Setting up a CPA exam study plan that fits into your work schedule and life is probably the most important thing you can do during your Certified Public Accountant journey. The reason most people end up failing the exam isn’t that they are stupid; it’s because they didn’t have a CPA exam study schedule that held them accountable and forced them to stay on track.

Without an actual CPA exam review plan, you will most likely just study when you feel like it. Do you know why I know? Because that’s what everyone does. Without an exam prep schedule, it doesn’t matter if you skip a day here or cut out an hour early over there. Next thing you know, your exam date is a week away and you’ve only been through a quarter of your CPA prep course.

Don’t let this happen to you! Here are the steps that I’ve come up with to make a bulletproof study strategy and schedule that will prepare you for your exam day no matter how busy your life is, how dense your study materials are, or what your full-time job looks like.

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How to Make an Awesome CPA Exam Study Plan and Schedule

Book Your CPA Exam Date

#1 Book Your Exam Date. I know this sounds crazy. Why would you book your CPA examination date even before you start studying? This is simple. Because setting a date will give us a time frame to set the rest of your CPA exam prep schedule. It will also give you a deadline.

Too many people say they are going to study and put it off because they don’t have an exam booked. “After I get halfway through this self-study course, I’ll book a date.” Consequently, they never end up getting halfway through the course.

Booking an exam date will give you a deadline to shoot for. That being said, I recommend that you try to pass every section of the CPA exam within a 9-month window. This gives you plenty of time to study for each section without making you crazy.

How long should I study for each CPA exam section?

Here are the recommended number of hours you should set aside for your CPA exam study plan to prepare for each section:

  • FAR: 120 hours
  • REG: 110 hours
  • AUD: 100 hours
  • BEC: 90 hours

Obviously, these are simply estimates. It might take you longer to prepare for one of these sections, but this is a good starting point.

Starting out, I would schedule one exam at a time, giving yourself enough time to prepare and then start your final review. After you ace that, you can gauge whether you want to take two sections in an upcoming testing window.

Set a Study Schedule

#2 Set Your Weekly Study Schedule. Now that you have a section booked, it’s time to get your schedule written down. If you are like most CPA candidates, you have a full-time job. Not all of us have the luxury of taking a year off of work to study for the exam, so you are in good company. The important thing is that you figure out how to utilize your study guide efficiently and work within your work schedule.

Take a look at your weekdays and see which ones you will be able to study either before or after work. I would recommend studying about 1.5 – 2 hours each weekday and a total of 8 – 10 hours each weekend. That’s about 18 hours per week. Thus, it should take you about 6 weeks to prepare for each exam section.

How Do You Make a CPA Exam Study Plan With a Full-Time Job?

Take a look at your schedule over the next 6 weeks. Do you have any events that will prevent you from studying? Family birthdays, planned trips, anything else? Well, mark those on the schedule as no-study days and make up for them earlier or later in the week.

So if you have to take Friday off, plan to study an extra hour or two on Thursday to make up for it.

The most important thing that you can do when setting up your study schedule is to plan for days off. There’s no way you will be able to study every day. You will get burned out and each study time will become less and less effective. Plan in at least one day each week where you don’t study.

You should still be able to have a life. 🙂

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Get Rid of Distractions

#3 Get Rid of Distractions. One way to free up tons of your time is by getting rid of distractions. This is a CPA exam study tip that I have referenced before. It’s so important that I have to mention it again.

You might be thinking, “How in the world am I going to come up with 20 hours per week to study when I work 50-60 hours a week now?” You are not alone. Everyone thinks that. It’s easier than you think. Believe me.

Think about all the stuff you do that wastes time: Facebook, Sports games, Movies, Reality TV shows. Just get rid of that stuff. You probably spend at least an hour each day on Facebook and watching TV. Get rid of those activities and you have an extra hour to study each day.

Get Stuff Done

#4 Start Studying. Now that you have an exam date set, you’ve planned out your schedule on the calendar, and you cleared out all the unnecessary distractions, it’s time to get sh*t done.

Stick to the schedule that you set up. Remember studying for the CPA exam is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Slow and steady wins the race every time. It’s all about studying a little every single day up until your exam date.

Stay focused on today’s tasks and don’t think too long term. Once you start looking a few weeks down the road, you will probably get discouraged. Just look at your to-do list for today and get it done. That’s all that matters. Keep plugging away at your CPA review course materials.

Time to Start Studying

Now that you know how to get your plan in order, it’s time to start studying. If you don’t have a CPA review course, you will definitely want to get one that works for you. Too many people get the wrong course and end up fighting it the entire time they are studying for the exam.

I’ve reviewed all of the most popular review materials, so you can easily pick one out that works for your learning style and study schedule. Here’s a list of the ones I recommend. Check them out.

Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.