Funny CPA Exam stories—and other memories of the test (Journal of Accountancy)

Funny CPA Exam stories—and other memories of the test

Whether they’re laugh-out-loud funny or more serious, these tales are likely to remind all CPAs what it was like when they took the test themselves.
September 18, 2017

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the CPA Exam’s use for licensure. To celebrate, earlier this year the Journal of Accountancypublished some of our favorite stories about the exam from members. That story prompted even more people to send their stories. While we couldn’t publish all of them, here are a few of our new favorites.

Don’t be late!

As a soon-to-be graduating senior at the College of William & Mary, I took the CPA Exam in May 1978, along with my classmates, at the Norfolk Scope Arena. It was a two-and-a-half-day, four-part exam back then, if I recall correctly. There were about 500 test-takers, all diligently working away. The first day of the exam, about a half hour in, one of the doors opening down onto the convention center floor suddenly crashed open with a huge noise. Someone, who had obviously overslept, almost fell down the stairs in his rush to get onto the floor to be seated and started. It was a great icebreaker. The test takers on the floor roared with laughter. I, along with my friends, managed to pass the exam.

David B. Tatge, Esq.
Epstein Becker & Green, P.C.
Washington, D.C.

Tough crowd

I took and passed the exam in 1981, and the memories of that day remain fresh in my mind. As someone who holds numerous certifications, I found that by far the CPA Exam was the hardest and most intimidating exam I have ever attempted.

I took the exam in the Fort Worth Convention Center with thousands of prospective CPAs. Roughly one to two hours into the exam, with the center as quiet as a church mouse, I recall someone scooting their chair back, standing up and screaming, “son of a b****,” and walking out!

I don’t recall any laughing. Tough crowd.

Michael Farris
Retired CPA/PFS (inactive)
Platte City, Mo.

Identity crisis

I took the exam in the Lausche Building—named after a former Ohio governor—at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus.

I stayed with a future brother-in-law who was an Ohio State student. By uncanny chance, the night before testing began, his apartment was robbed. They were surprised to find me on the sofa, and stole my wallet, watch, and shoes. The shoes weren’t nice; the thieves took them because they did not want me to run after them, which I would not have done anyway.

I had to borrow shoes to drive to the Lausche Building, and the only ones I could muster were at least two sizes too large. I drove up to the parking lot and could not pay to park. Luckily I had my checkbook, so I asked how much it cost to park for the next three days and wrote one check for the rest of the week.

Of course, taking the exam requires a picture ID. Since my wallet was stolen, I no longer had one. I arrived early enough to plead my case with the accountancy board administrators. At first they did not believe I was so unfortunate and suggested I would not be allowed sit for the exam without the picture ID. I took off one oversized shoe to show them some sort of proof my story was true. This captured the attention of a director, who was watching from afar and remembered that the application for sitting for the exam required a picture be attached. The director went to the file and found my application with picture attached, looked at it, and said, “Looks like you. You can take the test.”

The exam started with frustration, but the rest, as they say, is history.

Dennis P. Benvie, CPA

Blood, sweat, and tears

I sat for the exam in 1974 at the Long Beach, Calif., Municipal Arena. There were hundreds of individuals sitting for the exam, all seated at long tables with seating spaced so no one could look over someone’s shoulder. As part of the introductory instructions, we were told we could not leave our seat during the last 45 minutes to an hour of the exam, so if we needed to use the restroom we had to do so before that last hour. We were reminded of this requirement more than once with an emphatic reminder close to the beginning of the last hour. Due in part, I suppose, to the large number of persons taking the exam and with seating in every nook and cranny of the arena, there were volunteer monitors keeping a close eye on all exam-takers, and if I remember correctly, I believe monitors were stationed near restrooms and closely watched those who left their seats during the exam.

