What is the best way to study for the CPA exam? For some candidates this answer is simple – invest a few thousand in CPA prep material, go through all the lectures and multiple choice questions (MCQs), and retake the exams until you pass all 4 parts.
But for most candidates the answer isn’t that easy. Some candidates don’t have the thousands to spend on expensive CPA prep material. Some candidates don’t have time to juggle a family, a career, and a study calendar for the exam. Even candidates who have all the time and resources in the world find it difficult to comprehend and retain the information.
Knowing this, when a candidate asks me what’s the best way to study for the CPA exam I always say, “Let’s look at the 3 Ts.”
The first T for candidates is time. Some candidates are full time CPA students while other candidates are juggling life with the occasional cram session. Time is one best resources you can have especially if you’re lacking when it comes to the other 2 Ts.
For those who are lucky enough to be full time candidates then the best advice would be to treat your CPA prep as a job. This doesn’t mean spending 8 hours a day studying for the exam but it does mean narrowing the time frame between exams. If you have a lot of time on your hands then you can prepare for an exam much faster than the traditional candidate.
If time is not one of your gifts – no need to fret. Candidates who have no time to study for the exam sometimes study more than candidates who are studying “full time.”
Here are some helpful tips if you’re lacking time:
Micro Studying – An hour in the morning, an hour at lunch and an hour at night. You might not be able to string 3 consecutive study hours a day so split up your study schedule.
Forward Looking Study Calendar – Projecting out your study calendar is a a great tool to put your study schedule in prospective. See how many hours you can study per week, see how many hours it takes to cover each section, project out how many weeks before you should schedule your exam.
Backward Looking Study Calendar – If you’re trying to get a part of the CPA exam done by a specific date (before I start my job, before my sister’s wedding, before my upcoming vacation, etc.) you will want to use a backward looking approach. Simply see how many hours it’ll take to cover all the sections, see how many weeks you have left, and project out the required study time per week.
10 Week Flex Study Calendar – This one is my all time favorite! Aim to go through all the material in 8 weeks and spend 2 weeks on final review. Your goal is to set checkpoints instead of focusing on study hours. “I need to be done with this section of my material by the end of this week.” By having this approach you can be flexible with when you study. For example, let’s say you need to be done with a certain section by the end of the week and you finish Friday morning. You can reward yourself by going out Friday night and taking Saturday off knowing that you’re right on track!
We all know those people in class who were an undercover genius. You never saw them study but somehow they got an A on every exam. These are the CPA candidates who can look at the material once and pass on the first try.
We can’t all be that “smart” but if you’re gifted then use your intelligence as your asset. Candidates who have smarts can get away with spending less time and money on CPA review so this is perfect for candidates who are working full time and are balling on a budget.
For those who don’t retain information as easily as these candidates then you want to use these study techniques:
Understand the Concepts – We’ve all been there, you’re going through the MCQs for the 3rd time and you’re getting all the answers right. But are you getting the answers right because you memorized the questions and answers or because you understood the concepts? If you do well on the MCQs but do poorly on the Simulations then this may be you. Understand why the answer is right and why the other answers are wrong.
Study Like You’re Learning a Language – You can’t learn a language without speaking it and you can’t pass the CPA exam without learning the language of the exam. The phrasing of the exam questions are critical and you need to understand how a change in one word changes the entire question. Focus on words like never, always, and not, and understand how they impact the question. Talk out the concepts and focus on the exact phrasing that is used in your study material.
Make a Script – Have you ever heard a director tell an actor to follow the script? When you study for the exam you should write your script and stick to your lines! Create a script for concepts to help you walk through the general rules and the exception to the rules. The exam is designed to trick candidates with information that is not necessary to solve the question. If you create the script and stick with your lines you can avoid getting tripped up come exam day.
If all else fails then throw money at the problem. Candidates who don’t have time or don’t have talent often resort to treasure. They will buy the most expensive CPA exam prep, hire a personal tutor or supplement their studying with supplemental MCQs and Sims.
If money isn’t your gift then there are affordable alternatives:
Wiley Books – For only $300 you can get all the e-books for the exam
- Pros: Comprehensive material for the exam
- Cons: Does not come with Sims and MCQs
Gliem – For $999 you get all 4 books and access to a massive test bank.
- Pros: One of the largest test banks out there
- Cons: For the price point it might be worth purchasing a premium review course for $500-$1,000 more.
Universal CPA – For $699 you get the books, MCQs and Sims! Use code THEDAILYCPA to save even more.
- Pros: Great cram course for candidates with limited funds and limited time
- Cons: No video lectures yet but candidates who purchase the package at the reduced price will automatically be upgraded when the video lectures are launched.
Whichever option you choose you want to look at your decision as an investment. You don’t need to break the bank but you have to be willing to purchase some type of review material.