In general, it’s recommended that CPA candidates study for 300-400 hours for the CPA exam in total in order to ensure they pass. Essentially, this equates to about 80-100 hours of CPA study hours for each exam section.
Keep in mind that these suggested and recommended study times are just that. They are suggestions based on candidate averages. Hence, don’t think that you absolutely need to stick to this.
You may have to take more time studying one section because you are rusty on the topics. Likewise, you may only need to study for half of the suggested time for a different section because you know the information really well and don’t need to review it.
Ultimately, effective study plans are different for everyone and depend on a variety of factors. Therefore, let’s take a look at a few of them.
Factors that affect the Number of CPA Exam Study Hours
Obviously, the total number of hours that you will need to study in order to pass the CPA exam varies among candidates and depends on several factors. Here’s a list of the biggest that come to mind.
Your educational background plays a big part in how much time you will need to study for the exam. If you took the minimum amount of college courses, you will most likely have less understanding of the topics on the exam.
A good example of this is some states don’t require you to take a governmental accounting or internal controls course in your undergraduate program. If you didn’t take a governmental accounting course, you will most likely need more study time on the governmental accounting sections.
Time out of College
Many candidates don’t end up taking the exam right after they graduate college for several reasons. Sometimes it’s a good thing to wait a year or two before taking the exam after you graduate. A lot of college students are burned out by the end of their undergrad while others go on to pursue a master’s degree to fulfill the 150-credit hour requirement.
Regardless of the reason, the amount of time you wait after college does contribute to the necessary length of your study schedule. Remember, this is primarily an academic exam. It has little to do with real-world accounting in practice. The sooner you start studying and take the exam out of college the easier of a time you will have to remember topics, facts, and concepts from your college accounting courses.
I would recommend taking it as soon as you can. The fresher the info is in your head, the better.
Generally, work experience doesn’t contribute too much to exam knowledge, but it can. For example, if you’ve worked full-time as a tax accountant for several years, you probably have all of the REG facts down pat and don’t need to review that stuff too much.
Auditing experience doesn’t play that big of a role in your exam knowledge since the exam in more academic in nature. Obviously, there is some overlap, but more people say it doesn’t help that much.
Either way, relevant work experience will on average increase your knowledge of the exam topics and will hopefully reduce the amount of time you will need to study.
General Knowledge of Accounting Concepts
Some of the above factors are meaningless for some candidates because they have a solid grasp of accounting concepts and topics. They remember most topics covered in their college courses and are able to reason their way through topics they are unfamiliar with.
Don’t get discouraged if that’s not you; it wasn’t me either! I really needed to study.
Ultimately, those are all the main factors that contribute to the amount of time you’ll need to study. Now let’s look at how much you should for each CPA exam section.
How Long Should I Study for Each CPA Exam Section?
The total number of hours you need study for each CPA exam section varies because each section is a different length, covers different amounts of information, and test you differently. Here are some recommended study times for each exam section.
How Many Hours Should I Study for the FAR CPA Exam?
The FAR section is the longest CPA exam section because it covers the most information and number of accounting topics. It’s no secret. FAR is a beast and requires your full attention and commitment.
The FAR exam includes:
- 90 Multiple-choice Questions
- 7 Task-based Simulations
With the latest updates to the exam, the total testing time for FAR is the same as the other sections, but don’t let that fool you. It’s still just as hard as it used to be.
All that being said, it’s recommended that CPA candidates study for 100-120 hours for the FAR CPA exam section.
CPA Exam Study Tip: Focus on the main topics and concepts. You can’t possibly know everything on the FAR exam. Focus on the main information that is tested.
How Many Hours Should I study for the REG CPA Exam?
The REG section involves a ton of memorization and remembering completely unrelated facts and figures. For instance, why is a standard deduction the current amount? Why are carry backs only allowed for 20 years? They just are and you just need to memorize it.
