Study Scheduling Factors for the CPA Exam

By Kenneth W. Boyd

You need to create a plan of study for the CPA exam that’s realistic. The plan needs to take into account your personal situation. Exam candidates who don’t take these factors into account tend to get frustrated. If they can’t implement their study plan, they feel like they’re failing. To avoid frustration, consider the following factors.

Noting how much time you have before your tests

Tests are offered in four testing windows during the year. When scheduling your test, consider how much time you have left until the test date and how much you need to study.

Suppose that you’re planning to take the FAR test, and you plan to put in 160 hours of study time. If you schedule the test in 8 weeks, you’ll need to put in 20 hours of study time per week. Decide whether that amount of weekly study time is realistic. If not, consider scheduling the exam later than originally planned.

Looking at recent accounting classes

If you’ve taken accounting classes recently, preparing for the exam will be easier. When you come across accounting topics, they won’t be foreign to you.

Some candidates take the exam long after they’ve had an accounting course. If those candidates are working in accounting, some CPA exam topics will be familiar. However, a working accountant’s body of knowledge may be limited by their industry or job description.

If you work in manufacturing, you may not remember much about accounting for a retailer. If you work as a staff accountant, you may not work on creating financial statements; that may be the chief financial officer’s job. If you’re working as an accountant, consider these factors.

In the most challenging situation, you don’t work in the industry and you’ve been out of school for some time. The accounting concepts on the exam may be very unfamiliar. In that case, you’ll need to invest more study time.

Regardless of your background or education, you need to create a study plan for all four tests. Although certain areas of the exam may come easier to you, you need a plan to sufficiently cover all the exam topics.

Taking job and travel issues into account

If you’re working while studying for the exam, carefully consider the demands of your career. If your work schedule is consistent (maybe 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday), you can plan study time before or after work. Other candidates work in careers with uncertain hours.

If you work part time, for example, your number of hours may change from week to week. In that case, you can study more during lighter workweeks, which will make up for less study time during busy workweeks. Many exam candidates plan extensive study time over the weekend.

Jobs that require travel may complicate your study planning. If your career requires hours in the car, you may consider listening to exam-prep lectures on CD or over the web. Exam candidates who fly may be able to study on planes and at the airport. Some people, however, have difficulty reading and focusing while traveling. You need to decide how much study you can realistically complete while you travel.

Including personal and family issues

Parents of young children should consider whether studying at home makes sense. For some, the noise of children may be too much of a distraction. A parent may need to head to a coffee shop or library to study effectively. Many parents want to study at home, however, so they can help with their children’s needs. If you or your spouse is expecting a child, that event may change your study plan. Think through these issues.

Deciding on your best time of day

You may study differently depending on the time of day. If you can focus well early in the morning, you may change your schedule and study before work. Other people have trouble getting started in the morning. Those exam candidates may benefit from studying after work.

Some types of study require more focus than others. You may decide to flip through flashcards late in the evening, when you’re tired and have less focus. If you find simulation questions to be more challenging than multiple-choice, you may want to work on simulations when you’re more rested and focused. Adjust your study plans based on the time of day that is most effective for you.