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How to Study for the CPA Exam During Busy Season

CPA candidates discussing busy season study tips at the office.

Busy season for accountants puts most other industries to shame. Between a demanding workload and long hours, it can be difficult to find time for other commitments. That said, passing the CPA Exam is a crucial career move that you may not be able to put on hold until busy season ends, especially in light of the 18-month window for section credit.

To stay on track for success, you’ll need to juggle both time-consuming endeavors. Follow this 9-step process to make the most of studies during this busy time of year.

Determine your priorities

If you’re going to study for the CPA Exam during busy season, this is not going to be an easy, breezy, laid-back time of life. It is going to be challenging, and in order to tackle it, you’re going to need to establish the essentials and drop everything else.

Of course, working and studying must be at the top of the list, but you also can’t forget about your health and your family. You won’t accomplish anything worthwhile if you’re starved or sleep-deprived, and your family not only needs you in their lives; they can also provide some of the support and encouragement you’ll need to get through.

You can also add fun into the mix, but expect to have to cut back on it. This isn’t the time to start a new hobby or start other long-term projects. Focus on the task at hand and you’ll be surprised by how much time you can invest into it.

  • Make a list of all the responsibilities you must do during this time period.
  • Try to estimate how much time those activities will take up.
  • Review this list of responsibilities and see if you can outsource any of them to others or temporarily eliminate.
    • If you are responsible for taking your kids to school each morning, see if a family member can take over for you while you study.
    • Instead of cooking dinner each night, consider making a few nights a week takeout.
    • If you spend a few days a month volunteering, consider taking a temporary break from it.

Budget your time

Now that you know what you can afford to keep on your agenda, you should create a CPA Exam study plan that accounts for everything you need to do.

  • Parcel out the number of hours in a week to each of your mandatory activities.

    • Because it’s busy season, you should prepare to sacrifice about 50-60 hours a week to work.

    • Because it’s the CPA Exam, you should commit to studying for 1-2 hours per day, as you’ll need about 140-150 total study hours per exam section. The faster you’d like to pass your exam section, the more study time you’ll have to fit into each week.

      • If you can study for 20 hours a week, you can be completely prepared for your exam section in about 7 weeks.

      • If you study for just 15 hours a week, it will take you about 10 weeks to be ready for your exam section.

  • Figure out how much time you will need to spend eating, sleeping, exercising, being with family, and having fun each week.

  • Use this information to create a concrete schedule to follow until busy season ends and/or you pass your exam section (whichever comes first).

  • Put this schedule into an interactive study planner. An interactive study planner will adapt to your current lifestyle and streamline your schedule. You’ll find an interactive study planner in Gleim CPA Review.

Add extra study sessions

Inserting 1-2 hours of study into a 10+ hour workday doesn’t require magic, just better time management. When you make your mornings and evenings longer, you can find space for two extra study sessions.

Morning study session: Start your day with a productive study session by getting up 45 minutes to an hour earlier and giving yourself about 30-40 minutes to study.

  • Make waking up this early easier by putting your study materials in place the night before and programming the coffee maker, if possible, to have a hot cup ready.

  • If you prefer, you could take a shower so you’re completely awake and then get right to studying for a certain amount of time before completing your morning routine.

  • Or, you could get dressed, have breakfast, get your lunch bag ready to go, and then study until it’s time for you to leave. If you decide to eat breakfast before you study, watch a video lecture or read an outline while you eat rather than catching up on the news or social media during this time.

Evening study session: Delay your free time a little longer after you clock out by getting right back into your studies. Take an hour or so to complete a study unit in your online review course, and make sure that your environment promotes this progress instead of hindering it.

  • If the office is quiet and keeps you in productivity mode, stay at your desk until you’ve finished studying or they kick you out.

  • If sitting in your cubicle another minute would melt your brain, then stop by a coffee shop, the library, the park, or any other quiet place to carry out your evening study session.

  • Alternatively, you can go straight to your home office and lock yourself in if it’s sure to be quiet and comfortable.