You can grind your REG studying to a halt with questioning why things are the way they are. Do yourself a favor. Don’t ask why. Just memorize it. 🙂
The REG exam includes:
- 72 Multiple-choice Questions
- 6 Task-based Simulations
Typically, REG is tied with FAR for the lowest pass rates out of any section. It’s a tough exam and you need to put in the time in order to pass it. That’s why it’s recommended to study for 90-110 hours for the REG CPA exam section.
CPA Exam Study Tip: Write down facts you need to memorize. It will help you learn the info way faster.
How Many Hours Should I study for the AUD CPA Exam?
The AUD exam section is pretty academic in nature. A lot of candidates who have auditing backgrounds say that this section is far different from the “real world” of auditing. This difference could be good for people right out of college since they are more familiar with the academic world of auditing than the real world.
The biggest thing that you need to do is familiarize yourself with the different audit letter opinions and all internal controls. This will help you out immensely.
The AUD exam includes:
- 90 Multiple-choice Questions
- 7 Task-based Simulations
Many people struggle with this section because it’s it involves memorizing so many auditing procedures and internal controls that aren’t directly relevant to financial accounting. AUD is also notorious for having suggestive answers where not all the answers are wrong, but some are more right than others. SUPER annoying!
Most experts recommend that you study for 70-90 hours for the AUD CPA exam section.
CPA Exam Study Tip: Memorize the unqualified audit opinion letter. You will need it.
How Many Hours Should I study for the BEC CPA Exam?
The BEC section is widely viewed as the easiest CPA exam section, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to study. Although it has the highest pass rate out of any exam, only about 55% of candidates pass it each window. That’s not that great.
It used to be the shortest exam, but now it has the same amount of MCQs that REG does. It also includes a written portion where candidates are required to write answers to questions, instructions, essays, or professional memos. The written section is unique with about half of all candidates saying they struggle with it. Here’s how the section breaks down.
The BEC exam includes:
- 72 Multiple-choice Questions
- 3 Task-based Simulations
- 3 Written Communication Simulations
BEC covers some cost accounting and management accounting topics as well as basic economic topics. There isn’t a ton of information covered on this section as compared with FAR or REG, but you do have to give it some respect.
Most CPA review companies recommend that you study for 55-75 hours for the BEC CPA exam section.
CPA Exam Study Tip: Memorize all of the important financial ratios and understand how to interpret them.
How to Reduce the Number of hours Studying for the CPA Exam
How Many Hours of Study Time Do I Recommend?
Notice in the above sections I didn’t say how long I thought you should study. I simply said how long experts and CPA exam prep course providers typically recommend. I did that on purpose because I wanted to you to compare what they say and what I recommend.
I don’t think you should strive to get a 90+ score on the exam. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a waste of time. You aren’t going to get anything special because you had a high score.
Instead, you should worry about passing the exam. A high CPA exam score doesn’t matter. That’s why you should train yourself to study enough to get a score of 80-85. That gives you enough cushion room in case there is a curveball on the exam, but it doesn’t require you to over study.
That being said, I would recommend getting a CPA review course that is right for you and focus on the main topics on each exam. Cut out the excess studying that doesn’t matter. You know what this is. For example, if you just watch the video lectures because it’s a nice break from thinking, it’s probably a waste of time for you. Everyone learns differently and should cut out different things. The point is to optimize your study time.
Do the most important things like practicing MCQs, reading the solutions, and memorizing key facts. This will help you drastically reduce your study time.
If you do that, you shouldn’t have to study for more than 80 hours for each CPA exam section. In fact, if you are studying for more than that, I think you might be doing something wrong.
Think about how you study and what you get the most out of. Optimize your study time and focus on things that matter. You will be surprised at how efficient you will be. A section that took 2 hours before might be down to 30-45 minutes.
Keep in mind, everyone is different and learns things differently. The important thing is that you are productive in your study sessions. Now pick out a CPA review course and get busy!