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Making a CPA Exam Study Plan [Updated for 2020]

cpa exam study plan

Once you’ve completed your CPA Exam application and received your NTS, you will probably be pretty anxious to schedule your testing appointment. You have your NTS in hand, so what’s stopping you?

Well, there’s actually one more thing you need to do before you contact Prometric. You need to create your CPA Exam study plan. There are several reasons why making a CPA Exam study plan before choosing your exam date is a good idea.

There are also several steps involved in making it. Discover the reasons and steps you need to take so you can make a CPA Exam study schedule and pass the CPA Exam!

Reasons for Making a CPA Exam Study Plan

A realistic CPA Exam study plan is essential to CPA Exam success, and making one before scheduling your testing appointment is a smart way to start your exam journey.

Establishing a CPA Exam study plan before you select your test day allows you to do the following:

See all of the exam content.

The CPA Exam covers an extensive amount of material. Just one look at the CPA Exam blueprints confirms that there is much to know. Furthermore, total testing time for each exam section is 4 hours, and each exam section contains dozens of questions.

Therefore, it’s very likely that you will see a lot of the exam content during your test, and that prospect should compel you to review all of the content beforehand. The more content you study, the better you’ll do when you sit for the CPA Exam.

An adaptive CPA review course, like Gleim’s SmartAdapt system, can really help with this step. While you do want to make sure you see all of the content, there will be some you are more familiar with and some you will need to spend more time reviewing. An adaptive course can do the work of identifying these areas and adjusting your study times accordingly, leaving more of your precious time for studying!

If you choose your exam date before you’ve developed a CPA Exam study plan, you may not give yourself enough time to see all of the exam content.

Become familiar with all of the exam content.

Consistent study is key to passing the CPA Exam. If you don’t study often enough or well enough, you won’t be familiar enough with the exam content to demonstrate the depth of knowledge at which the CPA Exam will test you.

The CPA Exam requires candidates to achieve a greater comprehension of accounting topics by presenting questions that assess you for high levels of knowledge and skill. The exam questions may ask you to remember, understand, apply, analyze, and evaluate accounting information, so you must develop these skills during your studies.

Accumulating plenty of quality review sessions requires an adequate number of hours per day and days per week, which your CPA Exam study plan will provide. The consequences of being unprepared for exam day range from a CPA Exam section fail to CPA Exam fees for rescheduling.

Get comfortable with the exam environment.

Before you take the CPA Exam, you need to learn not only the exam content, but also the workings of the exam environment.

Feeling comfortable with the format and functionality of the CPA Exam contributes just as much to your exam-day confidence as knowing the material.

There are several ways to acclimate to the exam environment:

Tapping into these resources takes time and, since practice CPA Exams should be taken under exam conditions, you will benefit from the advanced notice. Making a CPA Exam study plan before you schedule your exam date will allow you to schedule time to use these valuable tools.

Select the optimal test day.

It’s better for your mental well-being if you don’t have to reschedule an exam section. The sooner you get certified, the sooner you can enjoy all the benefits of becoming a CPA, but you won’t do yourself any favors by setting an unrealistic goal. You want to pick a target that will keep you on task and get you certified quickly, but it needs to be attainable without (too much) lost sleep.

Calculate how long it will take to prepare, and then choose the best day to take the test after that time period. Build yourself a small buffer, perhaps a week or two, but don’t delay too much. Scheduling your exam early allows you to secure the exam date you really want.

Waiting to schedule your exam until you finish studying lets other candidates reserve all the best exam days and forces you to settle. Keep in mind: if you are forced to reschedule, the later you wait, the more you will end up paying in rescheduling fees.

Steps to Making a CPA Exam Study Plan

Your NTS is only valid for a specific period of time, so you need to make your testing appointment shortly after receiving it. Follow these steps to making your CPA Exam study plan so you can identify your ideal test day.

Determine how fast you want to pass.

You know you want to take the CPA Exam because you want to earn the CPA certification, but how long do you want the CPA Exam journey to take? How much of your life do you want to invest in the process of passing the CPA Exam?

Your goal is to pass each section of the CPA Exam the first time you sit, but depending on your life stage, your work schedule, and your current familiarity with the exam content, you may need a more intense or a more flexible CPA Exam study plan to accomplish this.

No two candidates are alike, so you need to develop an approach that best suits your needs and individual preferences. You can use one of these two sample exam schedules (aggressive or moderate) as a foundation for your own CPA Exam study plan.

Aggressive study plan:

This exam schedule is typically for candidates who are recent graduates and proficient with the accounting knowledge covered on the CPA Exam. In this approach, candidates aim to pass all four sections in just 6 months (which is generally how long your NTS is valid). To do so, take one section at the beginning and another section near the end of 2 consecutive calendar quarters, budgeting approximately 6-7 weeks of study per section (e.g., exam dates of 1/2, 2/14, 4/1, and 5/15). If you follow this exam schedule, you will not only finish well before the 18-month deadline, but you can also save money by scheduling two exams per NTS.

