“Why is the CPA exam so hard?” I hear this question often from CPA candidates who are struggling to pass the exam. While the challenges that face candidates are widespread and different for everyone, there is one key skill that separates successful candidates from those who struggle- mental toughness. You might be surprised that I didn’t say studying, but the fact is that all candidates who walk into the exam expecting to pass have studied for the exams. Some pass, some do not- the difference is their mental game.
Being mentally tough is more than just being focused. It’s a tool in your tool kit that you may not even realize that you’re using. Unfortunately, it’s also a tool that many people don’t know that they need and don’t realize that they’re missing until it’s too late. If you’re successful at bringing mental fortitude to your studying and to exam day, you’re increasing your chances of passing these exams. Let me explain how.
One critical component of mental toughness is your belief system. This belief system is a little bit like the IOS in your computer. You can’t see it, but you know its there. If it isn’t there, your computer doesn’t function. If the IOS is malfunctioning, so is your computer. Our internal belief system drives our behaviors, our decision making and our performance. It’s that internal conversation you’re having with yourself.
If you’re walking into a study session thinking “I’m terrible with bonds; I never understood them in school, I will never understand them”, chances are you’re going to continue to have a rough time learning bonds. The likelihood of improving in this content area without a mindset shift is very slim. We need to shift the conversation that’s happening from the internally held belief system.
The new conversation might sound something like this: “Bonds weren’t my strongest area in the past, but I have more experience and am in a completely different place in my life now. I’m ready and able to learn this, and it’s my biggest opportunity for improvement.” Holding yourself able to accomplish smaller tasks like mastering one section of material starts to build on itself. With practice, what develops is a strong inner belief system that knows you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
Now, think about walking into the testing center on the day of your exam. How is your mental game? What is that belief system whispering in your ear? Is that conversation pushing you closer to a passing score or is it holding you back from it?
It’s critical to start developing this belief system into a positive and supportive one early on. Doing so on the day of the exam for the first time is likely to feel fake- like you’re trying to convince yourself (unsuccessfully) that you’re ready to pass this exam. By starting at the beginning, you gain facility with this new mindset and with bouncing back if and when it slips into a less positive place. It also opens you up to more productive and effective learning which, of course, also gets you closer to a passing score.
Sometimes, rewriting that internal dialogue and reprogramming that internal belief system is a big task. Coaching is a great tool to help you navigate through that process of ditching your negative beliefs and embracing new, more productive and positive beliefs. This change alone can be the difference between passing exams consistently and struggling.
Check out our new webinar where we dive into the importance of the mental game in your preparation for the CPA exam. It’s the best 24 minutes you can invest in yourself for the CPA exam right now.
Sending positive vibes,