After a long day, we finally entered the dreaded last hour and were told the time had come when we could not leave our seats for any reason. When I was in college, I broke my nose in a sports activity. For a few years after that injury, I would often develop a significant nosebleed. You guessed it: Just as we entered the last hour, completely out of the blue, my nose began bleeding like someone turned on a faucet. I had a handkerchief in my back pocket and applied pressure attempting to quell the bleeding. I signaled to one of the monitors that I had a real problem. When the monitor came to my seat, the “blood evidence” did not require me to say much other than I needed to get to the restroom quickly. The monitor hesitated and said no one can leave their seat. I protested so vigorously the monitor consulted with another monitor and accompanied me to the restroom. I was finally able to stop the bleeding, clean up, and return to my seat. By now the time to complete the exam had almost expired.

The result was I passed three of four parts at the first sitting. I had failed the last part due to heavy bleeding. I passed the fourth part at the next sitting. I always thought the person grading my exam workpapers probably thought this person put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the exam.

Leo Anderson, CPA
Steinbruner Hill Certified Public Accountants
Carmel, Calif.

Medical emergency

A few weeks prior to graduating from the University of Cincinnati, I sat for the May 1981 Ohio CPA Exam on an unusually warm day. The exam took place on the Ohio State Fairgrounds. It was the first day of testing, and the sun was bright. We sat down, were given the signal to start, and began scribbling furiously. After about an hour we heard a loud scream, a crash, and a tumble. I was afraid to look to see what had happened, and motivated by fear, got back to the task at hand. Then an ambulance came down the street and into the parking lot of the building. An EMS crew came in with a gurney and removed a body. The state of the body was unknown. I thought to myself, “Passing this exam is not worth losing one’s life.” However, I kept focused. The proctors gave us an extra half hour to compensate for the disruption. We finished and conjectured what had happened. The best theory we could come up with was someone had a seizure. It was rumored the following day that the person who had collapsed was back to continue the exam. When the results came in the mail a few months later I discovered I had passed three out of four parts, including the part interrupted.

Glenn Mears, CPA
President, The Parkway Auto Group
Dover and New Philadelphia, Ohio

Locked out

In 1984, I took the CPA exam in Los Angeles. I had never driven the freeway before, so I was very nervous.

When I got downtown to the test site at the convention center, I was flustered and I ran into the building to sign in. After the exam was over, I walked to my car and realized I had locked my keys inside. Thank goodness for AAA.

The second day, I left a bit earlier in case there were any issues. I got there, incident-free, and sat in the car doing some last-minute studying while listening to the radio. After the exam was over, I realized, lo and behold, I had locked my keys in the car again.

I know the AAA guy was wondering what was wrong with me!

Nancy Ngou, CPA (inactive)
EY Advisory & Consulting Co., Ltd.

Call the cops!

Back in the fall of 1987 when I was taking the last part of the CPA Exam in Trenton, N.J., I was staying overnight in a small motel just south of the Trenton firehouse where the exam was being held. It was a small motel off the main road, not very expensive, and I started to hear noises outside the sliding glass door in the rear of the building. I turned off the lights, slid the curtains, and saw someone a couple of units down trying to get into the rooms.

In my bravest fashion, I grabbed the phone and called the front desk and informed them of the potential intruder. This was just what I needed the day before the exam. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I lay down on the bed in the dark trying to relax, listening in the dark, wishing upon wish that no one would try to get into my room.

After about 15 minutes or so, my bravery came back enough to go back to the sliding glass door to look out again. My lights were still out. As soon as I looked out, someone shouted, “Freeze, hands up!” It was a local policeman responding to the call, thinking that I might be the intruder. As calmly as I could, I stated that I was the person who placed the call about the intruder, and could I please put my hands down, and change my underwear?

Michael Lefkoe, CPA (inactive)
Cherry Hill, N.J.

The good and the ugly

I’ll just mention the good and the ugly places I took the exam. I graduated in 1982, and knowing I needed two years of audit experience to be certified, I used that two-year period as my goal. I’m happy to say I passed within the two years and scored a 75 on each exam, which made me a member of the 300 Club. Using two years meant I took the exam in two different locations.

The good place was at Yonkers Raceway, a harness race park in Yonkers, N.Y.  I sat right in front of the betting window for good luck and remember watching the horses practice on the track while taking the exam. It actually helped me concentrate better.

