Effective CPA Exam Study Schedule

Effective CPA Exam Study Schedule

  • Updated:February 18, 2019
  • Bryce Welker, CPA
  • CPA Review Courses
  • Comments (37)

I was two months into my new accounting job where I sported the glamorous job title of intern and was given the opportunity to utilize my God given skills of data entry.

But honestly, I was just happy to be one of the few people who had a job coming out of college, even if it did pay less than my previous occupations of waiting tables and working construction.

Due to my boss’s demands to complete tasks I had no idea how to do, I was no stranger to working 50+ hours a week. Perfect time to take the CPA exam, right?

Two weeks of scouring the internet for the right CPA review course and I still had nothing to show for it. By telling myself I couldn’t start studying until I found the perfect course I managed to trick my subconscious into delaying the inevitable without feeling a trace of guilt.

Finally, after getting the opinions of my colleagues about their CPA review courses, I decided on Wiley CPAexcel feeling confident with their course after using it throughout my free 2 week trial.

Immediately I found their bite-sized lectures to be a huge advantage to my busy work schedule.  I was able to complete a section during my lunch break, eat, and still have enough time left over to post what I just learned and ate on Facebook 🙂

The smaller sections also made it easier to digest and absorb the information and made studying much less of a burden knowing that I could complete a section in about 30 minutes and then put it aside.

Weekday Study Plan

After refining my study habits, I would study around 1.5  hours a day during the weekdays, usually doing the bulk of it after dinner, not allowing myself to indulge in any activities or even go to the gym until I finished.  At first it seemed grueling and I found it hard to even find time for the most mundane tasks like laundry and grocery shopping.  This forced me to look at my daily routine and run through it with a fine toothed comb of efficiency.  It was time to get lean, trim the fat off unnecessary activities, and figure out a way to make life work again.

This simplest and most effective thing I did to support my new study plan was canceling my cable and selling my TV and DVD player on Craigslist.  Being a year round sports fanatic, I expected myself to go into some sort of catatonic state of depression.  I mean seriously, what would happen if Lebron James goes for 40 points and 20 boards against the Lakers and I don’t even hear about it??

Absolutely. Freaking. Nothing. That’s what.

Coming to terms with my sports addiction wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be once the TV was out of the house. This single change added 2 extra hours a day to my life and also made it much easier to study at home knowing being a couch potato and watching Sportscenter was no longer an option.

Weekend Study Plan

On the weekends I would aim to study for around eight hours, typically all on Saturday, reserving Sundays for my social life and enjoyment. Giving myself one day off a week to do whatever I wanted without having to think about work or the CPA exam proved to be one of the best things I did for my personal and work life.

It felt like I was hitting the refresh button on my life every Sunday, leaving me full of energy,  ready to tackle the week again when Monday morning rolled around.  It also gave me something to look forward to all week long and served as a solid crutch to lean on when things got stressful and seemed almost unbearable.  Suffering and sacrifice are a lot less painful when you know there’s a reward waiting for you in the near future.

Sticking to this study plan helped me pass all 4 sections on my first try in less than 9 months. Everyone learns differently so you should experiment with your study schedule until you settle into a routine that best fits your needs.

It doesn’t matter if you decide to study everyday, or every other day, the most important thing in order to be successful and pass the CPA exam is to stay consistent and stick to your plan!

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  • Bill
    Posted at 18 June, 2017 13:50 PM Reply

    Hello,Do you have a recommendation for someone who is working 50 plus hours a week, has a 5 month old kid and wants to take the CPA? My main question is number of weeks of study... Can I go 12 weeks and still retain everything?, or 16 weeks?... even 20?. I think I can do 20 hours max per week.

    • BWelk
      Posted at 19 June, 2017 18:16 PM Reply

      Hello Bill,I would recommend Surgent! This course is perfect for your time-constraining circumstances and it's design allows you to have a lot of flexibility with your study time. Surgent's focus on practice questions is incredibly useful for retention, which sounds like a concern for you.The best part about Surgent is that the bulk of your studying is done while you are practicing with multiple choice questions, which has proven to be the best way to study for the CPA Exam. When you get a question wrong, you will be provided with the correct answer and detailed explanation. Here, you can click relevant terms and reference links that take you to the digital textbook’s section covering the topic of the question. You can even watch one of the hundreds of short (under 30 minutes) video lectures that teach you about topics you may be struggling with. I loved this because I knew I was studying what I needed to know and not wasting time on topics I already understood. Check out my full review for more! Best of luck!Bryce

    • Paul Williams III
      Posted at 19 January, 2017 18:47 PM Reply

      I am currently considering the Wiley CPA review course however I sat for the FAR exam already and bombed it and at the time I was using Becker. Some of the information in the review course went over my head and I felt like I need a refresher course in financial accounting before I took the review course. Would you recommend taking an online course in intermediate/financial accounting and then taking a CPA review or just taking a review course first and sitting for the exam?