Communicate your plan

Share your intentions to study for the CPA Exam during busy season with your senior and manager so that they’re aware. Give them the details of your study plan to reassure them that you are still committed to producing timely and high-quality work while you prepare for the exam. If you’re honest about your goals and intentions, they should be supportive and let you do what you need to as long as the quality of your work doesn’t suffer.

Maximize your time

If you find your job sucking up more and more of your time as busy season marches on, you may need to overlap some of your other activities in order to meet your CPA Exam study goals. Use these tips to maximize your time and retain control of your life:

Be more productive during the business day. If you can complete your work projects faster, you will have more time to study and recover. To increase your productivity,

  • Eliminate ALL distractions: This means silencing your phone, setting your status as busy (all day if necessary), turning off notifications, and getting away from noisy areas.

  • Schedule time for communication: Keep email, text messages, instant messenger, etc., from consuming your time by checking these communications all at once at regular intervals throughout the day and ignoring them until then.

  • Make first things first: Complete your most important task before you get into anything else.

  • Delegate as much as you can: Outsource tasks that don’t require judgment to service centers or interns.

Multitask when it makes sense to. Studying while you complete menial tasks or busy work will let you make the most of every second of your day.

  • Turn your lunch hour into a mid-day study session. Bring your own lunch or eat alone in a quiet restaurant and go through your flashcards, watch a video lecture, or take a practice quiz while you eat.

  • Listen to audio lectures during your commute or while you’re cleaning up around the house.

  • Bring flashcards with you to appointments and quiz yourself while you are waiting.

Maintain your health so you can work and study well

Staying healthy while you’re busy is critical for keeping your energy levels up and your brain fully charged. Optimize your sleep, exercise, and eating habits by following these tips:

  • Get as much as sleep as you can during your designated sleep hours. You want to wake up early and still feel refreshed. Use herbal teas, bananas, crackers, turkey, cranberries, cherries, or warm milk to help you fall asleep, and turn off your electronics at least half an hour before going to bed so that your mind can slow down.

  • Work out in the morning or evening while listening to an audio lecture. Whether you use your home gym, the local gym, or the hotel gym (when you’re on the road), working out is an easy way to relieve stress, boost your energy levels, and advance your studies.

  • Eat healthy foods that provide lasting energy. You definitely don’t want to crash and burn before you finish your final study session. Healthy foods that help you stay focused and alert include avocado, coffee, salmon, nuts, carrots, blueberries, oats, tomatoes, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and chocolate.

Take a study vacation

If you’ve scheduled your exam section for the last few days of busy season or after it officially ends, use some of your paid-time off to dedicate a few of the business days before your exam exclusively to your CPA Exam studies. These days of nothing but study will allow you to take a practice exam or two, finish up your final review, and be completely ready for exam day.

NOTE: Don’t use this time to cram for the CPA Exam. Cramming for a complex exam like the CPA Exam will not help you prepare for the exam. In fact, it is better to take the day before your CPA Exam off from studying in order to ensure you’re not burnt out on exam day.

Reward yourself

If you find yourself at the end of a long day of working and studying with time to spare before you turn in, then reward yourself with one of your more enjoyable priorities. Whether it’s reading, watching a movie, baking cookies, or playing a game with the family, indulge in whatever will help you unwind. Additionally, once you’ve survived busy season and passed the CPA Exam, take a real vacation to celebrate everything that you’ve accomplished and the fact that you’ll never have to do this again.

Make the most of your study sessions

With limited time to spend studying, it is vital that you make the most of the time you invest into the CPA Exam. The best way to do this is by identifying the areas you need the most improvement on and focusing on those topics. Doing this on your own is difficult because you will need to take multiple practice exams and map your results onto the CPA Exam’s blueprints. That is why using an adaptive CPA review is so valuable.

An adaptive review will help you narrow down your studies so you don’t spend hours studying topics you’ve already mastered. In addition, the best adaptive courses will continue to touch on your strong areas to make sure you don’t lose your edge while studying.