Here at Roger CPA Review, we talk to and coach a lot of students about how to best approach their studies for the CPA Exam. Being in the business for more than 10 years, we’ve seen our fair share of candidates’ trials and tribulations, from lacking motivation to scoring in the 90s on their first try. So here are our best tips on how to study for the CPA Exam efficiently, effectively, and successfully.
1. Commit to a CPA Review course
Believe it or not, one of the biggest mistakes CPA Exam candidates make when they first apply and start studying for the CPA Exam is not having a CPA Exam review course. Many think they can utilize free resources online, their past textbooks from their college accounting courses, or individualized review supplements such as practice question banks.
While these resources are helpful, they do not provide the thorough, consistent, A-Z preparation that actual review courses do. Often times, candidates will go through an entire testing window before they realize this and will have wasted a month’s worth or more of their time before purchasing a course. So find a course that’s right for you and follow through with it.
We’re here to help you pass the CPA Exam and have been doing so for years. Trust that we know what we’re doing; it’ll make the process more painless!
2. Make a realistic study plan and stick to it
We always emphasize that the key word here is realistic. Anyone can make a study plan—but making one that you can actually stick to is the real challenge. Figure out how many months you want to take to pass and then divide all the material accordingly. We have great customizable study planners that you can tailor to fit your lifestyle and study needs, so definitely use them to keep yourself organized and on track.
3. Create a conducive study environment
Similar to the phrase, “You are what you eat,” we like to say “Your study environment determines your study mood.” Candidates often overlook this factor. If you don’t feel motivated to study whenever it’s time to hit the books, it’s time to analyze what your study setup looks like. If your study area is cluttered or stuffy, rethink your fung shui. Create a study space for yourself that is clean, organized, has plenty of light, and is away from noise or background distractions. This way you create a study environment that puts you in a studying mood rather than just waiting for the feeling of studying to strike you.
4. Get rid of all your distractions
You know yourself best. What is it that distracts you from putting in a good few hours’ worth of study time? If it’s social media, delete the applications from your phone. If it’s your phone, turn it off and put it in a drawer. If it’s Netflix, delete your subscription! You get the idea. Be honest about what it is that’s keeping you from being most productive and find temporary solutions to get rid of them during study time.
5. Garner support from family and friends
Don’t underestimate the amount of love and understanding that comes from your biggest supporters! Let them know that there will be times you’ll be unavailable as you study for your CPA Exam, and let them know in advance what it is you need from them in order to be successful in this endeavor. It could be having your mom only call you once a week or letting your friends know that you can only designate 1 or 2 Saturdays this month to hang out.
Also utilize your loved ones as people you can share this experience with. You will have ups and downs throughout the process, so talk to them about your anxieties and struggles. The worst thing you can do is keep it all to yourself!
6. Find which study technique(s) work best for you
There are a lot of different ways that people study. Your job is to find the technique that works best for how you learn and retain information. A good starting point is following your review course’s study recommendation and then tailoring it from there.
Some candidates prefer watching lectures first, doing practice questions second, reviewing the areas they are weaker on third, and then doing a final review for every chapter. Others prefer writing important concepts and topics down while following along with the lecture video while others work on practice questions before diving into the lectures. And the list goes on. It may take some trial and error before you find out which methods are most effective, but once you find your study sweet spot, the rest is history!
7. Study in the morning and review at night
When’s the best time to study? We get this question a lot. If you’re a current college student or a working professional, or both, finding time to study can be hard if you already have a full day. In fact, it’s probably the last thing you want to do when you come home. Our best advice? Study very early in the morning and review what you studied that morning at night by using flashcards or doing practice questions.
We have found that most candidates find this method to be the most effective since there are less distractions early in the morning and they have better, more optimistic energy and focus. If you’re not a morning person, you can train your mind and body with routine and repetition. We recommend studying at about 4 or 5am until you have to leave for work or school. You can reinforce the concepts you learned later in the evening, allowing yourself to rest and not have to learn new material when you’re already tired and your focus is waning after a long day.
8. Reward yourself often for reaching goals
Finding motivation to study is one of the biggest struggles CPA Exam candidates face. Because you’re essentially studying for months and doing the same study routine every day, you won’t always be excited to hit the books. However, many candidates have found it helpful to set miniature goals and then reward themselves when they reach them.
You can do this on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on how much motivation you need. For example, if you accomplish your study goals for the day, reward yourself with an episode of your favorite Netflix original. If you accomplished your study goal for the week, reward yourself with a night out with friends. If you met your study goal for the month, reward yourself with a weekend camping trip or a new pair of shoes. Setting small goals and rewards promotes healthy study habits and keeps you sane. It also helps you push yourself steadily with the end result in mind.
9. Take care of yourself
And last but not least, being successful on the CPA Exam involves taking care of yourself. You can’t stick to a study plan or study at all if your body and mind are not in a healthy state. With that being said, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, and not getting burnt out.
10. If you study, you will pass
Remember—there’s no shortcut to passing the CPA Exam. You just have to put in the time and effort! As Roger Philipp, CPA, CGMA, always states, the CPA Exam is not an IQ test; it's a test of discipline. And once you're done, it will all be worth it.