      • Jessica Aylor
        Posted at 24 January, 2016 02:37 AM Reply

        Hi there! First off, I would like to say that your website and blogs have been so helpful with not only tips for the exam & studying, but which CPA review material to use. Inreading the reviews and looking at your blog i decided to go with Wiley CPAExcel. It has definitely been pretty hard to get back into the swing of thingsand looking at the material since i have been out of school for about three anda half years. I decided no more procrastination to take the exam! I went aheadand used Wiley's calendar and put in all of my dates in which I plan to takeeach exam. The first one being FAR in April. This pretty much has me set up forone bite size lesson a day. Right now, i study about 2 hours each nightdepending on the topic. I normally watch the video, read the material, and dothe exam questions in study mode, for the explanation, and then in an exammode. I tend to be more of a visual learner so the videos have been prettyhelpful, but I find there are still some things to grasp in reading the book. Ijust finished my first week of studying and I wanted to reach out to you to seewhat your study schedule was like on Saturdays. I know, above, you mentionedyou study for about 8 hours and then leave Sunday open. Saturdays seem like agreat day to get a lot of work done. Do you recommend jumping ahead and completing 2-3 bite size lessons or possibly reviewing what you learned the week before and making flashcards for those topics you really want to remember? Your feedback is greatly appreciated and thank you again for your awesome site and help!Sincerely,Jessica

        • BWelk
          Posted at 26 January, 2016 00:04 AM Reply

          Thanks for your support Jessica! Sounds like you got a solid plan lined up for your study schedule. On Saturdays I would definitely suggest trying to knock out a few sections and getting ahead of your study schedule. This will allow you to take Sundays off or if something comes up during the week and you miss a day then you won't get behind your schedule. Making flashcards only on the sections that you had a difficult time with would also be a great use of your time.Good luck on your CPA journey!Bryce

        • Loraine Erickson
          Posted at 12 December, 2015 23:42 PM Reply

          Hi Bryce-- I am 40 year old mom looking to take the CPA exam in 2016. I have read so many of your blog posts the past few days as I am desperately looking for encouragement to tackle this. I purchased the Gleim review course and am 1/4 of the way through FAR. (They break it up into 20 study units). I am honestly overwhelmed, but just yesterday and today I started implementing some of your tips that I seemed to resonate with (skip the lectures, and take as many MCQ as possible, retaking the ones I miss until I get them) and that seems to be working well.My question is this-- my anxiety level is high about getting through the material. I feel like I am getting buried in the details and the longer I stay in a particular section, the more panicky I get. I am thinking of limiting my time on each unit and then forcing myself to move on regardless if I feel comfortable or not. Do you see any reason this would work against me? One other question-- how much time did you spend working SIM problems versus the MCQ?I plan to follow your 72 hour plan prior to taking the exam (hoping to schedule on a Tuesday and using the weekend prior to go through as many questions as possible).

          • Rhuby Y.
            Posted at 17 October, 2015 00:46 AM Reply

            HI, I have BEC exam tomorrow and I feel like I am not ready. Is it better for me to take the exam knowing I am going to fail? I was not able to review all the materials and I am afraid of doing poorly on exam. If I take the exam and failed it what would be the consequences? In terms of looking for a job in a future will it reflect on my record? Please help!!!ThanksRhuby

            • BWelk
              Posted at 20 October, 2015 23:11 PM Reply

              I hope you took your test Rhuby! You will learn a lot about the exam and the material they are testing on even if you do not pass so it would be very wise to go even if you feel you are not ready. If you fail nobody will ever know except the people you tell, it does not go on any sort of public record.Cheers,Bryce

            • JOhn
              Posted at 2 October, 2015 15:50 PM Reply

              How did you get through the FAR section so quickly...There is much information,videos, proficiency questions, exam questions, study text...It has been a few yearssince I have studied accounting, I do it for a living, completely different story..

