Your Action Plan for the CPA Exam

12/20/2021 - By Chase Ibbotson

The CPA exam is one of the last barriers you face in your accounting career. Once you pass, the feeling of academia can truly be left behind. All the hard work spanning years in undergraduate studies, CPA study programs, and maybe even a master’s degree, can come down to four 4-hour examinations. How do you ensure that those long nights and weekends studying flashcards and running through practice tests don’t go to waste? It all starts with a proactive plan of action that allows for information to accumulate, knowledge to grow and the confidence to apply that knowledge on exam day.

A goal is only as attainable as the plan that is in place to achieve that goal. Proper preparation can be the differentiating factor between preparing to succeed or preparing to fail. The CPA exam is a critical asset in the career of an accountant, so the proper plan must be in place to achieve that hard-earned certification. 

Tip 1: Create a Successful Action Plan 

 A successful plan starts with understanding your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to committing to a study routine and utilizing the correct tools to practice. Are you the type of person who is better at rewriting pages and completing high quantities of multiple-choice questions? Or do you prefer working hands-on with simulations to understand the material? Knowing which strategies help you retain information is important to building the most effective plan for you to pass the exam. 

Another valuable attribute for your plan is to determine how to structure your study time. Allowing for breaks and time away to rest your brain helps offset information overload which can derail any CPA candidate. Prepping for the CPA is not a one-and-done situation, and it takes time to learn the information, so cramming is not recommended. It takes planning for months, even a year, ahead of the exam to make sure you have accumulated a wealth of information, not just for the exam, but also for your general knowledge to take into your career.  

Tip 2: Commit to Your Action Plan

You should have a fresh mind for each day of study. This can only be achieved through a proper structure that organizes time in the day to study, work and decompress. Some ways you can commit to proper studying include:

  1. Buy the best CPA study guides
  2. Purchase a planner and schedule time each day to study new sections
  3. Collaborate with friends or colleagues to study together and quiz each other
  4. Prioritize your schedule and commit to rest, as your brain will need it
  5. Designate a study location and commit to that spot when studying
  6. Find the process that fits you best, and commit each day to execute that process

Tip 3: Managing your Action Plan

In college, I practiced separating my life into different bubbles: school, athletics, work and social life. I committed myself to keeping school stress and thoughts to times when I had entered the school environment. Once I left the school bubble and entered another environment, I would practice keeping that stress from distracting me from the situation at hand. Creating separate compartments can help you to manage your action plan for CPA studying and focus on what is in front of you at a high level. When exam day rolls around, all the hours you clocked in and your commitment to your action plan will be rewarded with a new CPA license! Remember that no two candidates’ paths toward obtaining CPA licensure are the same, so make sure you find the plan that fits your journey. 


One element that can help eliminate the stress of CPA prep is joining a firm like Saltmarsh that offers CPE and study material support. These great benefits alleviate some stress that occurs from the large expenses of obtaining the CPA license and shows you how much they care about your success! Other great resources for CPA questions include the chair of the accounting program at your university, a member of your local FICPA chapter (if you’re in Florida) or a newly licensed CPA.

About the Author | Chase Ibbotson

Chase is a staff auditor in the Audit & Assurance Services practice of Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund. His primary areas of expertise include providing audit and assurance services for the firm’s manufacturing, construction and non-profit clients. Chase has experience in domestic sales tax and Value-Added Tax (VAT) and was previously an audit intern with Saltmarsh.

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