If you plan on taking a professional certification exam or continuing education (CE) course, you’ll need to put in a lot of study hours. For tax professionals who have been out of school for a while, getting back into the study habit can be challenging. However, following the six tips outlined in this article will have you well on your way to a passing grade.
Why pursue certifications or advanced education?
“Tax preparer” is a great title and an in-demand career choice. But if you want to take your accounting career to the next level, consider adding a certification to your resume. Those accountants with advanced education or industry designations (CPA, CMA, CFA, EA, etc.) are highly sought-after, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. These titles demonstrate advanced knowledge across various areas of accounting and financial analysis; therefore, they command additional respect.
For those tax professionals who have a formal degree in accounting, advanced certification options include Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). If you don’t have an accounting or finance degree, obtaining the EA or Enrolled Agent certification is a great way to advance your career. In fact, it’s the highest credential awarded by the IRS.
Tax professionals with the EA designation can represent taxpayers before the IRS regardless of whether they prepared that individual’s tax return. Plus, the credential is valid in every state and has no educational or professional prerequisites. All you need is a knack for tax preparation and passing the three-part EA Exam. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Surgent EA Review offers a full suite of test prep materials explicitly designed for EA Exam candidates.
No matter what certification you’re pursuing, studying will no doubt be a big part of your life until you reach your exam date. Ready to hit the books? Follow these six study tips for tax professionals.
Set study goals and measure your progress
Studying for a major test like the EA Exam is a huge undertaking. Break it down into smaller pieces to avoid getting overwhelmed by the amount of content you’ll need to cover. Start with your target exam date and work backward, setting weekly and monthly goals around study time and topics covered. Be sure to factor in anything that might affect that study schedule, including holidays, family or work obligations, and any vacations you have planned. The goal is to be flexible enough to deal with “life stuff” but structured enough that you’re not cramming material days before the test.
Once you’ve set your study goals and established a schedule, make a habit of tracking your progress, whether with a spreadsheet, notepad or productivity app. When you hit a significant study milestone, reward yourself with something you enjoy.
Create a study environment
Effective studying requires focus, which can challenging in today’s busy world. Creating a dedicated study environment can help you get into the right mindset and retain as much information as possible. This could be an entire room, such as a home office or spare bedroom, or a designated spot at your kitchen table.
Ideally, your study area should be comfortable and free of distractions. To help create that environment, set your devices to “do not disturb” and close your door. Let friends and family members know that you’re about to study so they don’t interrupt you. Remember to take breaks at appropriate points so you don’t burn out or forget critical information.
Know your studying style
Are you a visual learner? An auditory learner? Do you prefer fewer, longer study stretches or shorter, more frequent ones? Are you a morning, afternoon, or late-night person?
Understanding how you study best will allow you to build an achievable study plan and tailor your learning materials to your specific preferences and strengths.
Be aware of any new material or exam changes
While professional certification exams stay consistent regarding format and topics covered, changes do happen. The CPA Exam, for example, is currently undergoing the CPA Evolution, which eliminates the BEC (Business Environment and Concepts) section and adds a discipline exam. It also increases the focus on increasingly essential accounting areas, such as digital acumen and data analytics, and eliminates the essay section.
The EA Exam tests candidates on the prior year’s tax laws, which can change either subtly or dramatically depending on recent legislation. For example, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly impacted the following year’s EA exam. So stay up-to-date by purchasing a review course that updates with the Enrolled Agent Exam or following tax law changes at www.irs.gov.
Take advantage of study tools
There are plenty of tools and applications available to help you study for your upcoming exam. Some are more generic, such as productivity trackers and calendar reminders, while others are tailored to specific certifications. For instance, Surgent Exam Review products include several useful study tools tailored to your upcoming exam. The IRS even offers online learning and educational products for tax professionals.
Find a study buddy
A study buddy can keep you accountable to your study goals, which is especially important when the going gets tough. Plus, studying for a big exam can be lonely, and having someone who knows what you’re going through can make it easier to get through it. Study buddies can also answer your questions, discuss tricky topics and recap course material.
If you’re an enrolled college student, you can find a study buddy in one of your classes or through one of your professors. Working professionals might be able to meet fellow tax professionals through networking or local accounting organizations.
Elevate your accounting career
A professional certification, like the CPA or EA designation, can open new doors for your accounting career. So hit the books with confidence by following the above tips and enrolling in one of our CE courses or packages.
Want to grow your own tax business? We can help. If you want to pursue additional certifications, browse our continuing professional education course catalog.