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How To Prepare for the Enrolled Agent Exam

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The Internal Revenue Service offers the Special Enrollment Examination to tax practitioners who want to became an enrolled agent. Learn about the Enrolled Agent program, how to sign up for the test, how to study for the test, and find top-notch IRS and tax resources. Studying for the exam requires hard work, patience, and planning. Let's get started with some pointers to make your task easier.
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: 150 to 200 hours

Here's How:

  1. Learn about the Enrolled Agent Program. An enrolled agent has passed a 3-part special enrollment examination covering all aspects of federal taxation and has passed an IRS background check. As a result, an enrolled agent, or EA, can represent people before the Internal Revenue Service, just like tax attorneys and CPAs.
  2. Gather information about the Special Enrollment Examination. The IRS has published basic information about becoming an enrolled agent. Additionally, you will want to find important information about registering, scheduling, fees, the format of the EA Exam from the Thomson Prometric Web site. Prometric administers the Special Enrollment Exam on behalf of the IRS. You will want to download the "Enrolled Agent Candidate Information Bulletin" from the Prometric site.
  3. Sign up to take the Special Enrollment Examination. You register on the Prometric Web site, and then schedule a time to take each part of the special enrollment examination. The fee to take the exam is $105 for each part of the exam.
  4. Choose a test site and test date when you register with Thomson Prometric. There are test sites throughout the United States and all over the world. Choose a site that's convenient for you.
  5. Gather together your study materials. The National Association of Enrolled Agents mentions a number of reference and study materials on their page about Studying for the Special Enrollment Examination.
  6. Adopt a study plan that covers all the tax topics on the Special Enrollment Examination. I suggest an 180-hour plan that covers each of the three parts of the EA Exam about equally. I also recommend using the study guides or study groups.
  7. Start early and pace yourself. There's absolutely no point in cramming at the last minute, especially for a test covering something as hard as taxation. Take your time. Try focusing on the big picture, especially in areas of taxation that might be new to you.
  8. Find a study class. There are several courses available to help you study for the Special Enrollment Examination. If you've paced yourself and covered most of the tax material over several weeks, I would suggest a fast-paced review class. If you need more structure, consider a test preparation class that lasts several weeks. TaxMama Eva Rosenberg offers a Web-based study class and a final review cram session at IRS Exam. There also also classes offered by the National Association of Enrolled Agents, and some community colleges offer tax and test preparation classes as well.
  9. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and nutrition in the two weeks before the EA exam. Don't focus on studying. Instead, review your notes to get an overall feel for the main points of the test. Don't cram in the last two weeks. It will prove counter-productive.
  10. On test day, arrive early to your test site, get situated, and remember to take deep breaths. A relaxed, confident attitude will put you at ease, and help you focus on the test without distractions and worrying.
  11. After the test, get plenty of rest and unwind.
  12. Use your great tax knowledge. Tackle those more difficult tax returns. Get familiar with IRS collections, appeals, and audit processes. Network with other enrolled agents and CPAs to discuss the lastest developments in federal and state tax issues.

Tips:

  1. Don't worry. Taxation is a difficult subject. Don't worry if you get it wrong the first time, or if a particular topic is confusing. Ask questions, and eventually you'll understand it.
  2. Think long-term. Studying for the EA Exam takes a big time committment. You should be willing to spend a couple of hours per day studying.
  3. Take a practice test. Set aside three half-days over several weekends to take a practice exam in a simulated test environment. I suggest you test yourself on one part at a time. Grade yourself afterward. This will give you a feel for the time constraints of the exam, as well as point out the tax topics you need to review more carefully.
  4. Don't let the test get you down. It's as simple as that.
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