How to Successfully Take the CPA Exam

Each time you sit for a section of the CPA Exam, you’ll do so at a Prometric testing center. Prometric not only administers the CPA Exam but also records the audio and video of all testing sessions in order to document any unusual activity and report misconduct to the state boards. Therefore, you must comply with their procedures to test, receive exam credit, and remain on good terms with your CPA state board of accountancy. When you’ve put so much effort into your CPA Exam preparations, you certainly don’t want one wrong move to cost you the opportunity to test. Learning about the testing process and best practices in advance not only ensures a successful CPA Exam day, it also builds your confidence. To get you in the know before you sit for it, we’ll explain how to take the CPA Exam successfully.

Steps for a Successful CPA Exam Day

You must take each of these steps on exam day and familiarize yourself with them ahead of time to maximize your preparations and minimize surprises.

  • Bring your Notice to Schedule.

Your Notice to Schedule (NTS) is one thing you definitely can’t live without on exam day, as it is required to secure a testing appointment through Prometric as well as to be admitted into the Prometric testing center. You receive your NTS after you’ve applied to your state board and paid your fees, and you receive one NTS for each CPA Exam section you would like to schedule. Your NTS contains personal information that must match your identification and has the Launch Code that you will enter into the computer as part of the log-in process. If you fail to bring your NTS to your testing appointment, if you bring an NTS for a different exam section, or if the personal information on your NTS doesn’t align with your ID, you will not be admitted into the testing center and will forfeit all of the examination fees you have paid for that section.

  • Have your Personal Identification ready.

Personal Identification is another exam-day essential. To take the CPA Exam, you must present two signed, unexpired forms of identification, one of which must feature a recent photograph.

  • Primary ID: valid driver’s license, passport, or state identification card
  • Secondary ID: accountancy board-issued ID or a valid credit, debit, or ATM card

Your name must appear the same on your exam application, your NTS, and the ID brought to the testing center. Therefore, you should keep your name consistent throughout the exam process; don’t change the spelling or order on applications or when making appointments. Any discrepancy among exam documents will terminate your right to test. You will also surrender your chance to test if your photo ID seems to have been damaged or altered in any way.

  • Store your stuff.

After you get to the testing center, you must place your personal belongings in a storage locker. You will be given the key to your locker, which you must return to the test center staff prior to leaving. The lockers are very small, so only bring what is absolutely necessary like a purse, wallet, or cell phone. The only personal item you can take with you to your seat is a pair of soft foam earplugs with no strings attached (test center attendants will inspect these). Test center personnel won’t be responsible for lost or stolen items. You can visit your locker during an exam break, but you can’t use your cell phone at any time while you’re in the testing center, even during a break. If you operate your cell phone during the exam, Prometric is required to report the incident to your board of accountancy for further investigation. As you certainly want to avoid being accused of cheating, you should just leave your cell phone turned off and in your locker.

  • Comply with security scans and having your picture taken.

Once you’ve stowed your belongings, the test center staff will lead you through their security measures, which begin with making three different scans of your ID and taking your photograph. Before entering the test room, you’ll turn out your pockets and undergo a hand-held metal detector scan. You’ll repeat this process every time you return to the test center after a break. You’ll scan your fingerprints using a biometric fingerprint-capturing system before you test. The digital fingerprints are stored electronically together with your identification information. You must provide your fingerprint before and after breaks, and during any subsequent visit to a test center. Fingerprint records will be kept on file for exam security.

  • Get your noteboards and take your seat.

Though you’ve left almost everything behind, you won’t go in to the testing room empty-handed. Instead, you’ll be provided with a fine-point marker and two double-sided, laminated, colored sheets called “noteboards” when you enter. You may use these items to make notations during the exam, and you’ll also write your Launch Code from your NTS on your noteboards. If you need more writing space during the test, you can turn your full noteboards over to the test center staff to receive a new stock. You can’t bring any paper or pencils to your workstation, and you must return the noteboards to the test center staff when you finish your exam. Once you’ve got your noteboards, test center staff will escort you to your workstation, where you must remain except when authorized to get up and leave the testing room.

