Effective CPA Exam Study Schedule

  •  Updated:Nov. 11, 2019
  • Bryce Welker, CPA
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Effective CPA Exam Study Schedule

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!

37 Comments
  • 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

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