              • Laura
                Posted at 14 June, 2015 01:04 AM Reply

                Bryce,I work for a non-profit company doing some accounting work, and I'm not sure how to complete the experience requirement since we don't have an active CPA in our office. The person needs to have "direct knowledge" but does this mean I can have a CPA review what I've been doing every month?Thanks in advance,Laura

                • BWelk
                  Posted at 23 June, 2015 14:08 PM Reply

                  Hi Laura,That depends on which state you are trying to get licensed in. The only way to know how they interpret "direct knowledge" is to call you state's board of accountancy and tell them about your specific work situation.Cheers,Bryce

                • angie d
                  Posted at 1 June, 2015 20:05 PM Reply

                  Hi Bryce,I am desperately looking for some great guidance on which CPA review program would be best for me, a study plan, perhaps which sections to start with since i would like to schedule 2 at the time to save some money. I would like to start studying in august/September maybe start testing in November. I am wife, mom of 2 girls 7 & 14 have 2 jobs one full time 40hr/week as an accountant but my accounting exposure is very minimum the other one part time 16hr+/week admin job. On average I work 60-70 hrs/week the 16hr+ are usually overnights. I am involved in my daughter's school so I volunteered as the parents organization's president. Yes I am crazy, even though I work so much I still manage to have time and be in every single of my daughter's activities making sure she is having fun. I was an A student in accounting 13 years ago when i did my associates but when i retook my bachelors 5 years ago i had a hard time reprocessing the accounting concepts so I somehow was able to winged my accounting courses and passed with decent grades. 3 years ago I got into Graduate school in an Accounting program part time but ended up taking a year off due to work/family I still find myself somehow lost. I am currently taking one course per semester and I am only about 7-6 courses to finish the program. I know I have to do this not only for myself but also for my family but to be honest I am very scared as I don't feel a bit prepared for it. I would like a program that could take me from basic to where i need to be to take the tests. Sorry for the long story but I am trying to give you my big picture to better help and see what would work best for me and my crazy schedule.Thank you in advance,Angie

                  • BWelk
                    Posted at 3 June, 2015 04:29 AM Reply

                    Hi Angie,Wow that is a lot to manage! From what you've told me I would recommend Wiley CPAexcel because it is the only one that will fit into your crazy busy schedule. Their course is also comprehensive enough to help catch you up to speed since you've been out of school a while.Best of luck on your CPA journey!Cheers,Bryce

                    • angie d
                      Posted at 3 June, 2015 15:44 PM Reply

                      Thank you very much for the recommendation Bryce!! Your website is really a great resource for everyone on the CPA journey! I was initially thinking about taking REG & BEC first, but then I read somewhere FAR being the base of most of all would be better to do first. I personally feel that i have some sort of a base with REG, when I took AUD at school I felt like it was easy as it seemed common sense. What would you think might be the best order to take them? How much time I budget as study time for each section?Thank you again for your great help!Angie

                      • BWelk
                        Posted at 23 June, 2015 14:30 PM Reply

                        Thanks Angie! I would start with the subject(s) you feel most confident about, sounds like REG and AUD would be best. There is a little overlap between them all and I would say there is no real advantage to take FAR first based off of that.Cheers,Bryce

                  • Hilary
                    Posted at 12 March, 2015 02:57 AM Reply

                    Great to hear other's study schedules. I have a similar schedule and take my first section, FAR, April 13. If anyone has any tips about final review I would definately appreciate it.Best Regards, Hilary

                    • Dave
                      Posted at 3 February, 2015 01:23 AM Reply

                      This strategy of studying 2 hours on every weekday, and 8 hours on the weekend is basically exactly what I used to pass the CPA. I took almost exactly 9 months too, about an average of 1.5 to 2 months to study for each part. You might not have a life while studying for the CPA, but you need to get it done somehow. I tried to plan trips or fun things after taking each part, to keep motivation up.

