How Long Does It Take to Pass the CPA Exam?

An impersonal answer to the question, “How long does it take to pass the CPA Exam” would be, “On average, a CPA candidate may need 6-12 months to pass the entire CPA Exam.” But a more personalized answer is that it depends on how much time you can devote to studying, which you’ll know once you create your CPA Exam study plan. Let’s explore that question along with a few others so you can get started.

How Long Do You Have to Pass the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam consists of four sections:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environments and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

You must pass all four sections within an 18-month rolling window that begins as soon as you pass your first section, and you can only sit for exam sections during the four annual testing windows. Each testing window includes the first two months of the quarter and the first ten days of the third month.

  • Q1: January 1 – March 10
  • Q2: April 1 – June 10
  • Q3: July 1 – September 10
  • Q4: October 1 – December 10

That’s six windows to pass four exam sections, so you have a lot of wiggle-room before you have to think about possibly losing credit. If you don’t pass the remaining three sections within 18 months, you lose credit for the first section. You then have 18 months from the time you passed your second section to pass the other two and retake the one you’ve lost credit for, and so on. You are free to decide the order to take (or retake) exam sections, and you can take more than one exam section within a testing window, but you can’t take the same section more than once in a testing window.

Here’s an example to help illustrate:

You took BEC on August 2, 2018, FAR on November 23, 2018, and REG on February 4, 2019, and passed all 3 sections. You have until February 1, 2020, to pass AUD. Then, let’s say you get transferred from the NYC office to the Honolulu office and you are distracted from finishing the CPA Exam. You would have to complete BEC (again) and AUD by May 22, 2020.

How Long Does It Take to Pass the CPA Exam?

The shortest answer to this question is, “A long time.” After all, the amount of time required to pass contributes greatly to CPA Exam difficulty. But, in reality, several factors affect how long passing takes, such as

  • How familiar you are with the material,
  • How much time has elapsed since you earned your degree,
  • How many relevant skills you apply in your day to day career (i.e., you practice tax and audit vs. just tax),
  • How much time you have to study, and
  • How long you can concentrate in one sitting (i.e., how long you can study before you take a break).

Take an honest account of your skill and knowledge. An accelerated study schedule works for some, but whether it will work for you isn’t a thing someone else can easily tell you. However, the process of studying and learning is no different than going to the gym. If you want to see results, you need to plan to study multiple times each week.

The goal is to pass all four sections the first time, so the study plan you rely on must work for you. Don’t budget more time than you’re willing or able to spend. Another key to passing quickly is utilizing a CPA review course that covers the exam content thoroughly and presents it efficiently so you can maximize the time you have.

How Long Does It Take to Study for the CPA Exam?

Studying for the CPA Exam is a lengthy process. The average amount of study time per exam section is 160 hours, and most successful candidates invest over 500 total hours into their exam preparations. Before panic sets in, let’s break it down.

If you create and stick to a CPA Exam study schedule of 20 hours per week (one and a half hours weeknights and six to seven hours on Saturdays and Sundays), you can finish your review for one section in about two months. If studying 12-15 hours a week (three hours a day during the week and six hours on Saturdays and Sundays) is more feasible, you can be primed to pass one section in about one month. Both of these example schedules allow you to pass the CPA Exam in just one year. Because the rolling window doesn’t start until you pass your first section, you effectively have 18 months to finish the other six to nine months of work, depending on the example schedule you’re following. There’s plenty of allowance for unexpected interruptions. You can take as long as you need to study for that first section, so prepare thoroughly and don’t procrastinate just because the clock isn’t technically ticking. You need to build good habits if you want to pass the other three sections.

To pass each section on your first try, you must give yourself sufficient study time. That means making sacrifices with your schedule. We know you probably don’t have 12-20 hours a week to spare, but you have to invest the right amount of time into your exam preparations from the start to avoid a CPA Exam section failure. Because you have to wait to retake your failed exam section until the next window (at the earliest), months will pass before you get another shot. Not only will you have to study more to master the material you missed, you’ll also have to revisit everything you understood to keep it fresh. This can add several hundred more hours to your 500 total hours of study time.

Passing the CPA Exam is a marathon, not a sprint. To see the big picture and stay motivated, you must make a CPA study plan and stick with it. You can also use your study plan to define a clear path for your exam preparations, discover the best exam date, and ensure that you review all of the exam content before your testing appointment.

How Can You Reduce Your CPA Exam Study Time?

You can cut down on your study time by choosing the right CPA review course for you. The right course helps you make the most of every study session and keeps you on track to reaching your goals.

Some providers advertise average study times that are drastically lower than those of other courses (and sometimes even lower than what the AICPA recommends). Review providers promoting low study times often do one or both of the following:

  1. Include in their courses only the content they think is most likely to be on the examOccasionally, review providers will try to anticipate which areas of the CPA Exam Blueprints will be featured more heavily on the exam than others. They then minimize or completely omit from their courses any references to the content they don’t consider necessary for candidates to review. While this practice may help candidates get through these courses faster, it often does not adequately prepare candidates for the exam. Lack of content exposure is a common reason for failing an exam section. While these shortcuts may save time initially, they can cost time (and money) if you have to retake one or more parts. If the review provider doesn’t have the necessary experience or fails to keep up with current accounting trends, this is a very real possibility.
  2. Develop courses that direct candidates to study only what they don’t knowAdaptive CPA review can help you study more efficiently by determining your weak areas and helping you prioritize your time. As long as these technologically-enhanced courses prioritize the mastery of the exam content as highly as the pace of the review, they can help candidates pass each section the first time and accelerate their CPA Exam success. Just as in point 1, the efficacy of this strategy is largely dependent on the experience of the provider. Some use out-of-the-box systems to make their courses “adaptive,” while others develop their own proprietary systems that are tailored to the CPA Exam. Adaptive courses can be better than old-school systems, and adaptive courses made with the CPA Exam in mind stand above their out-of-the-box peers.

How Can You Get CPA Review That Will Help You Pass the First Time?

With 40+ years in the industry, Gleim CPA Review has the experience needed to build an adaptive course that targets your weaknesses and saves you time. Our SmartAdaptTM technology analyzes your performance on each topic and continuously adjusts your quizzes to focus on your knowledge gaps. By increasing your competence with each content area, the Gleim CPA Review Course prepares you to pass the first time. Use these free CPA Exam questions to start identifying your strengths and weaknesses today.