Then there was the ugly place, the Bronx Armory, a huge, dark building. I sat in front of a row of tanks.  It was so noisy I was sure I wouldn’t pass the part I was sitting for that day. I’m happy to say I did pass, but glad I only had to sit once at that location.

Scott D. Abrams, CPA, CGMA
New York City

JPMorgan’s CEO admits his company has a black talent problem—and the finance industry should listen

JPMorgan’s CEO admits his company has a black talent problem—and the finance industry should listen

Leah Fessler

Everything is “exceptional” and “extraordinary” at JPMorgan Chase, according to CEO Jamie Dimon’s annual letter to shareholders. But the firm has “simply not met the standards set for [itself]” on one initiative: hiring black talent.

That will hardly come as a surprise to an industry that’s resolutely lacking in diversity. According to the US Census Bureau, 79% of financial advisors are white, 8% are African American, 7% are Hispanic/Latino, and just 5.7% are Asian.

By some measures, JPMorgan’s diversity record is better than its peers. According to its website, among its professional US workforce, 20% is Asian and 8.7% is Hispanic/Latino. It’s also making progress on gender diversity. 40.5% of US employees are women. It promotes women to leadership positions too. Within global financial services, 30% of Dimon’s direct reports and 30% of its leadership are women.

But when it comes to African Americans among its ranks, JPMorgan barely tracks better than its peers. African Americans comprise 9.4% of employees, and just 3% of executive or senior-level managers.

For Dimon, this is unacceptable. He writes:

“While we think our effort to attract and retain black talent is as good as at most other companies, it simply is not good enough. Therefore, in 2016, we introduced a new firm-wide initiative called Advancing Black Leaders. This initiative is dedicated to helping us better attract and recruit external black talent while retaining and developing the talent within the company.”

Nearly every top US bank—Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Citi Group—promotes diversity initiatives. But Dimon’s explicit condemnation of this specific diversity challenge appears to be a first among top Wall Street execs. What’s more, by addressing insufficient African American talent in his coveted annual letter—deemed management gold by the likes of Warren Buffett—Dimon is assuming responsibility for the issue and its resolution.

“What’s most encouraging about Dimon’s statement,” says John Rice, Founder and CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a non-profit helping underrepresented minorities become corporate and entrepreneurial leaders, “is that it appears JPMorgan is focusing on a multi-faceted approach to African American diversity; he addresses recruitment, retention, and advancement. Not all organizations will publicly communicate the importance of all three levels, as historically Wall Street has prioritized recruitment over helping ethnically diverse employees advance.”

The real question, says Rice, is whether JPMorgan has the strategies in place to move the needle on all three issues; such strategies must include a clear, metrics-based definition of success, including benchmarks for how many African American employees JPMorgan hopes to employ at all organizational levels in the next three to five years, and promotion rates of African American analysts be relative to white analysts.

The jump from executive director to managing director is the toughest on Wall Street, and has been particularly troubling for black and Hispanic employees. To support minority employees’ success at this notorious choke point, JPMorgan is formalizing the developmental coaching white men have long-received informally, and doing so in more creative and aggressive ways than its competitors, says Rice. This focus is undeniably strategic as the trickle-down impact of having more ethnically diverse executives on minority advancement and retention is powerful.

Yet, in light of JPMorgan’s equally troubling percentages of Hispanic/Latino and Asian executives (4.1% and 6.5%, respectfully), Dimon’s explicit focus on black talent could raise concern. According to Rice, it shouldn’t.

“What’s important is that the CEO, the top executive, is talking about diversity issues within a particular segment of the employee population, African Americans, and saying that they are going to hold themselves accountable to moving the needle on this segment,” says Rice. “The strategies that prove successful, as relevant, will undoubtedly broaden to other ethnic minority employee populations.”

Valerie Rainford, JPMorgan’s ABL leader, reinforces this point: “When we see an opportunity where we want to do better, we’re bold enough to make the change,” she says. “Advancing Black Leaders is that kind of strategy, and we’re not stopping there. We’ll continually look at ways to help other communities within the company.”

Dimon’s commitment is set. Now he’s got to deliver.

Why Valuing Diversity Matters!