                      • Jacque Costa
                        Posted at 17 March, 2016 10:59 AM Reply

                        Dave how did you remember everything for FAR? I just started to study and I am desperate. My exam will be end of May. Any tips to remember it all? Thank you and congrats to get such a hard thing done :)

                        • Dave
                          Posted at 1 December, 2016 23:20 PM Reply

                          I hope you passed! For FAR I mainly tried to study governmental and not for profit really well, since those 2 parts were a big part of FAR when I took it. The other parts I tried to just get through, and try to soak in enough info. I love studying from flashcards to help remember things.

                      • Mark
                        Posted at 15 January, 2015 06:15 AM Reply

                        Hi Bryce,I am currently working full time as an accountant and will be starting my MSA in July. I am currently studying for BEC which is scheduled 2/27/14. My goal is to have passed two parts of the exam by the time school starts. I am worried because the window is only 18 months after I pass the first exam and that I will need to juggle work, school and CPA all at once in order to pass the last two exams. Is this too much to handle? Should I postpone the my exams until after school?

                        • BWelk
                          Posted at 1 February, 2015 06:25 AM Reply

                          It's definitely not too much to handle if you are willing to dedicate yourself to getting your CPA license and sacrifice a lot of your free time. It's not going to be the most fun period of your life, but it's totally worth it I promise. 18 months is plenty of time to pass all 4 even if you have a full time job/kids/wife or other large time commitments. Just take it 1 section at a time and stick to a consistent study schedule and you'll be fine.Cheers,Bryce

                        • Cali
                          Posted at 11 January, 2015 23:34 PM Reply

                          Hello Bryce,I am glad I found your website because it has answered a lot of the questions that I didn't know I had. I would like your opinion on something. I am going to take both the CMA and CPA exams within the next year. ( I have a scholarship for the CMA exam and I need to take part 1 by December 2015 and I need my CPA for work). Based on the topics covered on each part of each exam, in what order do you suggest I take the exams. I want to make sure that I am studying topics that will cover parts in both exams.I already bought the Roger CPA review books and have downloaded the exam study support material from the IMA Learning Center .Thank you for your advice.

                          • BWelk
                            Posted at 12 January, 2015 21:49 PM Reply

                            Hi Cali,Check out this blog post, it should help you figure out which section would be best for you to take based on your strengths and background:Cheers,Bryce

                          • Sherell Bullard
                            Posted at 4 January, 2015 21:33 PM Reply

                            Hi Bryce, I appreciate your website so much. I just bought the Roger CPA review based on your recommendation and I'm excited to start. I would like to continue using your website for support and encouragement. Just want to say thanks for starting this website and sharing your experiences to help others pursue their dream of passing the CPA.

                            • BWelk
                              Posted at 7 January, 2015 04:01 AM Reply

                              Thanks for the support Sherell!

                            • B. Runk
                              Posted at 17 December, 2014 14:59 PM Reply

                              Hi Bryce,You're website is fantastic. I am currently finishing up my masters in Forensic Accounting. This spring semester will be my last, with a capstone in the summer. I have to take a few additional classes at a community college to get my total education requirements for licensure (not necessarily to sit for the exam). I work in public accounting and my boss is on me (understandably so) to get working on the exams. I'm trying to figure out the best time to start studying - would you recommend starting when i'm done ALL classes and capstone - or could I start studying after this coming semester so that I'm ready to sit by the end of the capstone...just trying to figure out the best time to get the process moving.Thanks!

                              • BWelk
                                Posted at 19 December, 2014 00:10 AM Reply

                                Thanks for the support!I would start studying as soon as you are able to commit 1-2 hours everyday to it. I think once you finish your classes might be a better time so you are able to focus more on CPA exam topics vs Class topics.Cheers!Bryce

                              • T. Willis
                                Posted at 6 November, 2014 17:55 PM Reply

                                I too am a wife, a mom, and have a full time job. I tried to pass the exam when I graduated in 2002. Took it 3 times, no go. Now, I am at a great job with great support and encouragement to try again. I started studying and sitting for exams in 2013. Have not passed one yet. Getting ready to consider my third review course (tried Wiley the first year, then moved to Gleim, now thinking I need to go to Roger CPA). I have taken Far 7 times and twice got a 73, and this last time got a 74. Very devastating. I have put in over 600 hours and thousands of dollars. Talk about depressing. But, at this point, giving up would be a complete waste of money and the last two years of my life. So, onward I trudge. T-

                                • Slow loris
                                  Posted at 4 November, 2014 19:49 PM Reply

                                  I'm in Colorado which is changing their CPA requirements to 150 hours from 120 by June 2015. This means if I don't study for and pass the CPA exam before that deadline I will have to go back and get my masters. My question, is it possible to start studying mid-Nov and pass all 4 sections before June 2015? Kicking myself for not doing this sooner!

