As graduation approaches, it’s easy to feel anxious about the CPA exam and ready to start putting a few sections behind you. Depending on your situation, you may be able to start taking it while you’re still in school, as long as you can properly manage a full course load alongside studying.
Whether or not you can take the CPA exam as an undergraduate student depends on which state you plan to obtain your license . Some states will allow you to take the exam within 90 days of your degree conferral date. Some states require you to have 120 or 150 hours and an official transcript before taking the exam. You’ll need to contact your specific State Board of Accountancy or NASBA to know for sure if you can start taking the exam before you’re finished with your undergraduate degree.
If you’re in a Master’s program, you already have an undergraduate degree and, again, depending on your state, may fulfill the requirements to sit for the exam. In this case, once you’ve applied for your state and received your Notice to Schedule (NTS), you can start sitting for the exam.
While you’ll have to learn to balance both CPA and college study, taking the exam as soon as possible is ideal because you’ll still be in study mode and you’ll likely retain many of the concepts you learned in your college accounting classes. To help you get there, we’ve put together 6 tips to help you study for the CPA exam while you’re still finishing out your college career.
1. Get an Accountability Partner
One of the hardest parts about the CPA exam is finding the motivation to study. This becomes much easier if you can find a studying accountability partner. Look for a study group that meets consistently or consider getting a one-on-one tutor. Another option is to study with Surgent’s Premier Pass which includes one-on-one Success Coaching from a dedicated professional. Meeting with peers and coaches will not only help you learn concepts, it will also keep you consistently accountable for studying.
2. Create A Study Schedule
Partitioning your time between studying for school and studying for the exam is going to help you keep your sanity. If you already have a study schedule set up for your classes, look for days or times where you can add CPA exam studying in. Think of CPA study time like a part-time job while you’re in school and consider dedicating about 20-25 hour per week of your time toward it.
If you don’t already have a study schedule, make one. Pull up an excel spreadsheet or use the classic pencil and paper to mark out times each day where you either study for your classes or study for the exam. You can also use Surgent’s study planner, which builds a plan based on days you’re available to study and when your exam date is. This plan will tell you how many hours you need to study each day and will adapt in real-time based on your mastery of material. Having specific study days and measurable plans for each day will ensure you have a goal-oriented roadmap to success.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Between going to class, studying for class and studying for the CPA exam, it can be easy to let your self-care routine and personal life sit on the backburner. Isn’t more study time better? Not always. Pushing yourself too hard without regard to taking care of your body and mind puts you in the fast lane to burnout.
Use your study schedule and pencil in a few activities every week you enjoy. Are you a movie buff? Have a movie night once a week. Enjoy team volleyball? Join a local league, play games and go out with your teammates guilt-free. Staying social and taking care of your mental, physical and emotional needs while studying is going to make it less of a burden. When you hit the books after a mental break, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to learn.
4. Schedule Office Hours with Your Professors
You professors are experts at the material you need to be learning. If you’re having a hard time nailing down concepts in either classes or for exam material, reach out to them. Schedule office hours and explain where you’re having trouble and if they can help. They’ll likely be able to provide answers.
It’s also likely your accounting professors have been through the CPA process and have projects outside of school involved with your State Board of Accountancy. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction for mentors and resources to help you through the CPA process.
5. Pay Attention in Your Classes
Almost all the material on the CPA exam you’ll learn in your accounting and business classes. Pay attention in all accounting classes you’re taking in the semester you’re studying for the CPA exam, such as audit or tax, and try to really make sense of the concepts. Talk to peers and professors in these classes, and ask plenty of questions. A deeper engagement in these classes will help you retain and remember concepts when you’re studying for the exam.
6. Find a Review Course that Makes It Easy
The last thing you want to do when you’re trying to study for the CPA exam while in school is buy a review course that creates more work for you. Make sure you thoroughly compare study materials and find one that uses the latest technology to help you learn quickly and efficiently. Also, be sure to check for any hidden fees or expiration dates; some course expire after a certain amount of time and you have to pay a fee to renew them.
If you can apply these concepts and strike a balance between CPA and class study, taking (and passing) parts of the exam while still in school is definitely possible.
Surgent CPA Review was designed for today’s student. To learn more about how Surgent students are achieving pass rates double the national average while studying half as much as the competition, click here.
Liz Kolar, CPA, CGMA, has been teaching CPA Review for more than 25 years in the United States, has personally taught more than 2,500 live sessions, and has helped thousands of candidates pass the CPA Exam. She founded Pinnacle CPA Review and co-founded Surgent Kolar CPA Review.