With all that our country faces, I wanted to keep the focus on what, I feel, makes America Great. Valuing our Diversity. We still have much work to impact diversity retention in many technology companies made this blog feels timely.
Our nation and our workforce are both becoming more diverse. The share of people of color in the United States is increasing; more women are entering the labor force, and the LGBT community continues to make vital contributions to our economy while being increasingly open about who they are. To that end, businesses that embrace diversity has a more solid footing in the marketplace than others.
A diverse workforce combines workers from different backgrounds and experiences that together breed a more creative, innovative, and productive workforce. And businesses have learned that they can draw upon our nation’s diversity to strengthen their bottom line. In this way, diversity is a key ingredient to growing a strong and inclusive economy that’s built to last.
Let’s look at the top economic benefits of workplace diversity.
1. A diverse workforce drives economic growth. Our nation’s human capital substantially grows as more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and gay and transgender individuals enter the workforce. A McKinsey & Company study, for example, found that the increase in women’s overall share of labor in the United States—women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to 47 percent over the past 40 years—has accounted for about a quarter of current GDP.
2. A diverse workforce can capture a greater share of the consumer market. By bringing together individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, businesses can more effectively market to consumers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women, and consumers who are gay or transgender. It is no surprise, then, those studies show diversifying the workplace helps businesses increase their market share.
3. Recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates means a more qualified workforce.When companies recruit from a diverse set of potential employees, they are more likely to hire the best and the brightest in the labor market. In an increasingly competitive economy where talent is crucial to improving the bottom line, pooling from the largest and most diverse set of candidates is increasingly necessary to succeed in the market.
4. A diverse and inclusive workforce helps businesses avoid employee turnover costs. Businesses that fail to foster inclusive workplaces see higher turnover rates than businesses that value a diverse workforce because they foster a hostile work environment that forces employees to leave. The failure to retain qualified employees results in avoidable turnover-related costs at the expense of a company’s profits. Having a diverse and discrimination-free work environment helps businesses avoid these costs.
5. Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce. Bringing together workers with different qualifications, backgrounds, and experiences are all key to effective problem-solving on the job. Similarly, diversity breeds creativity and innovation. Of 321 large global enterprises—companies with at least $500 million in annual revenue—surveyed in a Forbes study in 2011, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.
6. Businesses need to adapt to our changing nation to be competitive in the economic market. Census data tell us that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country. Further, between 2000 and 2050 new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population. Our economy will grow and benefit from these changing demographics if businesses commit to meeting the needs of diverse communities as workers and consumers.
7. Diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism. Our nation’s entrepreneurs are a diverse set of people of color, women, gay, and transgender individuals. According to the Census Bureau, people of color own 22.1 percent of U.S. businesses. Moreover, women own 28.8 percent of U.S. businesses, and Latina-owned businesses, in particular, are the fastest-growing segment of the women-owned business market. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, gay or transgender individuals own approximately 1.4 million (or approximately 5 percent) of U.S. businesses.
8. Diversity in business ownership, particularly among women of color, is key to moving our economy forward. The diversity of our nation’s business owners helps boost employment and grow our economy. For example, women of color own 1.9 million firms. These businesses generate $165 billion in revenue annually and employ 1.2 million people. Latina-owned businesses, in particular, have total receipts of $55.7 billion since 2002.
9. Diversity in the workplace is necessary to create a competitive economy in a globalized world. As communities continue to grow, it’s important to harness the talent of all Americans. Businesses should continue to capitalize on the growth of women, people of color, and gay and transgender people in the labor force. Our increasing diversity is a great opportunity for the United States to become more competitive in the global economy by capitalizing on the unique talents and contributions that diverse communities bring to the table.
10. Diversity in the boardroom is needed to leverage a company’s full potential. By 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the United States, and our nation’s boardrooms need to represent these changing demographics. Currently, people of color and women only represent about 14.5 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of corporate boards among the senior management of Fortune 500 companies. Recruiting board directors with a breadth of expertise and varied experiences will make companies more proficient.

THE BLOG 12/19/2016 11:23 am ET