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Posted by on Aug 19, 2013

Mobile Learning and the CPA exam: A Perspective from Accounting

Mobile Learning for Accountants

Readers of Michael Sean Gallagher’s blog often may have heard reference to his wife. Well, I’d like to say “Hi,” I’m Jen Hyun, the wife. And I’m happy to be writing a guest post on Michael’s blog about my use of mobile devices and apps while preparing for my CPA (Certified Public Accountant) licensing exam.

Some background: I decided to obtain my master’s degree in accounting after working as a translator in Seoul in an international tax department. I graduated with an MS in Accounting in 2011, and have spent the past two years taking the required four parts of the CPA exam administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. I took my first exam in Feb 2012 and my 4th exam on July 30, 2013.

During the exam prep process, I see distinct phases in my use of mobile technology–from opposite sides of the spectrum really. I started primarily with textbooks, paper notebooks, pens/pencils, and then migrated to a practically paper free environment with Kindle ebooks, my iPad, a stylus, and some mobile apps. Here’s how things progressed.

The Textbook and Paper Phase

I started the old fashioned way: I received textbooks, flashcards, and access to an online site containing hundreds of practice questions, online lectures, and an online practice exam. I read my book, watched lectures from the computer, and wrote notes and did practice questions with pen and paper.

The CPA exam though is a computer-based administered exam and the further I got into my studies, the more I gravitated more towards staying in a computer environment. I’m old enough where I only took pencil and paper based standardized exams and I remember needing to unlearn pencil and paper test taking habits.

Bringing in the Mobile Devices

Earlier in the year, I had bought an iPad and an iPhone to use mostly for communication, social media, games, and the like. About a month into my exam studies, a coworker told me about an app he loved called Upad. We were in a cab on our way back to the office and trying to organize some findings from a client meeting. We did not have any paper on hand so he took out his iPad, opened the Upad app and starting sketching out a simple flow chart on the screen. I was impressed. He also showed me how he used Upad to view pdf files on the iPad. From the app, you can make notations in the pdf file (e.g., highlight, and jot down hand-written notes). I bought the app later that night.

At the time I was using Kaplan for my test preparation. I liked how Kaplan allows you to log in, make a practice test on the computer, and then create a pdf copy. So I would send myself pdf practice tests, open them on my Upad app on the iPad, and use a stylus to answer questions on the iPad itself.

I loved the newness of writing on the touchscreen with a stylus, and started using Upad as my notebook instead of the paper notebook. There are some limitations with writing on a touchscreen; it is easier and faster to write in a physical notebook, but there is something fun and useful about having the different ink colors, the different highlighter colors, and the ability to add a text box and type in notes.

Once I started using Upad, I was struck at how my view of the iPad changed from a device used for killing time or goofing around with to an education tool.

Practically paperless: Kindle ebooks, Google Docs, Wiley Test Bank, Mp3 files, and Brainscape

By the spring of 2013, my remaining exams had undergone changes in testing content, and so I had to purchase the two latest edition study manuals. I decided to forgo Kaplan textbooks and try the Kindle edition of the Wiley CPA Exam Review books. I remember it was a bit of an adjustment to read solely on a screen. I thought I wouldn’t absorb as much of the information compared to reading a physical book, and I missed the tactile act of turning pages, folding the corners of pages, and quickly flipping through the book to a specific chapter. I did like that Kindle version allows you to highlight the text in different colors, write notes in the page (you highlight a word and type in notes), and tap to bookmark pages. Plus the keyword search was a powerful tool. After a while, I didn’t miss those big heavy textbooks too much.

In March 2013, I noticed Google Drive (i.e. Google Docs) had come out with a mobile app. I found Google Drive to be such a useful tool. I loved how I could create a Google Doc on my computer, iPad or iPhone and just have the info at the ready on each device. Everything synced up smoothly and having the ability to do a keyword search from the computer was a big plus.

By this time, I started to use another test prep software called Wiley Test Bank. I can’t emphasize what a great program they’ve created. When you review a practice session, you normally get an explanation for the multiple choice answers you get wrong. What I liked about Wiley Test Bank is you can click on each answer–namely the wrong answer choices–and you get a separate and fairly detailed explanation on why a particular answer was incorrect. Knowing why the answer choice was wrong was valuable and the nice thing about the popup explanation was that it was copy and paste-able. Wiley Test Bank also has a “Text Link” button, which opens up a separate window to the place in the textbook where the question originated. That content was also copy and paste-able
This is where it was just seemless to go from the Test Bank explanation or text link window, to a Google Doc. I would type in (or copy and paste) all sorts of information and everything would be on my computer and each mobile device.

I also had two great tools in my arsenal. The first were audio files–basically mp3 files of each module covered on the exam. I found the audio files to be a great way to get some study time while exercising, commuting, even while sleeping. I also purchased a set of flashcards from a site called, which is run by Jeff Elliott. He prepared the flashcards using an app called Brainscape. The flashcards were editable as well from any device, and you could easily make your own flashcards, which I often did using the info I had prepared on Google Drive.

Social media

Lastly, social media has been a great tool. I joined Twitter about eight months ago and really began to appreciate it while studying for the CPA exam. Type in #cpaexam and you have hundreds of people talking about the exam. It was through Twitter that I stumbled upon the site run by Jeff Elliott mentioned above. He features guest blogs from fellow CPA candidates and runs a very popular message board that provided me with great information on how to deal with the stresses of the exam, or just to vent.
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Thanks for reading this post. I may have outdone my husband in terms of post length. But hopefully this gives a decent perspective into mlearning and elearning. Drop a comment here or send me a tweet @jenseoul.

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