5 study habits of successful CPA Exam candidates

By Elizabeth Kolar, MBA, CPA, CGMA

Study Habits We See in Successful CPA Candidates

Every CPA Exam Candidate walks into Prometric on testing day with the intention to pass. But the specifics of how candidates prepare during their CPA study time makes the difference between a passing and failing score. The reality is that more goes into studying and passing the CPA Exam than just going through all the materials. Below, we’ll cover the study habits of successful CPA Exam Candidates so you can incorporate them into your study routine and pass your next section of the CPA Exam.

They put in the simulation time

Now that the weighting on the CPA Exam is 50% task-based simulations/written communication and 50% multiple choice questions, it’s crucial you know how to navigate the simulations if you’re going to pass the Exam. Successful CPA Exam Candidates spend plenty of time working simulations in their CPA review course and implementing strategies to help them manage their time and maximize their efficiency on the sim section.

A key difference between successful CPA Candidates and those who don’t pass the CPA Exam is the extent to which they really practice simulations. Reviewing a simulation and looking at the answers before trying it out is not the same as actually formulating and writing answers, and then checking your work at the end. You really want to make sure you’re trying each simulation in your study materials before you review the answers. You won’t have an answer key on the CPA Exam; by genuinely practicing your sims, you’ll better prepare yourself for the sim section on the actual Exam.

They create a study plan (and stick to it)

Similar to just about anything you’d like to get done within a certain amount of time, creating a schedule will go a long way in helping you succeed. For the CPA Exam, you’ll want to block out several days a week for your study schedule. On each of these days, choose an amount of time you’ll study, and decide what to study. We recommend spending the first three weeks doing at least 50 to 60 mcqs per day. At two weeks, you’ll also want to start working in your simulations; we recommend completing at least four simulations per day. During the final stretch (the last week before the exam), you should redo all of your low scoring simulations and complete practice exams.

If you want to take the guesswork out of it, you can utilize Surgent’s study planner which syncs up with your exam date, the days you can study, and how long you can study each day. It also adapts as you go and presents you with the material you need to work on on any given day to give you the best chance of passing on your exam date.

So you’ve created your study plan and laid out exactly what you’re going to do up to exam day. Great job! Now, the next step (and harder part) is to stick to that study plan. This is going to be the key ingredient to passing the CPA Exam on the first try. If you stick to your study plan and you study the correct sections and materials each day, you’ll arrive on exam day completely prepared. Surgent’s A.S.A.P.® Technology can really help you excel in this area – you won’t have to decide what to study each day, you’ll just follow your consistently updated study plan. This plan tells you what to study on each day, taking into account how you’re doing in each weighted exam section.

They aren’t afraid to take breaks

The word “break” can sound taboo when you’re studying for the CPA Exam. After all, you only have an 18-month window to pass all four exams, which can make it seem like taking a break is counterproductive. However, there is so much information you need to learn for each section of the CPA Exam that your brain can often get overloaded. And an overloaded brain simply doesn’t take in information as well as a brain that has been taking breaks.

Think of it kind of like working out; if you go lift weights every day, your body is likely to get pretty tired out because you aren’t focusing on one of the core areas of physical improvement: rest. But if you vary your workouts and take a day or two off a week, you’ll come back to your next session refreshed and ready. The same can be said for your brain – it needs breaks to continually perform at its best.

Successful CPA candidates know this, and they take breaks between each exam. Taking a week or two off between taking REG and starting study for BEC won’t set you behind, it will refresh you mentally and prepare you to start your study sessions with a renewed sense of motivation.

They take practice exams

Nobody wants to arrive at Prometric on exam day unprepared. The goal is to sit down and start taking the CPA Exam and feel good about how everything is going. One of the best ways to do that is to take practice exams.

Successful CPA Exam candidates know the value of practice exams; not only can they help you with practice questions, they can teach you to manage your time, and refer to and use the tools available to you on the exam. Part of the exam (probably a bigger part than most people realize) is knowing how to strategize.

Learning to manage your time and get through all of the questions in the given amount of time will pay dividends compared to spending too much time on one section and then rushing to finish the next section. Remember, even if you get a great score on the multiple choice but then have to rush through the simulations, there’s a chance you won’t pass the exam. Successful CPA Exam candidates know they need to manage their time and strategize their answers, and they learn how to do this on practice exams.

They’re aware of exam section weightings

The AICPA releases CPA Exam Blueprints each year which go over the sections on each of the four exams and the weighting of each section. For example, the FAR exam has four sections with various weights: Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting (25%-35%); Select Financial Statement Accounts (30%-40%); Select Transactions (20%-30%); and State and Local Governments (5%-15%).

Successful CPA candidates review these weightings and know they need to spend most of their time and effort on Select Financial Statement Accounts, followed by the other three sections in accordance with the weighting. If you don’t know the weighting of each section, you may spend too much time on, say, State and Local Governments because you really want to nail down the concepts, but you’ll be lacking in other, more important areas on exam day. This is again a great place Surgent can help; A.S.A.P. Technology takes into account exam section weighting and uses your ReadySCORE™ to show you how you’re doing in each topic area as well as how you’re doing overall. Candidates can use this information to brush up on weaker areas that have a higher weight.

As you can see, there is more to CPA Exam prep than just studying the material. Incorporating these study tips will help you pass each section on the first try and quickly get on your way to becoming a Certified Public Accountant.