After passing my first two CPA exams something hit me like a ton of bricks. I was wasting a TON of time studying the wrong material and studying the wrong way.
How much time am I talking about? Let me break it down for you like a true accountant, by the numbers.
Let me preface this section by stating that I am a completely average accountant, at best. My cumulative GPA was a mere 3.0 (minimum required to graduate was 2.9) and accounting has never come “naturally” to me unlike many people I’ve talked to.
I was able to pass all four sections on the first try due to my strong desire to succeed and consistent study habits, not because of my accounting IQ. Trust me, if I can do it then so can you!
Comparing Two Different CPA Exam Study Strategies
The first two sections of the exam I sat for were Audit and BEC. I studied with Wiley CPAexcel’s course, so the pages below reference their textbooks. Wiley provides excellent CPA study materials, however I believe my results would have been similar with any of the top CPA prep courses out there.
The hours below do not include time spent studying during my final review, read more about that here. Now let’s get to the good stuff, here are the stats…
I was able to cover 7.8 pages of material per hour studying the way CPAexcel told me to. This included going back and retaking practice exams until I scored well on them, while also watching the video lectures.
Then I had my “AHA” moment! I decided I was going to trim the fat and focus only on the important material and concepts. Here are the stats on my second two exams…
On my last two exams I was able to increase my productivity by 49% and cover an additional 3.8 pages EVERY hour!
Not only did my productivity improve, but so did my average test score, I was ecstatic!
SECTIONS AVERAGE TEST SCORE
BEC and AUD : 79%
FAR and REG : 80%
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Keep in mind that FAR and REG historically have the lowest pass rates and are the sections where students tend to struggle the most.
If I would’ve studied more effectively from the start it would have taken me around 239 hours to complete all four sections instead of 284 hours, a difference of 45 hours.
This is 45 hours that I could have spent hanging out with friends, surfing, hiking, lounging on the beach, visiting family, and enjoying life INSTEAD of banging my head against the computer trying to learn about bond amortization!!
If I would have continued studying at the snail-like pace I did for the first two exams it would have taken me 355* hours to get through all the material. Compare this to the 239** hours it would have taken me had I studied efficiently the entire time. This is a 116 hour difference! Think of all the fun activities you could do with that much extra time!
**(2770 Pages/ 7.8 Pages per Hour = 355 Hours)
**(2770 Pages/ 11.6 Pages per Hour = 239 Hours)
I am mostly an experience type learner and learn best by actively doing things like highlighting and writing all over my textbooks while I’m reading. My advice is to focus on the ways you learn best and spend the majority of your time on those.
So what did I do differently to increase my productivity and shave 45 hours off my total study time?
#1- Skip the Video Lectures
The lectures can be a great resource if you are primarily a visual learner but for me the instructors seemed to move through the material too slow which caused me to become bored and get easily distracted. The lectures introduce the section and go over the main topics, but this duplicated my study efforts as I would then have to read about the same thing in my textbook. I realized that I was not actually learning from the lectures but was actually learning from reading the textbook, taking notes, and doing the multiple choice quizzes. I quit watching the videos almost entirely and only watched the ones on sections where I felt weak and needed a little more explanation to fully grasp the material.
#2- Don’t Keep Retaking the Same Multiple Choice Practice Tests
While studying for my first exam I would retake the multiple choice tests over and over until I got at least a 90% before I moved on to the next section. Why? Because CPAexcel didn’t give me “full credit” for completing the section if I didn’t (Seems really lame now looking back on it). This benchmark is similar to the “Becker Promise” that Becker CPA Review offers which doesn’t allow you to reuse their study materials free of charge if you don’t complete each homework assignment with at least a 90%.
After my first test, I would review the answers I got wrong and retake the test. I found that I would start memorizing the answers just so I would score high on the next test even if I didn’t fully grasp WHY it was the correct answer. On some of the longer tests I would sometimes have to retake them 3 or 4 times before I “passed”! This type of memorization is counter-productive to learning and focuses on getting a good grade which is NOT the goal of studying.
I decided to challenge the status quo of most CPA review courses and stop caring about my test scores and focus on learning instead. Here was my new routine:
It did not matter if I got a 50% or a 90% on the test I would stick to this same process every time. Instead of retaking the test and seeing 80% of the same questions I already answered correctly, I focused solely on the 20% I missed and was amazed at how much more I was actually learning. This type of studying forces you to actively engage your mind rather than switching it into auto-pilot and will save you a ton of time.
CPA Exam Hacks and Shortcuts
These two simple strategies saved me 45 hours of my life and regardless of how you learn best there are ways to refine your studying habits and do the same. If you have been using a CPA study materials that aren’t aligned with your personal learning preferences then I highly suggest you take a look at my CPA Review Course Comparison Chart to compare alternative options that will increase your chances of passing. Then make sure to get the best deal with Crush the CPA’s exclusive discounts.
If you know of any other study hacks, shortcuts, tips or techniques that have helped YOU study more efficiently, please share with everyone in the comment box below. People helping people… that’s what it’s all about folks so share your knowledge and help out your fellow colleagues!
Bryce Welker is a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.com, and Business Insider. After graduating from San Diego State University he went on to earn his Certified Public Accountant license and created CrushTheCPAexam.com to share his knowledge and experience to help other accountants become CPAs too. As Seen On Forbes