There are important changes in the administration, scheduling, and format of the EA Exam.
- Learn about the Enrolled Agent Program. An enrolled agent has passed a 3-part test 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 attorneys and CPAs.
- Gather information about the Special Enrollment Examination. The IRS has published basic information about becoming an enrolled agent on the Enrollment Overview page of their Web site. Additionally, you will want to find important information about registering, scheduling, fees, the format of the EA Exam from the Thomson Prometric / IRS 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.
- Sign up to take the Special Enrollment Examination. You sign up for the test using IRS Form 2587 (PDF) or by using the online Form 2587 found on the Thomson Prometric / IRS Web site. The fee to take the exam is $97 for each part of the exam.
- 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.
- Gather together your study materials. The IRS has organized a collection of tax forms, publications, and instructions on their Special Enrollment Exam Study Kit Materials page. You should also purchase study books from trusted publishers, and tax resources from around the Internet. You should also download copies of previous tests and their answers.
- 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 Gleim EA Review study books, which contains helpful outlines to help you learn the tax material and study questions to prepare for the exam. The 40 Gleim study units can be covered at a pace of 3 to 4 hours each.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- On test day, arrive early to your test site, get situated, and remember to take deep breathes. A relaxed, confident attitude will put you at ease, and help you focus on the test without distractions and worrying.
- During the test, do not discuss particular questions and answers with other students. It's not a matter of secrecy. It's a matter of being realistic. That section of the test is over, and nothing you say or do now will change your score. Also, with the new computer-based test format, your exam questions may differ slightly from what other test-takers have seen.
- After the test, get plenty of rest and unwind. You'll be waiting several weeks or months before the IRS releases your grades.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don't let the test get you down. It's as simple as that.