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CPA Exam Day Packing List: What to Bring and How to Prepare the Night Before

CPA Exam Day: What to bring and how to prepare

You studied for months. You received your NTS and scheduled your exam weeks ago. Tomorrow is the day you take your CPA Exam. It’s a big step toward earning your license, and you don’t want to be worrying about small details.

You’re probably tired from all the CPA Exam preparation you’ve done, but take a few moments to put things in order the night before your big day. It’ll leave you free to focus on what really matters. We’ve compiled a packing list of what to bring on exam day to help everything go smoothly.

Pack everything you need the night before

You want your drive to the test center to be as pleasant as possible and free from that terrible feeling of “I’ve forgotten something.” So, it’s best to organize whatever you plan to bring with you ahead of time. It’s much harder to leave something behind if everything you need is all in one place, ready to grab when you’re on your way out the door.

Make sure you have the right NTS and exam confirmation

Print out these documents if you can. Your NTS will have your exam section ID number, which you will use to log in to the CPA Exam at the test center. If your exam has been rescheduled or if you have received multiple NTSs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, be extra vigilant you are bringing the correct and current NTS. Bringing the wrong NTS means you can’t log in and take the exam, forcing you to be labeled a “no-show” and reschedule.

The exam appointment confirmation is a back-up for if your exam center has any issues seating you at the correct time. You won’t need this in most situations, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra cautious. You should verify that all the information on the confirmation is correct when you received it, but looking it over again the night before the exam can calm any extra exam day jitters.

Some test centers may accept digital copies of an NTS that can be verified on your cell phone; however, you will have to stow your phone in a locker at the testing site. Because your NTS has your exam section ID number, which you will need to log in, you need to have it physically written down.

Confirm you have two forms of identification

One of your forms of ID must include a photo, and both must have your signature. Neither can be expired. If you do not have two valid forms of identification, you may be asked to provide additional proof of your identity or you may not be able to sit for your exam.

You must provide one form of identification from the primary list below. Your second ID can come from either the primary or secondary list.

Your name must match on your exam confirmation, NTS, and identification. There is some wiggle room for middle names and initials, but it’s better not to risk it. When you receive your exam confirmation and NTS, check that your name is spelled correctly on both!

You can find a complete list of acceptable forms of identification on NASBA’s CPA Candidate Bulletin, but we’ve also included them below for your convenience. If you are testing in an international center, check page 42 of the bulletin for acceptable identification.

  • Primary forms of identification
  • Valid (not expired) driver’s license with photo and signature issued by one of the fifty U.S. states or by a U.S. territory.
  • Valid (not expired) driver’s license with photo and signature issued by a foreign government authority, that is printed in English to the extent necessary to compare your name with the one on the NTS and confirm that it is a valid driver’s license (examples are driver’s licenses issued by Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British authorities, and form countries that retain English as an official language).
  • Valid (not expired) Passport with photo and signature issued by the U.S. government
  • Valid (not expired) government-issued Passport (for non-U.S. citizens) with a photo that has your name exactly matching the Name or Passport Name field that appears on your NTS. If your Passport is not signed, you must provide a secondary identification with a signature. Non-U.S. citizens whose signature is not required on the Passport and/or driver’s license should order a NASBA Candidate Identification Card prior to taking the examination. Email for instructions on ordering a NASBA Candidate Identification Card.
  • Valid state identification card issued by one of the fifty U.S. states or by a U.S. territory. (If you do not drive, you may have an identification card issued by the agency that also issues driver’s licenses)
  • Valid U.S. Military identification
  • Secondary forms of identification
  • An additional government-issued identification from the above listing
  • Accountancy board-issued identification (if provided by board)
  • Valid credit card
  • Bank automated teller machine (ATM) card
  • Bank debit card
  • The following are unacceptable forms of identification:
  • Draft classification card
  • Social Security card
  • Student identification card
  • U.S. permanent residency card (green card)

Read test center rules and regulations

Read up on test center rules and regulations both on Prometric’s website and in the guidelines outlined in Step 4 of the CPA Candidate Bulletin. Among the topics discussed are the process for checking in, what to bring, and what is allowed in the testing center.

