How to Avoid Burnout When Studying for the CPA Exam

There are two schools of thought when it comes to taking study breaks between CPA exam sections, and I know people who have succeeded both ways. 

The first alternative is to take a small break from studying between sections.

However the break should be minimal, not to exceed 1-2 days. This brief period of time is used to decompress and refocus for the exam section transition. The content, in some cases, will be brand new and can be more easily absorbed in the brain if refreshed. 

I also view this time as a reward for all of the intense early morning, lunchtime, and late night studying sessions that have been endured as a result of the exam section that was most recently completed. Although there are some who will extend their study breaks until they receive the score from their previous section, this can be viewed as valuable studying time that candidates can use to their advantage.

Another alternative is to not take breaks at all and power though the exam, one section after the other.

I believe that this alternative can be beneficial to some as well. Most people are familiar with Newton’s Law of Inertia—an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This principle is also applicable when studying for the CPA exam. 

Once you get into the rhythm of studying, it is easier to stay there. Sometimes, unavoidable interruptions can occur; that’s just life. Otherwise, if you stay in motion with studying, you can be confident that you are progressing towards passing the exam, which is the ultimate goal. 

In addition, you must always be mindful of the 18-month window.

Those who make the choice to study with breaks do so with the hope that they can pass the exam before any exam sections expire, and no one wants to lose a section that they have sacrificed so much time and energy to pass. It is critical when this alternative is chosen that off days are built into the study schedule for that particular section to avoid burnout. 

Personally, what works best for me is to not take breaks between sections.

In the past, I have noticed that when I did take breaks, I got too comfortable with not studying and it hindered my progress. It was that much harder for me to begin studying again. I started remembering what my life was like when it didn’t involve studying, which only made me resent the process. 

As a result, I now just incorporate a day each week into my schedule where I only do light studying as opposed to the intense studying that I do the remainder of the week. On a light study day, I may go for an outdoor run to help clear my mind and reduce any built up stress. I have noticed a big change by doing this. I am able to unwind and get better rest at night, which leads to a more consistent and productive study regimen. I am also one of those candidates trying to pass as many sections as I can before the 2017 changes go into effect, so it is in my best interest to keeping going. 

Ultimately, I strongly recommend that anyone who is sitting for the exam be honest with yourself about your study habits.

There is no right or wrong alternative; just be realistic about what is going to work best for you. If you need a break between sections, do not feel guilty about it and be mindful to keep it brief. If you choose to power through like I do, find ways to unwind here and there. Burnout happens to a lot of people who study for the CPA exam; however, managing it by taking small breaks can be a great way to avoid it. 

–Kimberly Smith, Guest Blogger for Roger CPA Review 

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