How to Reduce Your CPA Study Time

I’m generally good at taking tests, but I have many colleagues who struggle with them. From stories that I’ve heard, test day comes and even if someone knows the material, they barely pass the first section. If you have test day anxiety, you have to remember to be confident, or at least convince yourself that you can ace the exam.  

I told one of my colleagues about my studying changes and she was able to overcome much of her test day anxiety by trimming unnecessary study time. So, what’s my secret? How can reducing your studying time actually help come test day?

CPA Exam Studying Tips

I took the BEC section first (here’s why). Because I was using a super-regimented studying method, I could keep track of how many pages of materials I could cover per hour. When I started, I would go through, take extensive notes, use the video content as a method of reinforcing the material, and then try my hand at a practice test or two.

By using this method, I would get through roughly 6 pages of information an hour, coupled with a video lecture or two. For the BEC, I spent a total of 100 hours studying, with the practice tests included. While that’s not TERRIBLE, it’s more time than I wanted to spend studying. Of course, working with a could have reduced the number of hours of self-studying, while coming with a financial cost.

In fact, this huge amount of time actually led me to under-prepare—using the same method—for the next section. I failed, as I didn’t put in the full 100 hours. I knew I needed to pass, but I wasn’t going to start all over again.   

I decided there had to be a quicker way to study for the section. Instead of reinforcing the content that I knew, why not just focus on the content I didn’t know? So, I decided to cut out the video lectures and then limit the amount of practice tests that I took.

I would take a practice test, see with which information I struggled, and then reinforce/relearn only that part.

Saving Time, Cutting Stress

So, I passed the section I had failed with limited studying; I felt like I unlocked the secret level in a video game. But, would this successful new method still hold true for the next section of the exam?

In studying for the REG section, which actually had more content than the BEC and AUD sections, I was able to cut my studying time significantly. Instead of 100 hours, I spent closer to 50 hours, giving me much more time do the things I enjoy.

I cut my stress, limited my studying hours on the weekend, and had a new optimism about the test. But, you’re probably thinking: “Sure, but how did this go for the daunting FAR section?”

Well, I can tell you that my method held true for the FAR. Sure, I spent a little more time on this section than the others, but I still spent only 75-ish hours studying for this behemoth of a test. I don’t want to speculate, but I assume it would have taken me more than 125 hours if I had stuck to my original plan.

Testing the Theory

So, it worked for me. But, what about for the coworkers whom I advised to try this method? It was difficult to explain that studying less could actually alleviate stress, but they warmed up to the idea pretty quickly.

The colleague I spoke about before was a big fan of the video lectures. So, I told her to just stick to watching those, take some practice tests, and then skip the reinforcing aspects (of the stuff that she understood pretty well). If you’re just starting the research process, find the CPA review course that aligns best with your learning style. Then, like my colleague, you can study less and learn more! She told me that it cut an hour or two off of each night of studying right away.

But, perhaps most importantly, it got rid of her testing-day stress! After she spent less time glued to her computer and the prep books, she was able to just roll up to the testing center with a new found optimism and exuberance. She wasn’t stressed, overworked, or just drained from studying—granted she still had to put in some work, but it was MUCH LESS than what she would have had to do.



– Jason

The CPA Exam Guy





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