                                  • BWelk
                                    Posted at 21 November, 2014 03:21 AM Reply

                                    Yes it's completely possible if you stick to a consistent study plan. You still have 7 months to prepare, so just under 2 months for each exam if you pass them all the first time through. I've seen it done in much less time by people who work full time jobs. It's just a matter of how bad you want it and what you're willing to sacrifice in order to do it.Good luck!Bryce

                                  • MrsT
                                    Posted at 1 October, 2014 20:35 PM Reply

                                    I just want to cry... I feel like I have wasted the last 2 years waiting for this one blog post to debunk my internal procrastination. Now I am fighting within myself to stop reading every post in order to find another reason to put off what I began in 2006 - when I started working on my bachelors degree to gain my Masters to sit for the CPA exam to own those three letters. Your blogs are speaking my life right now and here I find the one thing that has keep me from buckling down. WEEELLLL THANKS.... I've been through 2 separate 3000+$ programs and that is a point of apprehension now. I don't want to spend anything else... I am a mom, and wife, hold a fulltime job, and travel 2 to 3 times a week which puts me on the road for 3 hours (round trip) and in another city for 4 to 5 hours on Sundays mornings and Tuesdays nights. what can I do? can I squeeze 15 hours a week in? can I do it without feeling like I am sacrificing my family again - while not becoming a zombie from sleep denervation? I'm at the point where I HAVE TO DO IT TO 1) get it over with and 2)see where it leads - I've been fighting this for 2 years, 2 failed exams, to costly study courses, and I want to be done. I feel so alone..... Ugh!

                                    • BWelk
                                      Posted at 6 October, 2014 01:22 AM Reply

                                      Hi,With such a busy schedule you really need to become more efficient in the way you study. You mentioned you travel a lot which is a perfect time to use an Audio CPA review course to fit in a few extra hours each week.You mentioned you have already spent 6k on 2 separate review courses, which ones were they and what year are the course materials??I'd strongly suggest getting a more flexible course like CPAexcel to fit in with your schedule, but I understand your aversion to spending any more money on study materials. Sounds like you know what you need to do already, you just need to plan out your weekly study schedule and stick to it! Hang in there, it's worth it I promise.-Bryce

                                    • Erika
                                      Posted at 23 September, 2014 17:22 PM Reply

                                      Hi Bryce,How long did it take you to study for each section? Would you say six to eight weeks is enough for each section?

                                      • BWelk
                                        Posted at 24 September, 2014 08:05 AM Reply

                                        Hi Erika,It's not necessarily about how long I studied for, rather it's about how many hours I put in for each section.To see the details and figures about that check out this post: Cheers,Bryce

                                      • Kenneth
                                        Posted at 31 August, 2014 19:38 PM Reply

                                        Hi Bryce,I would like to know what was your sleep schedule when you were preparing for the cpa exam.Kenneth

                                        • BWelk
                                          Posted at 1 September, 2014 23:52 PM Reply

                                          Kenneth, My sleep schedule wasn't too consistent since I had so much going on, but I usually tried to be in bed by 1 AM and up by 7:30 AM.

                                        • Amanda Bolden
                                          Posted at 8 July, 2014 21:03 PM Reply

                                          Thanks! I really enjoyed this read. I think I'm going to give it a try meaning I need to trim the fat on my day to day routine.I am at a crossroad; I have been startingand stopping studying for 2 years. Within the 2 years I've worked 40 hours aweek, completed graduate school, gotten married, moved 3 times and beenparenting the whole time. I sat for regulation in October of 2012 and have notsat for any other part. I initially purchased CPAexcel and switched midpoint toBecker. My Becker material expiration is approaching within two weeks. I amcurrently preparing for the Audit section; I have completed 75% of the materialbut over a 5 month period. I desperately want to sit at the in August. But I amall over the place and I don't want to waist anymore money and I have timemanagement issues. After a long day, preparing dinner, homework, gym etc. it ishard to focus. Could you assist me in setting a clear plan to obtain this longawaited goal?