How to Conquer CPA Exam Stress and Study Worry-Free

The CPA exam is challenging. Stress can make it worse.

Preparing for and taking the CPA exam is no small feat. It requires hours upon hours of dedicated study time, as well as great focus and confidence. No one wants to deal with CPA exam stress on top of all that. Testing anxiety is a big deal, and it affects most people who have to study and sit for exams. It can have a big impact on your ability to test, and can certainly bring down your exam scores as a result.

If you know how to manage your exam stress, you can conquer it. To make sure your CPA exam studies and testing aren’t bogged down with undue stress, we’re going to show you what you can do to manage it and get through your exam worry-free.

Don’t let studying wear you down, and don’t let the exam scare you—here’s what to do instead

Keep in mind that while you’re still studying, you’re only under as much pressure as you apply to yourself. Avoid studying in ways that add to your stress, or physically and mentally tire you out.

Of course you’ll want to make sure to study thoroughly before your testing dates are upon you, so don’t stop taking your review seriously. Still, you don’t want to lose sleep, or skip regular, healthy meals and activities just to fit in your review time. Habits such as setting a schedule that agrees with your lifestyle, as well as developing a sense of exam pacing, can help you to study routinely without feeling overwhelmed or exhausted.

Take your exam seriously as well, but don’t fear it. Exams themselves are not designed to cause stress; rather, we tend to make them more stressful than they need to be when we simply forget how to approach them.

Here are several tips that will help you to stay in control of stress when studying and sitting for the CPA exam:

Take the CPA exam before starting full-time work

If you’re a student or graduate who hasn’t yet begun your career, you should seriously consider getting the CPA exam out of your way before you take on other major commitments.

The advice here is simple—if you have lots of free time, and intend to earn your CPA certification, don’t get involved in anything else that demands lots of your time and energy until you’ve passed the exam and it’s behind you.

Set a study plan and method that fits your schedule, lifestyle, and learning style

Knowing when and how often to study is incredibly important, because beginning a new study routine and having to change other routines to accommodate it just multiplies the amount of effort you’re putting into exam prep.

Studying is exhausting enough—you don’t want to have to change your eating, sleep, exercise, work, family, and social routines as well. You’ll never be able to get it all straight!

Rather than trying to rearrange your entire life, simply work studying into your existing blocks of free time. Study in a way that works best for you.

If you’re like many CPA candidates, you are already employed full time, busy raising a family, or committed to other various responsibilities. Try to find time to study a little bit in the early morning and a little bit at night, or listen to audio lectures while driving or resting if that suits your learning style.

A little bit of creative planning can go a long way in taking the stress out of studying. All it takes is finding free time that already exists and studying in a way that fits into your life.

On exam day, make sure you know how to budget your testing time

Time management is crucial when sitting for the exam as well. Being aware of your time limits on the exam is just as important as knowing the exam material. Your mastery of CPA exam knowledge won’t be enough to stave off your stress if you’re stuck wondering how much time you have left to finish all questions and sections.

No worries, though! We’ve provided a detailed, helpful chart in this article. For a quick breakdown just remember you should reserve about:

  • 1 and a half minutes for each multiple-choice question (MCQ)
  • 18 minutes for a task-based simulation (TBS)
  • 25 minutes for a BEC written communication (WC)

Keep these limits in mind while studying for the exam as well, and when exam day comes, you won’t suddenly feel the pressure of a time limit that wasn’t there before.

Take your CPA review as seriously as the exam, and use all the tools available to you while studying and testing

Believe it or not, you can be a serious candidate without stressing yourself out.

In fact, not being serious enough is more likely to be the stressful approach! Another important part of being in control of your review stress is knowing to take full advantage of the review tools at your disposal. This will help you to be as familiar as possible with all the material the CPA exam can throw at you.

Practice makes perfect, and mastery of exam knowledge will result in confidence on exam day.

  • When reviewing for the CPA exam, you’ll want to use a review system that comes equipped with a comprehensive toolkit, including:

    • A large bank of multiple-choice questions that includes explanations for correct and incorrect answers.
    • A platform that looks and acts just like the real exam, so your exam-day experience isn’t new or surprising.
    • Audio and video lectures, so you can study when, how, or wherever is most convenient for you.
    • Mentorship and guidance services, so if or when your review becomes overwhelming you don’t have to figure it all out yourself.

If you are having difficulty choosing the right CPA review course for you, check out our free ebook here.

  • When it comes to exam day, you’ll want to be familiar with all the tools provided to you during the exam. Knowing what they are, and how to use them ahead of time, is an easy way to cut even more stress out of the experience. Your CPA exam day tools include:

    • Scrap paper and a pencil, or a dry erase board and pen
    • A calculator
    • Excel
    • Authoritative literature
    • Overview
    • Help
    • Exhibits

Take time to rest, decompress, and re-energize

Part of studying, learning, and testing effectively is making wise use of breaks.

You need downtime to absorb and memorize information while studying. You also need time to allow your mind to prepare for testing, and to refuel and prepare for each leg of an exam on testing day.

Here are some great ways to break up study time, make best use of exam breaks, and prevent buildup of stress:

  • When studying
    • Take a nap when you’re tired.
    • Eat a healthy snack
    • Get up and get some physical activity; take time to exercise and stretch.
    • Get away from your study area, as well as distractions like email or your phone; go outside.
    • Do something fun or relaxing, such as listening to music.
    • Don’t try to work on another project while taking a break from studying.
    • If you’ve set aside specific time to study, don’t take breaks for so long that you can’t return to studying until next session.
  • On exam day
    • Get a good night’s sleep before the exam.
    • Eat fresh fruits, dark leafy vegetables, or foods with protein and healthy fats, and drink water or caffeine alternates like green tea before the test and during breaks.
    • Make sure you’re comfortable and not distracted by the testing environment—wear comfortable clothes and consider bringing earplugs so you don’t have to use bulky headphones.
    • Get up and stretch, move, and walk around.
    • Don’t interact with other candidates who are nervous about the exam. Stress can be contagious!
    • If you have the option, sit at a testing station that feels most comfortable to you.
    • Expect some anxiety. You read correctly—expect it, at least a little. Your exam won’t be entirely stress-free. Being a bit stressed does help to keep you alert, and expecting it at least keeps it from catching you off-guard.

Off to a stress-free start

If you’re thinking about becoming a CPA, or you’re already preparing to take the CPA exam, why not let us get you started the stress-free way? Gleim CPA Review is the #1 CPA review, and we offer free CPA exam questions that cover the AUD, BEC, REG, and FAR sections of the exam!