How to Study for the CPA Exam

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CPA Exam Game Plan

Get step-by-step guidance on how to build a solid study plan.

The CPA Exam is one of the most difficult professional credential examinations. Whether you are a recent college graduate or an experienced accounting professional, the key to successfully passing the CPA Exam is to ensure that you are prepared for the time and effort it will take. The CPA Exam is like a marathon, not a sprint, so before you even start studying, take an honest inventory of your priorities and build out a strong CPA Exam study guide to help you successfully navigate your study experience.

Make sure you work with a reliable CPA Exam prep provider that will support you every step of the way. Leveraging the services of a company that understands the best way to study for the CPA Exam can spell the difference between success and failure. You increase your chances of passing the CPA Exam dramatically if you study with a high-quality CPA Exam review course that includes the following tools:

  • A large bank of quality practice questions with thorough answer explanations that teach you why your answer is correct or incorrect.
  • Course content mapped to the AICPA’s blueprints and a user experience that mirrors the actual CPA Exam.
  • Engaging lectures that help you solidify difficult concepts.
  • Progress reporting that allows you to set data-driven study goals and track your progress against those goals.
  • Smart technology designed with you in mind to save you time while studying.
  • Superior support for help on difficult CPA Exam concepts and practice questions.
  • Proven results!

Not sure where to begin when looking for a CPA Review course provider? Review our CPA review course comparison page for a more comprehensive analysis.

CPA Exam Study Guide

While preparing for the CPA Exam, focus your studies on the areas that matter the most. No matter which CPA Exam section you choose to take, you can use diagnostic performance data to ensure you study only the topics you need to practice. The CPA Exam covers mountains of information, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed, over study, and burn out.

UWorld Roger CPA Review uses usage data from candidates who successfully passed the CPA Exam to create a no-fail study guide for how to progress through the material. Our technology is called SmartPath Predictive Technology™. It tracks progress toward targeted goals and guides you to the right CPA Exam questions. Smartpath™ eliminates the risk of overstudying the wrong topics and gives you confidence on exam day.

You have one goal—to pass the CPA Exam.
That’s our goal too. Our course will help you pass. It’s that simple.
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CPA Exam Study Plan

Now you’re ready to build your personalized CPA Exam study plan. Keep in mind that this plan doesn’t need to be complex -- a simple Excel spreadsheet will work. Start by plotting out your known commitments, such as the CPA Exam date, planned days off, or any personal vacations.

Next, take an inventory of the material covered in the syllabus of your CPA Exam review course. Plot the subject matter out over each day, including lectures, textbook excerpts, and practice questions associated with each chapter.

How long you have to prepare — 3, 6, 9, or 12 months — will determine the amount of time you'll need to spend studying on a daily basis. Keep in mind that everyone studies at their own pace and runs into their own sets of challenges with different topics. Therefore, if you think you’ll need more study time to review complex concepts, factor that into your study planner.

The final two weeks leading up to the exam are a critical time in which you’re going to want to review your diagnostic data and ask--am I exam ready? If you’ve hit all of your targets, you’re in a really good spot. If you haven’t, carve out some time in your study planner to review challenging areas by creating practice tests. Lastly, leave one day for a full practice exam. This allows you to hone your test-taking skills in an environment that follows the same 5-testlet, 4-hour structure as the exam.

Creating a CPA study guide is easier if you use a pre-set study planner. UWorld Roger CPA Review’s 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-month planners are fully customizable study guides that can be adjusted to fit your unique needs. The UWorld Roger CPA Review study planner conveniently includes the entire course syllabus and can be adjusted to help you balance your work and personal commitments with studying.

CPA Exam 3 Month Study Planner

The 3-month CPA Exam study planner is perfect for highly motivated CPA candidates who want to pass the CPA Exam quickly and have few external time commitments. If you are a recent university graduate, a great time to tackle the CPA Exam in three months is during the summer, right after college graduation and before starting your first accounting job. Not only are CPA Exam topics fresh on your mind, but once you start your career, life gets significantly busier, making it more challenging to find the time to study for the CPA Exam. The good news is that the 3-month study planner is integrated into the UWorld Roger CPA Review courses, so you can get started studying right away to quickly pass the exam.