Everything you need to know going into your exam will be listed there. The most common surprises are below:

  • Candidates are NOT given scratch paper and pencils for the exam. Instead, you will have two double-sided, laminated, colored sheets called “noteboards” and a fine-point marker for making notations.
  • Your clothing will be inspected before you are able to enter the test room. You will be expected to turn out your pockets, pull up your sleeves and pant legs, and even provide your glasses for inspection.
  • The lockers provided for your personal items are small. Only bring the necessities going into your exam. Leave any study materials at home unless you arrive super early, in which case, leave them in your car.

Bring snacks and a clear water bottle

Four hours is a very long time to focus intently on an exam, but you will have the opportunity to take a break, have something to drink, and eat a snack. Your timer will not stop for most of your breaks, so pace yourself.

Only after the third testlet (of five) will you be able to pause the clock and take a 15-minute break. After 15 minutes, you’ll feel recharged and will be able to finish the rest of the exam strong.

The lockers at the testing center will be small, so if you do not have a small water bottle, you can use their water fountains. However, you can’t count on there being any vending machines for snacks. If you have questions about available refreshments, call your test center.

Pull up or print out driving instructions

Don’t rely on GPS the day of your exam. You should use GPS to monitor traffic, but you’ll be much less stressed if you know the route beforehand. If you can, take a test drive a week or two prior to your exam. Make the trip on the same day and time as your exam appointment. This will give you first-hand experience of the traffic and driving conditions, allowing you to make any necessary accommodations to limit stress on exam day.

If you’re traveling unfamiliar roads, especially early in the morning or in the afternoon, check the traffic norms. A 15-minute drive at 7p.m. on a Monday might take 30 minutes or more at noon on a Wednesday. Google has a feature that sets a departure time to help you estimate traffic conditions.

When in doubt, leave early. You may need to wait in your car for a while after you arrive, but it’s better than being late and missing your appointment!

Dress comfortably

Between driving to and from the test center, checking in 30 minutes early, and sitting for the exam for 4 hours (not including the 15-minute break), you will be spending a lot of time in your outfit on exam day. Do yourself a favor and wear clothes that will make you comfy and help you focus on what’s important: the exam.

You will not be allowed to take off any articles of clothing, such as jackets or sweaters, so be sure you won’t be too hot or too cold before going to the test room. If you’re not sure how to dress, call the test center ahead of time and ask what temperature they normally keep the room.

Find your favorite pair of jeans and those all-day sneakers the night before so you’re not worried about finding them on the morning of your exam!

Stay calm and avoid stress the day of your exam

This is much easier said than done, but if you can take precautions leading up to your exam day, you are going to feel much better and more focused.

Run errands the week before, or better yet, ask a spouse or roommate do them while you study! Get someone else to take care of the kids before and after school if you can. Even if your exam is in the evening, try to take the day off from work. Anything that can make your day easier will help you feel relaxed and confident during your exam!

Eat a filling breakfast

Yes, we said to pack a snack for the exam, but don’t wait until after you’re over halfway through the exam to fill your stomach. Stick with protein- and fiber-rich foods to help keep you feeling full and focused on your exam.

Eating healthy fatty acids such as omega-3 (from eggs) is good for memory, focus, and cognitive function. Vitamins A and D, found in eggs or Greek yogurt, improve concentration. For morning caffeine drinkers, make sure you’re drinking coffee the right way on exam day.

Leave early

Researching your route to the exam center should help you accurately estimate how much time you’ll need to get there, but don’t leave too much to chance. Give yourself 5-10 extra minutes of travel time to deal with unexpected delays.

Remember, you need to arrive at the test center 30 minutes before your appointment to ensure you complete the check-in process and start your exam on time. If you do not arrive 30 minutes before your appointment you may be labeled a “no show” and need to reapply for an NTS and schedule a new exam!

Pass with confidence

You got this! You’ve studied hard and you are ready to take this exam! The CPA Exam is incredibly difficult, but that’s no reason to think you can’t pass it.

Gleim has over 45 years of experience helping CPA candidates pass their exams, and now we’re ready to help you! Try our free demo and see for yourself how the all-in-one Gleim CPA Review can help you pass!