The CPA exam is one of the most difficult certification exams in the field of professional accounting. According to the AICPA, each of the 4 CPA exam sections have a pass rate between 50-60%– so it’s extremely important that you put in the necessary amount of study time if you want to pass on your first try.
A major aspect of the perfect CPA exam study plan is the final review. In the last week leading up to your exam date, it’s time to go over everything you’ve covered one last time. If you’ve put in the work earlier in your study schedule, the final review shouldn’t be too difficult.
But if you want to get the absolute most out of this important step in the process, make sure you do these things during your CPA final review!
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Create a Study Schedule
The first step for your final review actually starts weeks (or even months) before the exam.
Generally speaking, it’s recommended to spend 80-100 hours studying each part of the CPA exam. The worst case scenario is that you’re forced to make up that extra time during the last stretch of time leading up to your exam date.
Instead, you should create a good study schedule so you can limit stress and burnout during your final review. This allows you to focus more heavily on the areas you need the most help with, and it also minimizes those areas since you’ve (ideally) already covered most of the exam in good enough detail to understand it.
Focus on the Most Important Concepts
Certain concepts will show up on all 4 parts of the CPA exam. Those will require extra focus since they’ll affect your overall grade far more than other concepts. Obviously, you shouldn’t just study these and ignore your other notes— but you should make sure that anything that appears in multiple tests gets extra focus during your final review.
But if you’re taking the CPA exam for the first time, how will you know what subjects appear on multiple exam sections?
The AICPA provides a full CPA exam blueprint, which is a great resource to have during your final review. Reading this will show you exactly what you need to know for each part of the exam. That way you can create a final review based on everything that’s going to appear in your upcoming exam.
Also, make sure you just focus on the exam you’re about to take. If you’re taking BEC first, just study BEC— don’t worry about FAR until later. You’ll have the opportunity to do a final review for all 4 exams, so there’s no need to spread yourself thin by preparing for everything at once!
Practice In Realistic Conditions
A common strategy to help you effectively prepare for any exam is to get into the testing mindset ahead of time. This is why many of the best online CPA exam cram courses use simulated exams as part of their final review process.
But if you’re not enrolled in one of those, there’s another way to get into the testing mindset. Retaking any practice exams (or exams from previous years) you have access to will ensure that you’re comfortable with the format and time limit of the exam.
Keep in mind that this method provides diminishing returns— if you spend too much time cramming, you run the risk of burning out before you even start. Instead, try and focus on subjects and exam sections you’ve struggled with in the past. You can kill 2 birds with one stone by studying for areas you need help in and by familiarizing yourself with the exam.
Additionally, make sure that you mimic the exam conditions as much as possible. Set a time limit and isolate yourself when practicing. That way you can figure out how much time to spend on each question in a no pressure scenario.
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Write Out Your Notes
Studies have shown that writing things down makes them easier to remember due to being a more active way of learning. You can use that to create far more effective study sessions.
This is another step that you should take before the final cram session:
Make sure to take detailed notes throughout your study schedule. This allows you to go through material you’ve already covered during your final review. Without good notes ahead of time, you might have to spend a lot more time and energy going over material you’ve already covered— which is a common cause of burnout.
Another great trick is to write out some practice questions by hand during your final review. Use a pen to write down some of the questions you find difficult on a piece of paper and outline every step of your problem solving process. This ensures that you’ll remember how to solve problems rather than just memorizing solutions— which will come in handy if the test has any trick questions.
It’s tempting for some students to just cram nonstop for their exams, but this can end up doing more harm than good. Nonstop studying can end up seriously hurting your attention span and cause burnout. Instead, it’s been proven through scientific study that taking regular breaks while studying can improve your attention span, mood, and overall academic performance. All you need to do in order to experience these benefits is take a 10-20 minute break after every 90 minutes of studying.
When taking a break, it’s also important to pick the right activity. Typically you’ll want to do something active: take a walk, stretch, or get some errands done. This will help you de-stress and rest your mind in between study sessions. Just make sure to set a timer so your break doesn’t run on too long!
Another thing you need to do is set strict time limits. It can be tempting to work until late at night, but you need consistent sleep to de-stress and stay healthy. You’ll easily learn everything you need to know — without burning out — as long as you stay healthy and happy during your final review.
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Final 3 Days
How should you spend the last 3 days before your exam date? That depends on what kind of student you are.
- Some people find it beneficial to go into full cramming mode. You can achieve impressive results by cutting out distractions and studying nonstop right before the exam.
- However, other students benefit more from taking it easy during the last few days. You can still study, but your workload should be lightened so you can focus on being in a good physical condition and mental state of mind before taking the test.
There is no wrong answer for how to spend the last stretch of studying. You need to figure out what works for you ahead of time and be ready to implement it right at the end.
However, there is one tip that everyone should follow, no matter what:
Rest the Night Before
No matter what kind of student you are, you need to get plenty of rest the night before the exam. Also, eat a healthy breakfast in the morning so your brain will have energy to solve difficult problems. This should keep you motivated and provide plenty of energy for the exam.
The worst thing you can do is walk into the CPA exam tired and unmotivated. That will greatly increase your chances of failure, even if you studied extremely hard. If you want to pass, you need to be in your best condition!
Follow all of these tips and your chances of passing will increase dramatically. Make sure to implement them into your final review and include any additional strategies that have worked for you in the past.
Good luck on your exam!