CPA Exam Tips and Tricks: Taking Breaks

cpa exam tips and tricks

Let’s be honest. Studying for and taking the CPA Exam is a taxing process both mentally and physically. The CPA Exam is difficult because of its complex structure, the breadth of topics it covers, and the amount of time needed to pass it. You should brace yourself for a real challenge, but you shouldn’t make the exam process harder than it already is. One of the most encouraging CPA Exam tips and tricks you’ll ever hear is that you should take breaks during your CPA Exam study and testing sessions. Learn about the types of breaks you can take and why and how you should take them.


Types of Breaks

As you prepare and sit for the CPA Exam, you’ll have the opportunity to take two types of breaks – study breaks and testing breaks. A study break happens on your own time, while a testing break happens during official CPA Exam testing time. These breaks are optional, but as they can be very good for you, you should plan to utilize both of them.

Benefits of Breaks

Breaks are scientifically proven to be beneficial, so your CPA Exam study plan should account for both types of breaks. These breaks allow you to

  • Avoid burnout: If you work so hard that you become too tired and disheartened to go on, you won’t pass the CPA Exam. Rely on breaks to keep you from being brain dead and exhausted.
  • Stay focused: When you shift your thoughts away from your review once in a while, you’ll do a better job keeping your thoughts targeted on your studies when you return to them.
  • Increase productivity: Freeing your brain to do something different in the midst of your studies reinvigorates your mental energy and equips you to study more effectively.
  • Save time: Your mind will start to wander away rather than absorb information if you force it to study for too long. Once you’re no longer retaining what you’re learning, you are wasting time.

Study Breaks

You’ll spend much more time studying for the CPA Exam than you will taking the CPA Exam, so study breaks will probably be more useful to you than testing breaks. There are two types of study breaks you could take: daily and weekly. Daily study breaks come in the midst of your daily study session, which should be about 1-2 hours long on average. Weekly study breaks allow you to take a day off after a week or so of consistent daily studying.

Daily Study Breaks

The amount of time you study per session should influence when you take a daily study break.

  • 1 ½ hours: If you have to keep your study session closer to 90 minutes, you can take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes. After doing this 4 times in a row, you should take a 15-minute break.
  • 2 hours: If you plan to study for about 120 minutes, you should take approximately a 15-minute study break every 50 minutes.
  • 3+ hours: If you’ve blocked out an extended study session of 180 minutes or more, you can interrupt your studies every 90 minutes with a break that lasts for about 20 minutes.

What should you do during your study break? Activities that empower you make the most of the intermission include

  • Looking away from the screen: You want to stop concentrating and allow your mind do something else. If you’ve been staring at the computer, don’t switch to your phone; make a bigger change.
  • Standing up and moving: Stepping away from your review materials is good, but walking around is better. Your mind will start to clear when your blood gets flowing.
  • Being social: Find one of your friends, give your mom a call, go chat with your roommate, or play with your dog. You’ll find release in the relationship.
  • Taking a nap: If you’ve got extra time, you can get a fast and powerful boost of energy from a 25-30 minute nap, and a 60-90 minute nap can improve your memory.

While you should take daily study breaks, you should not let these breaks get out of control. Use the clock to help you pause only when and for as long as necessary. This habit enables you to practice the time management you’ll need on the CPA Exam.

Weekly Study Breaks

Your weekly agenda should influence when you take a weekly study break. An extended period of pure relaxation can renew your mind and your motivation, so try to enjoy one completely empty day without working or studying at all if you can. Typically, that day would be Saturday or Sunday, but whatever day you have off from work will do.

What should you do during your weekly study break? The short answer is whatever lets you unwind! However, some fun suggestions include

  • Hanging out with your friends
  • Taking a quick trip
  • Investing in your hobbies
  • Binge-watching a show
  • Going to the movies
  • Focusing on your fitness
  • Playing with your pet

In order to stay in study mode and be completely ready by exam day, you should only take one day off a week. Taking too many weekly study breaks will make remembering what you learned in your last study session much tougher. You won’t be able to progress through your CPA self-study materials very quickly, and consequently, you may start to lose sight of your CPA Exam goals.

Combat the urge to indulge in study breaks excessively by recalling the benefits of becoming a CPA and discovering the secret to not getting overwhelmed on your exam journey. You can pass 1 exam section in as few as 7 weeks if you stick to studying for 20 hours a week. If you maintain this pace, you’ll pass within 6 months and be able to take a permanent break from the CPA Exam!

Testing Breaks

When you sit for the CPA Exam, you will have the opportunity to take two types of testing breaks.

  • Standard break: 15-minute break that stops the exam timer
  • Non-standard break: unlimited break that does not stop the exam timer

The structure of the CPA Exam is such that you will be able to take a break after you finish each testlet.


Launch Code

Confidentiality /Section Information

First MCQ Testlet

Optional Break:
Clock Runs

Second MCQ Testlet

Optional Break: Clock Runs

First TBS Testlet

Clock Stops

Second TBS Testlet

Optional Break: Clock Runs

Third TBS Testlet
(WC in BEC)



5 minutes

5 minutes

4 hours and 15 minutes

5 minutes

Each time you finish a testlet, the exam will direct you to an action screen offering you the chance to take a break. You will see the action screen for the non-standard break after the first, second, and fourth testlets:

cpa exam tips and tricks

If you decide to take the non-standard break, you must click “Take A Break”. You will then see this screen:

cpa exam tips and tricks

Once you return from your non-standard break, you must click “Continue Exam” to move on to the next testlet.

The standard break is only available after the third testlet, which is the first testlet of Task-Based Simulations. When you are able to take the standard break, you will see this screen:

cpa exam tips and tricks

If you opt to use the standard break, the exam timer will stop and the break timer will begin, as you can see in this screen:

cpa exam tips and tricks

Once the standard break time has expired, the exam timer will resume, even if you have not returned to your seat to continue the exam.

cpa exam tips and tricks

As the exam timer stops during the standard break, you should feel free to employ this break if it would help you refresh your mind and sharpen your focus. You will be required to leave the testing room to take a standard or non-standard break, so you must track the time yourself when on a break.

For the standard break, you should check the clock frequently so that you come back to your seat before the exam timer resumes. For the non-standard break, you should resolve the length of your recess before you leave and stick to it so that you don’t stray from your CPA Exam time management system. Technically, your non-standard break can be as long as you want, but you should make it as short as possible to ensure that you can answer every exam question. If you are struggling to begin each testlet at the predetermined time, you should pass on the non-standard breaks.

Practice CPA Exam

Study breaks not only aid you in surviving regular study sessions, but they also help you nurture the mental endurance you’ll need for the CPA Exam. Total testing time for each exam section is four hours, so putting in longer study sessions during which you can take breaks permits you to imitate the testing process. Another way to train for the testing is to complete a practice CPA Exam. One resource for accessing a practice CPA Exam is Gleim CPA Review. Our course includes the Exam Rehearsal, a comprehensive, mirror-image CPA Exam simulation that presents more exam emulation than any other course on the market. You can get a taste for how well our Exam Rehearsal replicates the CPA Exam by accessing our exam-emulating CPA demo for free today.