Studying for the CPP Test Can Be Fun!

Okay so I have roped you in with the title of this blog post, but believe it or not studying for the CPP test can be at least not overwhelming.  I am often asked, as a matter of fact just this morning, “how should I study for the CPP test?”.  And my answer is always the same.  So I thought I would take a few moments and share my thoughts on how to study for this important test without stressing yourself out so much that you flunk the test just from nerves.  Or worse yet, studying some parts too much while only skimming over other parts. Again leading to flunking the test. There are several steps to take to ensure you study what you need, calmly and efficiently. So let me share those with you.

Before you get started you need to get organized.  I recommend creating an excel spreadsheet as a study planner.  Get the test outline from the APA website.  For example under section I Core Payroll Concepts it covers: Worker status; Fair Labor Standards Act; Employment Taxes; etc. List each one of these on the spreadsheet in the first column.  Then locate one or more sources that provides you with information on that subject.  For example, page xxx of Publication 15.  This way you know you are studying every facet of the test and not just those you “like” or “feel comfortable with”.  It also helps you get to know your sources you will be using.  As to those sources:

  1. Get a good source to study as the principle guide.  What do I recommend?  It is the APA test so use the APA guide.  It is that simple.  The Payroll Source is an excellent reference manual but it is an exceptional study guide.  Since the APA touts it as one of the sources you should use why not do so. It has the info, test questions and test quizzes.
  2. Don’t rely just on the one guide.  Read all the publications that apply from the IRS and DOL.  For example read, and I mean actually sit and read, Publication 15, 15-A and 15-B cover to cover at least three times. Also publication 525 is helpful.  DOL has several but the best resource is their website.  Read up on exempt employees and how to calculate overtime. In fact, they have an overtime calculator you can use.  Create an employee with a time sheet that shows 40 hours reg and xxx of overtime at a certain wage.  Give him a bonus discretionary and non-discretionary.  You do the math and then check your math against their calculator. If you don’t match within a penny or two, find out what went wrong. Maybe you don’t understand regular rate of pay. Practice until you can do it in your sleep.
  3. Use the APA website resources such as the Webinar On Demand-Preparing for the 2016 CPP and FPC Exams which is free.  Again it is their test so use their resources.
  4. Create or buy flash cards.  Take the questions in the APA book and write them on one side of a 3×5 card.  Put the correct answer on the back.  These work great when you are at lunch, standing in line at the bank or just want to take a few extra minutes to study without lugging a heavy book around.  Plus by creating the cards you also learn the info.
  5. Record the info and listen to it when you can.  I did this and found it one of the most useful tools.  I would record just one section at a time by basically reading the book, the IRS publication etc., one section at a time and playing it back when I was driving to work and driving home.  Just record enough for the drive.  Once you got that part down go on to the next section.
  6. Do practice tests with full proctoring.  Take the test in the Payroll Source, sit down at a table with a normal chair, have someone time you, and take the test. No distractions, no talking, bathroom breaks count on your time.  It helps relieve real test nerves and gets you use to doing the test under a time deadline.
  7. Chapter study groups. If you do better studying in a group or need others to keep you on track, this would work for you.  They usually have an outline and follow it meeting once or twice a week for several months to cover all the info.  Costs vary but you should check it out if you prefer to study with others.

And finally, but most important, give yourself time to study.  Three months is usually minimum. This is one of the most important business tests you will take.  Do not take it lightly.  Tell family and friends you are taking the test and make sure they understand this isn’t just some silly test, but one that will advance your career. They and you need to take it that seriously.  Don’t try to “squeeze in” a bit of studying here and there. If your life (whether work or home) doesn’t allow for the time to study, then take the test another time.  Remember people who study for the bar exam, the CPA exam or any other type of certification do not do so in their spare time. They make it a major part of their life and so should you.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  If you have any tips that helped you pass the test, please share them.

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Keeping it 100% or Why Can’t We Just Leave It?

one hundred percent goldIt still amazes me sometimes when I see questions from my fellow payroll professionals about how accurate we have to be when it comes to tax deposits and reports.  As we all know the curse of being a payroll professional is that everything you do has to be 100% correct.  No 99% accuracy on tax deposits, no 99.9% pure on tax reporting. Most of us have had to face the question, do I really have to redo this for such a small error?  So I always get a giggle when I see the question come around on the boards about correcting something that isn’t quite 100% accurate.  I know its from someone new to our profession just asking and hoping for a certain answer but knowing in their hearts they won’t hear it. For example, a couple of weeks ago on the one of the listservs I follow someone asked the following:  We left off the employee contribution to the HSA on the Forms W-2.  Since they have already gone out to the employees do we just leave them alone?

You know the results of the responses without my listing it but let me summed it up with this short excerpt: … You can’t just say “oh, well” and dismiss the problem after statements are mailed to employees…In other words no matter what, payroll must be 100% accurate, 100% of the time.  Welcome to the world of the payroll professional! But then again, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

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My Name Was on the Wall, Was Yours?

The EY 2015 Payroll Wall of Fame came out on December 23rd and my name was on it.  Was yours?  I think this was a great idea and so did 673 payroll professionals who helped celebrate our profession.  Collectively there were 14,000+ years of service in the payroll industry represented.  Some with just four years in payroll while others with over 40 years in the profession.  But each one proud to show it. To view the wall click here.

What is Your CPP Story?

It is the 30th anniversary of the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation.  I got my CPP in 1990 and I need to renew this year.  As I am working on getting my list of webinars and seminars assembled to submit for recertification I keep thinking about studying for and taking the test.  Of course, I have one of those “funny stories” about taking the test.  I herniated two discs in my back two weeks before the test.  Too late to back out and I really needed it.  So I had to have my brother drive me up to the door of the classroom (it was on a Cal-State Campus) and I had to crawl on all fours into the elevator.  I then had to crawl into the testing room and check in all the while on my hands and knees.  I actually took the test on the floor.  APA was so nice to arrange for a proctor so I could take the test on the floor in a separate room (this was prior to the ADA).  There is a funny part of the story as well.  The proctor had a broken leg so when it came time to use the restroom we had to flip for the handicapped stall! Despite all that I passed with flying colors but still wonder how I ever did it.

As I am relating my story I know that there are many of you out there with a similar “I had to overcome adversity or some other situation” story about studying or taking the test.  Or maybe yours is hilariously funny? Either way, how about sharing them here with us?  Let us know the agonies and the ecstasies you went through to get your CPP.

Payroll Wall of Fame

Believe it or not the 30th anniversary of the Certified Payroll Professional or CPP designation is upon us. In honor of this special anniversary Ernst & Young, LLP is creating the 2015 Payroll Pro Wall of Fame. It is time to celebrate where the payroll industry has been and where its going. And you can be an important part of that celebration by having your name on the wall.   Simply complete the short form on EY’s website by December 19, 2015.  Payroll professionals with either a CPP or FPC designation are invited to sign up. The wall will be published on December 23, 2015. It can be viewed on both LinkedIn and Twitter pages for EY.  So join me and be counted with your payroll colleagues on EY’s Payroll Wall of Fame.