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 they barely pass the first section even they know the study materials. 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 exam prep and test day anxiety by trimming unnecessary study time. So, what’s my secret? How can reducing your studying time actually help come test day?

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

By using this CPA exam study 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 on exam review, practice tests included. While that’s not TERRIBLE, it’s more time than I wanted to spend on my study guide. Of course, working with a could have reduced the number of hours of self-studying, while coming with a financial cost.

In fact, this substantial investment of study time actually led me to under-prepare—using the same method—for the next exam section. Naturally, I failed since I didn’t put in the full 100 hours. I knew I needed to pass, but I wasn’t going to start my exam prep 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 my study plan on the content I didn’t know? So, I decided to omit the video lectures and limit the quantity of practice tests that I took.

My new CPA exam study plan was to take a practice test, determine which information I struggled to understand, and then reinforce/relearn only those exam sections.

Cutting Stress to Save Time

Consequently, I passed the exam section I had failed with a limited study strategy; 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 CPA 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 to 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.

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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.