  • Enter your Launch Code and complete the introduction screens.

Submitting your Launch Code logs you in to your workstation computer. You’ll then have five minutes to read the introductory examination screens that follow. Exceeding the five-minute time limit automatically terminates your test session, which then cannot be restarted. If this happens, you will have to leave the test center, forfeit the fees, reapply to test during another testing window, and receive a score of zero for that exam section. As you can see, ignoring the time limit for the introductory screens leads to significant consequences, so don’t do anything else with that time except move through the screens.

  • Start your exam.

Your exam should begin within 30 minutes of your scheduled start time. If anything other than candidate error delays the start of your exam session, you may continue to wait or you may ask to reschedule your appointment. These options also apply if a technical error occurs during the exam that cannot be resolved within 30 minutes. Once you officially begin the exam, you should use a CPA Exam time management system so that you only spend a designated amount of time on each question, assuring that you can submit an answer for every exam question.

  • Use the exam screens properly.

The CPA Exam has multiple question types that look and function differently. Submitting an answer for each type of question requires knowing how to operate the specific exam screens. However, if you wait until exam day to learn how to use the screens, you’ll waste precious testing time. You also run the risk of committing a user error that costs you a passing CPA Exam score. For example, you may mean to move on to the next question but accidentally click to submit the testlet. To avoid this scenario, take advantage of the resources that introduce you to the CPA Exam before you sit for it. The AICPA Sample Test is one such resource. Another option is the most exam-emulating CPA course available: Gleim CPA Review. Gleim CPA has programmed our course to mirror the format and functionality of the CPA Exam better than any other course on the market, so you can rely on our practice questions and Exam Rehearsal to get you completely comfortable with the CPA Exam.

  • Report computer problems and testing issues immediately.

There is only about a 1% chance that you will experience a computer problem during the CPA Exam. If you do, it typically requires a reboot from a Prometric staff member and just takes a minute, at most, of test time. In the rare instance that you do encounter a computer problem, do not erase any messages on the screen or attempt to fix the system. Instead, immediately notify the Prometric staff; it is a Prometric problem, and they are best equipped to handle it quickly. You should just note the time it occurred and when it is rectified. NASBA requests that you report all computer problems that are not adequately handled by Prometric by emailing candidatecare@nasba.org. Please also copy Gleim at cpa@gleim.com. We are happy to follow up with NASBA to make sure you are not overlooked. Do not wait until you receive your exam score to inform NASBA; you must report any computer problems within five days of taking the exam. If you have any other issues while testing, report them to the Prometric staff immediately, as they should be able to help.

  • Take the break that pauses the clock.

During the CPA Exam, you have the opportunity to take a standard break after you complete the third testlet, during which the exam timer pauses for 15 minutes. We encourage you to take if it would help you refresh your mind and renew your focus. You are also given the option to take a non-standard break during which the exam timer does not pause after completing any of the other testlets. Only take a non-standard break if you truly need it, and decide how long your break will be before leaving the testing room. You’ll see an action screen with the option for a break after each testlet.

  • Complete the necessary exit procedures.

Once you finish the CPA Exam and accompanying survey, leave the test room quietly, turn in both of your noteboards, and sign the test center log book. After you’ve completed all the necessary procedures, the test center staff will dismiss you. At this time, you’ll receive a Confirmation of Attendance form, which you should keep for your records. It includes important contact information for reporting any exam incidents or concerns.

Review for a Successful CPA Exam Day

Now that you know how to take the exam successfully, you have what you need for a smooth CPA Exam day experience. But do you have what you need for a passing CPA Exam performance? Pulling that off requires the right CPA review course for you.

Gleim CPA Review offers more content coverage and exam emulation than any other course on the market. With the biggest and best test bank available filled with MCQs and TBSs as challenging and realistic as those on the actual CPA Exam, you can reach peak confidence for exam day. You can also rely on our exam mentors to guide you through every step of your CPA journey. They’ll even provide you with plenty of encouragement in the days leading up to your appointment at Prometric.

Gleim CPA is so committed to helping you pass that we offer unlimited access to one Study Unit of our course. Sign up for your free CPA demo today!