Moderate study plan:

This exam schedule is for candidates who have been out of school for some time and need a refresher on a good number of topics. These candidates need to budget approximately 10-12 weeks per section. If you take this approach, you should aim to take one section per calendar quarter and pass all four sections comfortably within a year.

Use an interactive study planner.

You can make the process of generating a CPA Exam study plan much easier by using an interactive study planner. A truly interactive study planner suits your lifestyle and streamlines your study plan in the midst of it.

Gleim CPA Review includes an interactive study planner that delineates the due dates for each study unit as well as the timeline for your final review. After you input your study start date, your exam date, your personal blackout dates, and the amount of time you can study each day, our study planner provides your customized agenda and continues to adjust the study unit due dates if you make changes, such as adding or removing a blackout date.

If you miss a study session and don’t make it up within 3 days, the study planner will send you an email or text alert that you’ve fallen behind. With modifiable due dates and helpful reminders, our interactive study planner keeps you on track for CPA Exam success.

Evaluate your current schedule.

There are 168 hours in a week. How do you currently spend each of them? Write up a general timeline of your week to classify all of the activities to which you contribute your time. Account for how many hours a week you work, attend classes, sleep, eat, exercise, clean, relax, etc.

Tally up the total number of hours for each activity and adjust your agenda to accommodate your CPA Exam studies. After you’ve examined your habits on a daily and weekly basis, check your calendar for any important dates you have coming up in the next 6 months to a year. Include all of your major commitments in your study schedule, as these will affect the amount of time you can study on the respective dates and potentially on the surrounding days as well.

Find time that you can allot to study sessions.

Once you have a map of your daily, weekly, and monthly life laid out, pinpoint and add up any spare hours or time periods that you can repurpose. You can easily fill an hour or two between engagements with study time. You can even dedicate your lunch hour to reading a section of your CPA review book or your commute to listening to an audio review. Dedicating this time to your studies is not as difficult as carving review sessions out of your social events or free time, but you may need to do both in order to pass all four sections of the CPA Exam within the 18-month window.

A CPA Exam study plan is evidence of your commitment to pass. It is also intended to give you a definitive beginning to your exam studies and a visible finish line on which to focus your study efforts.

To make a CPA Exam study plan, you must be willing to make some sacrifices now so that you can reap the rewards of passing later. Remind yourself this is only temporary, and the reward of returning to whatever you gave up will be that much more fulfilling once you pass!

That being said, you should have realistic expectations for yourself and give yourself time to unwind between study sessions. Don’t give up all social outings, quality family time, and other important life events. Schedule them sparingly, but do schedule them.

Allocate 1-2 hours each day to studying.

You should aim for 1-2 hours of study per day for a total of 150-170 hours of preparation time per exam section. Because every CPA Exam candidate is different, give yourself a bit more time than you think you’ll need in case your study plan gets interrupted or you come across a challenging topic.

Incorporating CPA Exam review into your daily routine will help you stay in study mode until your exam date and will prevent you from struggling to get back in it if you skip a day or two. Checking off short blocks of study time every day is more manageable than trudging through one or two large blocks of study time every week.

When searching for hours you can reuse, don’t forget to consider the time of day in which you are most awake and capable of retaining what you’ve learned. Let your body’s natural rhythm help dictate the times that will be best for studying.

Figure out when you can finish your studies and schedule your test date.

Once you know your weekly study plan, count up how many weeks it will take you to complete your preparations for each exam section. If you want to pass the CPA Exam faster, go back to your weekly schedule and cut out other activities that you can replace with studying.

As soon as you are happy with the number of weeks it will take you to finish your studies, find the exam dates that work best for you. If possible, select two or three that are equally convenient so you’re ready for whatever availability Prometric has. Then, schedule your appointment with Prometric right away so you can land one of your preferred test dates.

CPA Review for Making a CPA Exam Study Plan

A CPA Exam study plan empowers you to overcome procrastination and maintain your motivation to study for the CPA Exam. However, when it comes to making and sticking to a CPA Exam study plan, one size does not fit all.

To construct your personal study plan, you should use an interactive study planner, and to follow your personal study plan, you should use adaptive CPA review. Only Gleim CPA Review features truly adaptive technology that incorporates your CPA Exam study plan into a tailor-made learning path.

Our course targets your weak areas, guides you through the exam content, and assures your mastery of each topic in time for your testing appointment. You’ll have no trouble completing your study plan and developing the confidence you need to pass when you use our innovative review course to prepare for the CPA Exam.

Discover how Gleim CPA Review adapts to you by accessing our free CPA course demo today.