7 CPA Exam Study Tips for Aspiring Accountants

  • 7 April 2018
  • Expert Insights

The epic 16-hour CPA exam is a worthy and achievable goal for accountants who want to get that salary bump and incomparable job security. As you likely know, the test itself is divided into four different sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC).

Candidates sit for three tests to complete all four parts, choosing which section they want to take first. Once you’ve passed one section, you must pass the remaining three within 18 months or you’ll have to start all over again. To help ensure that doesn't happen, here are some tips!

1.  Find Your Test Prep

Pick a CPA prep course that works best with your lifestyle and studying habits. Do your research and take advantage of free trials when you can. Most people are working full-time jobs or still in school when they decide to study for the CPA exam. If that’s you, I would recommend finding a test prep course that allows for shorter segments of information and flexibility in how you digest the information—audio or video content instead of written text. 

2. Stick to a CPA Exam Studying Schedule

The CPA exam requires a lot of studying, about 500-600 hours actually. That comes down to about 30 hours a week for 15-16 weeks—if you don’t have that kind of time, it’s going to be a more elongated schedule. That’s a lot to take on, so it is crucial to make a strict schedule and to stick to it. This is the most important part of preparing for the exam. Your success is going to depend on your ability to add a little test knowledge to your brain every day. If you do so gradually, it’ll help with the overall success of your studying. Then, test yourself and take practice tests in order to see how far along you’ve come. 

3.  Start with the Easiest Section

Many experts suggest taking the hardest section first, which is often the FAR section. I don’t subscribe to this notion, however. Take the easiest section—it varies for everyone, depending on work experience, etc.—first. This way, you’ll have one under your belt, you’ll get some confidence going into the next section, and if you end up having that section expire, then you’ll be able to pass it again without much work. You don’t want to take and pass the hardest section only to have it expire because you cannot finish the other portions.

4.  Pace Yourself

There is a lot of information you need to absorb before sitting for your first exam. Studying for the CPA is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you pace yourself and consume bits of information daily, your mind will stay fresh and retain effectively. Studying for the CPA is similar to learning a language; you need to practice a bit every day in order to retain anything. Don’t sit in a library for 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday, as this isn’t an effective studying method. Avoid this “brain dump” strategy and aim for consistency. 

5.  Practice Tests

Take as many practice tests as you can. This is the best way to see in what areas you are flourishing versus where you need to study more. You will be more confident walking into the real exam when you know you’ve been scoring consistent 80s on practice tests. This will also familiarize you with the test and help take away the pressure of not knowing how you performed. You need to take DIFFERENT practice tests, however, as taking the same one over and over will just lead to you memorizing the questions and answers instead of learning the material. 

6.  Ditch the distractions

Now is the time to trim the fat and stay focused on the main goal: passing the CPA. Lots of people ditch Facebook, Netflix, and other media to avoid any tempting distractions. Keep your phone away or off so your eyes don’t wander to those enticing notifications. This sacrifice can bring hours back to your life. What is more important, reading people’s rants on Facebook or an extra hour of sleep? This is a great way to change your life habits in a manner that eliminates the nonsense, and you’ll find that these alterations will hold true even after you’re done studying. 

7.  Treat Yourself

Reserve one day of the week to do anything that’s not CPA related. You are working hard and deserve a break. A day of rest will actually improve your studying efficiency and keep you sane through these grueling months. Go see a movie with some friends, hang out with the family, or simply do nothing! You will be looking forward to this “recharging day” all week long, giving you the motivation to push through those stressful nights.

Best of luck!

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