Gearing Up for the CPA Exam

8/9/2019 - By Margaret Vining, CPA

Fail to plan and plan to fail. We’ve all heard that one before. I’m here to share some of my tips for planning to power through (and crush!) the CPA exam.


Schedule your exams at a time when you can devote a full 6-8 weeks of studying. Avoid scheduling during a busy time of year for work or in your personal life. Make sure that the time you choose is a time you can stay focused.

Budget Your Time 

As I noted above, each section requires at the very least 6-8 weeks of studying. I would recommend 8 weeks for FAR and REG and at least 6 weeks for AUD and BEC. I prefer to budget myself each day for an allotted amount of ground to cover in my study material. The program I used has a built-in function for studying, but the process can be used with any program. It’s amazing how much you can get through if you break your material down into smaller more attainable goals, rather than looking at a textbook that is as tall as your chihuahua and wondering how the heck you’re going to get through and retain the information.

Hold Yourself Accountable

The key is to stay on top of your budgeted time. If you’re unfortunate enough to have to work or go to school while studying, plan a couple of hours outside of your normal schedule to devote to studying. If you have a friend’s birthday party to attend Saturday night, make sure you set your alarm to get up in the morning to get your time in. Life happens and things come up. If you find yourself missing a day’s worth of studying, find another day to double down or spread your make up time over a few days so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Bottom line? Stay on top of your material.

Treat Yourself 

Schedule in days ahead of time for a study break, lighter studying, or days you know you’re going to be busy. You don’t want to get too burned out. After all, you’re putting in some hard work and you deserve a little reward and could use some time to let those brain cells recuperate.

Take Notes 

I found that I retain information better when I write it down. Taking notes helps the brain to soak in the information, all while synopsizing it for future cramming sessions before the exam.  (BAM! Two birds, one stone.) I promise you, highlighting sentences out of a book will not give you the same effect.  Besides, notes become especially helpful in those super technical areas that you need to memorize a set of rules (i.e. tax law).

Utilize Practice Exams 

I had taken the practice exams within my exam software and did well on them because I was familiar with my software’s method of asking questions (and would sometimes see questions repeated, which were freebies). I waited until a couple of days right before my first exam to take the AICPA practice exam offered online. I bombed it. The questions and format felt so foreign to me, and it further exacerbated my exam anxiety. Pro tip: Take as many different forms of a practice exam as you can fit in… and take them early.  Try to take one at least a few weeks out from your test date. Then squeeze in another one or two sessions closer to your testing day. You will find you learned quite a bit in that time frame, which will only boost the confidence you need to go in and crush it!  

With these six tips, you will be ready to pass the CPA exam with flying colors!

About the Author | Margaret Vining, CPA 
Margaret is a manager in the Audit & Assurance Department of Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund. She is also a part of the firm’s Financial Institution Advisory Group, with particular experience providing audit services to the firm’s financial institution clients. Prior to joining Saltmarsh, she worked in retail banking for several years as a CSR Supervisor, where she dealt specifically with branch operations and staff supervisory functions.

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