How CPAs Make Their CPE Useful

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Mar 16

Today I share how CPAs make their CPE useful.

It is 3:32 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and you are thinking, “When will this CPE class ever end?” Your golf swing, a late tax return, your daughter’s college tuition cost–each float through your mind. Tick, tock, tick, tock. “So much to do and I sit here wasting another day in a worthless class. Why can’t this be more interesting?” Tired. Bored. Numb. You want to be anywhere but where you are. You feel trapped. Your mind continues, “Please let me out of here!”

Picture Courtesy of

Picture Courtesy of

Why does this happen? It seems many CPAs view this pain as a requirement of the profession. They seem resigned to death-by-CPE, as though “no pain, no gain” is eternally right.

But then there are other classes where the synapses are firing, you’re laughing and learning and even wanting more. Time flies. The day ends quickly, and you walk away satisfied.

What can you do to increase these positive learning experiences and decrease those that are not?

Create One to Three Year Learning Goals

Ten years ago I decided to become a Certified Fraud Examiner. I thought, “Why not use my CPE hours to move me in that direction?” Over the next year, I purchased the training material from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and trained. In September 2004, I reached that goal. Without the goal, the idea would still be just that–an idea. 

What training goal can you set that will make your dream a reality?

Many years ago I taught an archery class. I would say, “Fix your eyes on the particular part of the target you desire to hit. The greater the focus, the greater the results.”

But do we do this with our training goals? Many CPAs see training as something to be avoided rather than an opportunity to achieve particular objectives (like becoming a certified fraud examiner).

In your career, you will spend thousands of hours in training. Why not use those precious hours as a tool to elevate your game?

Seek Out the Best Trainers

Will excellent trainers cost more money? Yes, but what’s the alternative? Seek out poor cheap trainers. Do we really want that?

Warning: “Getting our (CPE) hours” may not equate to learning. Signing up for any old class for convenience’s sake or for lower cost may lead to that “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” that we spoke of earlier. And I do think this is the culprit: not giving our training appropriate focus.

Great trainers make for excellent learning experiences. Seek them out. Ask your friends who they learn the most from.

Plan Your Classes for Each Year

Planning your CPE calendar will allow you to spread out the learning load (I do not recommend taking 40 hours of CPE the last week of December). The human mind is not designed to absorb large quantities of complex information in a short period. Space out your classes. The separation will allow your mind to digest and retain what you learn. Also repetition enhances retention.

Revisit the Core Information

For each one-day class, write a one-page summary. Do this the day after you attend the class. Simply writing the summary will drive the learning deeper into your mind. Then revisit the summary page for the following intervals and time spans:

* One week later – review for 10 minutes
* Two weeks later – review for 10 minutes
* Three weeks later – review for 5 minutes

There’s nothing sacred about the intervals or time spans. The method is what is important.

Once you are done with your one-page summary, archive it in Evernote for future reference.

Use Livescribe Pen

For about $100, you can own the magic pen. No, it will not allow you to remember everything you hear. However, it will record the full audio as you write. Then, later, you can touch a particular word in your notes with the tip of the pen and “voilà,” you hear–from the pen–what was said at that moment. You can upload the written notes and audio to your computer. Don’t ask me how it does this, but it works. Amazing! Now you can have a full recording of your training with shortcuts (notes) to find the audio you need to hear. The pen holds up to 200 hours of audio. Click here for my Livescribe blog post.

In terms of learning, writing your notes is more effective than typing (and I might add, less distracting to those around you). Science has proven that writing has a greater positive effect on learning and retention than typing.

I leave you with one last learning tip: Read the table of contents before the class starts.

Read the Table of Contents

The human mind likes to anticipate, to know what’s coming. If you can access your CPE material before the class, I encourage you to scan the table of contents and highlight the areas you are most interested in (do take a highlighter with you to class). Highlighting the table of contents will prepare you for what’s coming.

Oh yeah, one last thing, I promise. Sit up front. The farther back you sit, the more distractions you will see (like the guy cruising the ESPN site or the couple that talks throughout the whole day).

What are your suggestions for making training more effective?

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About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

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(2) comments

Charles Hall March 19, 2015

Thanks Armando. I find too many CPAs take CPE just to get hours rather than learn. But most, I think, do the right thing–as you are doing.

Armando Balbin March 19, 2015

These are great learning steps to follow. I take online CPE concentrating in the areas that either I need for a specific wok I am doing or as a general knowledge that I need.

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