No Time to Lose: Prioritizing Your Responsibilities

9/1/2017 - By Caroline Beasley

Your State Board of Accountancy has approved you to sit for the CPA exams. You have purchased your review course, and you are ready to start studying. Now it's time to get real and ask yourself: “How much time should I commit to studying?” “When will I know that I'm ready to take any of the four exams?” “How long does all this take?” The answer to these questions depends on… you!

Everyone’s learning style is different. However, one thing you must do before you begin studying is this: objectively assess your current responsibilities and prioritize them around your study time.

If I could rewrite my CPA exam journey, I would in a heartbeat. I'll be first to tell you that I wasn't dedicating myself 100% to studying and I kept prioritizing social activities over study time. Finally, after my husband’s international deployment, my resignation from a position at Big 4, our move from San Diego to Pensacola, and the birth of our daughter, I quit making excuses and held myself accountable. I even delayed my position with Saltmarsh for six months while I hammered out Audit and then FAR, the two tests holding me back. It was the best decision I could have made for myself.

After all my ups and downs, I can look back and realize how much time I wasted. I chose bits and pieces of time management strategies but never fully incorporated them into my study habits. Here are a few suggestions for you to incorporate into your new life of studying so that you don't drag out this process, like I did:

  1. Prioritize your responsibilities. Do you have a full-time job? Children at home? Going to school? All the above? Every responsibility you have in addition to the exams is going to have to be prioritized. Your personal time will become study time, but remember that it's only temporary!

  2. Just say "no". Unless you're an accounting genius, odds are you're going to need to decline many weeknight and weekend activities to fit in your study time. The more you say, "Oh, well, going to this one event won't hurt…", the more you get behind. If you want to pass the exams, then you need to truly dedicate those precious hours to studying. Reward yourself after you pass an exam. I always popped a bottle of Champagne!

  3. Create a study plan. Most CPA review programs will generate one for you based on when you are estimating to take each exam. They will prorate out how many hours to study each week and what content you will be covering - what a win! For example, Wiley CPAexcel estimates it will take approximately over 400 hours of study time for all four sections of the exam. Yikes!

  4. Structure, structure, structure. If you can create a personalized daily routine and stick to it, you'll be more likely to succeed. I am a visual learner and love taking notes. After writing important items and calculations for a topic, I taped them to the wall in our home office (as you can see below!) and would review all of it before tackling multiple choice questions and sims. Your structure of time allotment and study approach will vary, but you must have a structure. 

  5. Start with 15 minutes. I used to feel overwhelmed, especially at the beginning. One of my professors suggested starting with just 15 minutes, and go from there. I incorporated this into my daily routine, even on the days when I felt exhausted. Once in study-mode, I discovered that 15 minutes quickly became an hour or more of quality study time.

The CPA exams are no joke. They may be the hardest group of tests you ever take and it will require an immense amount of your personal time. Tom Hanks said it best as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own:

It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.
The hard… is what makes it great. 

So, what makes being a CPA "great"? A lifelong certification that awards you with trust and respect in your community, personal and professional development, and increased career opportunities. Now, go hit the books to become a great CPA! Good luck!

Helpful Resources
Journal of Accountancy - Find Time to Study
Crush the CPA Exam - Effective Study Schedule
Mind Tools - The Pomodoro Technique

About the Author | Caroline Y. Beasley, CPA
Caroline is a senior in the Tax & Accounting Services Department of Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund. She began her career in public accounting in 2010. Prior to joining Saltmarsh in July 2016, Caroline worked with an international firm performing a variety of tax and accounting functions for corporations and partnerships, as well as assisting with auditing income tax provisions. 

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