time

NASBA echoes the idea of using CPA Exam preparation as a means of combating stress in Part 2 of their Managing Test Anxiety series, which focuses “on the stress that often sets in as candidates begin to take the Uniform CPA Examination.” This article presents several required steps, in the days leading up to exam day, that can be made into a checklist that will help with preparation, organization, and time management. Being able to confidently check off each item when accomplished allows candidates to focus more attention on the exam itself instead of worrying about other details.

What To Do Under Some Infrequent Test-Taking Circumstances

Knowing ahead of time how unique situations will be handled (if they occur at all) while you are taking the exam can relieve stress.

In addition to typical preparatory steps, NASBA answers questions regarding how to handle unanticipated problems during and prior to taking the CPA exam. Part 3 of the Managing Test Anxiety series provides answers to questions such as how frequently test data is backed up, how remaining test time is calculated, whether rescheduling is an option, etc. in the following scenarios:

  • There is a computer malfunction,
  • You receive an error message,
  • The fingerprint scanner fails,
  • The testing center has a power outage,
  • A fire drill is announced,
  • You have problems with your mouse, calculator, pens, or note board,
  • The room is too cold or too hot, or
  • Another candidate causes problems.
CPA Exam Classroom Recreation

Recreate the Sterile Testing Environment to Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Dr. Sawchuk, from the Mayo Clinic has some helpful insights on test anxiety, and, like the AICPA, encourages simulating the testing experience by “spending your time studying in the same or similar places that you take your test.” For example, if you like to study in a room by yourself, in your pajamas, with snacks, drinks and your favorite music in the background, then the testing environment may have a very uncomfortable “feel” to you. While the majority of your studying may be done in a comfortable setting, as you approach the exam day, try to create the testing environment at least 2-3 times.

Some Suggestions For Accomplishing This Are:

  • Set aside blocks of time so that you can do practice tests and/or homework for 3-4 hours with only small breaks for drinks, etc. 
  • Dress as you would at the testing center, put your cell phone away, and, if possible, use an online calculator similar to the one available on the CPA exam.
  • Study near other people who are working quietly, use earplugs when people are making louder noises, or have a quiet TV or radio program playing in the background.

Pay Attention to Mental Health & Address Potential Learning Disorders

Dr. Sawchuk also emphasizes the importance of receiving proper care for medical needs. “Test anxiety may improve by addressing an underlying condition that interferes with the ability to learn, focus or concentrate — for example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia.” Without proper attention to medical concerns, you may put yourself at a disadvantage throughout your studies and on exam day, whereas proper care for any medical condition will help you reduce stress, focus on the CPA exam and do your best!

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