CPA Exam 6 Month Study Planner

If you are a CPA candidate with serious external time commitments but are still eager to start studying, then the 6-month CPA Exam study planner is the right fit for you. Maybe you’re about to enter a busy season and don’t have much time to study for the exam, but still want to get started so that you’re ready to sit for the exam once it’s over. The UWorld Roger CPA Exam study planners are not only integrated into the course materials, but they also specifically outline which CPA Exam topics to tackle each day. This is an excellent way to pass the CPA Exam faster while balancing personal and professional obligations.

CPA Exam 9 Month Study Planner

CPA candidates who require a little more flexibility in their personal and professional priorities but want to pass CPA Exam in under a year would benefit from the 9-month CPA Exam study planner. Passing the CPA Exam in nine months is a great option for recent college graduates who want to take a break immediately after graduating but still want to pass the CPA Exam as quickly as possible. The benefit of the UWorld Roger CPA Review 9-month study planners is that they define which CPA Exam concepts you should focus on each day and how much time you should spend on each concept. This strategy allows you to mentally prepare and allocate time for studying every day while learning how to manage a new accounting career.

CPA Exam 12 Month Study Planner

For CPA candidates who are managing multiple responsibilities, like working full-time and caring for a family, the 12-month CPA Exam study planner is the best choice. The UWorld Roger CPA Review 12-month study planner keeps you on track to pass the exam within the 18-month rolling window, but with much less stress. The 12-month study planner is also integrated into the UWorld Roger CPA Review course. Not only will you master difficult accounting topics on a deeper level, but you’ll have the time to truly review and understand the material, as well.

CPA Exam Study Tips

Ready to pass the CPA Exam? Below are four quick study tips to pass the CPA Exam successfully.

  1. Get into a routine. It can be difficult to get into a study routine while working full-time, finishing a degree program, or taking care of a family. But a consistent routine will help you stay on track and achieve your CPA Exam goals. Incorporating CPA Exam preparation into your daily routine will help you develop a schedule. If you miss a day or two due to unforeseen circumstances, you can simply pick up where you left off. Small segments of study time are more manageable than slogging through one or two large blocks of study time each week.
  2. Determine how quickly you want to pass the CPA Exam. How to study for the CPA Exam and how quickly you pass the exam is entirely up to you. Some CPA candidates graduate from college and want to conquer the CPA Exam immediately and earn a bonus as soon as possible. For candidates without professional commitments, a more aggressive 3-month study-and-pass approach is advised and very achievable.

    Some candidates who are already in the profession may decide that a longer 6- to 9-month study-and-pass time frame is more appropriate for them and their commitments. Remember, the CPA Exam must be completed in an 18-month rolling window. This may sound like a long time for many candidates, but those months can fly by quickly, especially when life events get in the way.

    We recommend candidates take between 9- to 12-months to complete the CPA Exam. However, we have had students successfully pass all four sections of the exam in just three months. The best advice is to consider all your professional and personal workloads, and then set realistic goals for yourself!

  3. Determine the best order for you to take the CPA Exam. Candidates preparing for the exam frequently wonder in what order to sit for each exam. You must pass all four sections of the CPA Exam within an 18-month rolling window, which begins when you pass your first section. For this reason, we recommend tackling first the section that you think will be most difficult for you. After you conquer the beast, you have 18 months to finish the other three.

    So which section will be the hardest for you? Just like many of the accounting situations you will encounter in your career, the answer is “it depends.”

    When are you planning on taking the exam?

    • If you will finish all four sections by the end of 2023, then we generally recommend the following order: FAR, AUD or REG in either order, and finally BEC.

      Because FAR covers the broadest amount of information and is widely recognized as the most difficult CPA Exam section, we recommend candidates start with it. This way, their 18-month countdown doesn’t begin until they’ve conquered the toughest section. In addition, FAR covers a little bit about a lot of topics, so you’ll gain mastery of a broad range of accounting concepts that will be covered in greater depth in the remaining sections.

      We recommend taking AUD and REG for the next two sections. Depending on which section you feel most comfortable with, take that section first and do the remaining sections after. For example, if you’re currently an audit intern, take AUD next since you’re more familiar with the subject matter, and then sit for REG afterward. We recommend taking BEC last since the concepts tested in this section serve as a nice wrap-up to all the concepts that you’ve been tested on in FAR, AUD, and REG.

    • If you will be taking any of the four sections in January 2024 or later, those sections will be from the new Core-plus-Discipline model, so your strategy will be different. In this case, you should analyze your own personal knowledge and abilities to determine if you prefer the current BEC section or one of the new discipline sections.

      If you prefer to take the BEC, you must pass it before the end of 2023. In Q1 2022, BEC had a pass rate of 57%, which was the second-highest of the four sections. It covers a wide variety of general business topics, including enterprise risk management, internal controls, economics, financial management, information technology, and operations management. In addition to the standard multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations, it also has written communication tasks. If you choose to take BEC before the end of 2023, a testing sequence option could be: 1) REG-2023 2) BEC-2023 3) FAR-2024 4) AUD-2024.

      If you prefer to take one of the new discipline sections, they will be available beginning in 2024. The new discipline sections are loosely viewed as the more advanced and in-depth continuations of their related core sections. For example, the 2024 REG core section will cover mainly individual and some simpler entity tax topics, and the Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP) discipline section will cover high-level and more complex entity tax topics. In this instance, a testing sequence could be: 1) REG-2023 2) TCP-2024 3) FAR-2024 4) AUD-2024. We recommend taking the core section before its related discipline section since the material builds from the core.

  4. Book Your Exam Date. Setting an exam date will give you a time frame in which you can schedule the rest of your CPA exam study guide. It will also give you a solid deadline to strive towards. With procrastination being one of the largest roadblocks for CPA candidates, booking an exam date with Prometric Testing Centers will give you the accountability you need to stay on track with your studies. We recommend scheduling one exam section at a time, studying for that section, and then moving on to the next once you complete it.

Remember, how to study for the CPA Exam isn’t one-size-fits-all. Determine which CPA Exam section’s content you’re most familiar with and what subject has the greatest appeal to you. Think about your recent accounting classes or work experience; then, read more about each exam section in more detail and select which order works best for you.

Ready to conquer the CPA Exam?

Master the concepts easier with effective answer explanations and visuals.

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FAQs

Yes, you can study for the CPA Exam while working full-time. Passing the CPA Exam is directly related to how much time and effort you are willing to put into your CPA Exam preparation. Start by setting your priorities, creating a solid study plan, and sticking to your study plan as much as possible.
The best time to start studying for the CPA Exam is right after you graduate with your bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting. Many of the topics covered on the CPA Exam will still be fresh in your mind, and you’ll be in the habit of studying for exams and sticking to a solid study plan.
Failing the CPA Exam can be overwhelming, so give yourself a few days or a week to accept it and think about how you want to move forward. Rework your study plan to focus on the areas that were most challenging for you and continue moving on from there. If possible, retake that CPA Exam section as soon as possible, once you feel confident that you have a better grasp of the more challenging concepts.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recommends studying between 300 and 400 hours for the overall CPA Exam, which breaks down to around 100 hours for each section of the exam. However, study times vary depending on the amount of time a CPA candidate commits to studying for the exam and various other factors, including the quality of their CPA Exam review course.
Using outdated CPA Exam study materials is not recommended because you will be studying CPA Exam topics that are outdated and not on the current exam. If you spend your time studying materials that are not on the exam, you will be setting yourself up for failure.
Yes, you can start studying for the CPA Exam before you receive your NTS. The NTS is an authorization provided to CPA Exam applicants by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to schedule their CPA Exam, and does not determine eligibility to start studying for the exam. It is best to start studying for the CPA Exam as soon as you decide you want to take the exam.

Blogs

Working through CPA Exam sample questions is a great way to practice working through material that will be on the CPA Exam. Find out what makes UWorld CPA Review practice questions the best in the industry.
Start with UWorld Roger CPA Review when you’re ready to take your first CPA Exam practice exam. Get real CPA Exam questions and comprehensive explanations, which help you to understand, not just memorize.
Find out why UWorld Roger CPA Review is an award-winning leader in education technology. Explore and compare our CPA Exam course packages to get started on your CPA Exam journey today.
Knowing what to bring to the CPA Exam on exam day is an important final step in properly preparing for the CPA Exam. Find out what you can and cannot take to the testing center on exam day.
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