After passing my first two CPA exams something hit me like a ton of bricks.. I was wasting an INSANE amount of time studying the wrong material and studying the wrong way.
How much time am I talking about? Let me break it down for you like a true accountant, by the numbers.
Let me preface this section by stating that I am a completely average accountant at best. My cumulative GPA was a mere 3.0 (minimum required to graduate was 2.9) and accounting has never come “naturally” to me unlike many people I’ve talked to. I was able to pass all four sections on the first try due to my strong desire to succeed and consistent study habits, not because of my accounting IQ. Trust me, if I can do it then so can you!
The first two exams I took were Audit and BEC. I used CPAexcel to study so the pages below reflect their textbooks, however, I believe the results would have been similar regardless of which CPA review course I had used. The hours below do not include my final test review hours. Here are the stats…
Hours to Complete: 60
Pages Covered Per Hour: 7.9
Hours to Complete: 78
Pages Covered Per Hour: 7.8
Hours to Complete: 138
Pages Covered Per Hour: 7.8
I was able to cover 7.8 pages of material per hour studying the way CPAexcel told me to. This includes going back and retaking practice exams until I scored well on them as well as watching the video lectures.
Then I had my “AHA” moment! I decided I was going to trim the fat and focus only on the important material and concepts. Here are the stats on my second two exams…
FAR (2 books)
Hours to Complete: 90
Pages Covered Per Hour: 12.5
Hours to Complete: 56
Pages Covered Per Hour: 10.0
Hours to Complete: 146
Pages Covered Per Hour: 11.6
On my last two exams I was able to increase my productivity by 49% and cover an additional 3.8 pages EVERY hour!
Not only did my productivity improve, but so did my average test scores:
SECTIONS AVERAGE TEST SCORE
BEC and AUD 79%
FAR and REG 80%
Keep in mind that FAR and REG historically have the lowest pass rates and are the sections where students usually struggle the most!
If I would have studied more effectively from the start it would have taken me around 239 hours to complete all four sections instead of 284 hours, a difference of 45 hours.
This is 45 hours that I could have been surfing, hiking, playing guitar, drinking with friends, laying on the beach, visiting family, talking to sexy girls, and enjoying life INSTEAD of banging my head against the computer trying to learn about bond amortization!!
If I would have continued studying at the snail-like pace I did for the first two exams it would have taken me 355* hours to get through all the material. Compare this to the 239** hours it would have taken me had I studied efficiently the entire time. This is a 116 hour difference! Think of all your favorite activities that you could do with that much time!
*(2770 Pages/ 7.8 Pages per Hour = 355 Hours)
**(2770 Pages/ 11.6 Pages per Hour = 239 Hours)
I am mostly an experience type learner and learn best by actively doing things like highlighting and writing all over my textbooks while I’m reading. My advice is to focus on the ways you learn best and spend the majority of your time on those.
So what did I do differently to increase my productivity and shave 45 hours off my total study time?
#1- Skip the Video Lectures
The lectures can be a great resource if you are primarily a visual learner but for me the instructors seemed to move through the material too slow which caused me to become bored and get easily distracted. The lectures introduce the section and go over the main topics but this duplicated my study time as I would then have to read about the same thing in my textbook. I realized that I was not actually learning from the lectures but was actually learning from reading the textbook, taking notes, and doing the multiple choice quizzes. I quit watching the videos almost entirely and only watched the ones on sections where I felt weak and needed a little more explanation to fully grasp the material.
#2- Don’t Keep Retaking the Same Multiple Choice Practice Tests
While studying for my first exam I would retake the multiple choice tests over and over until I got at least a 90% before I moved on to the next section. Why? Because CPAexcel didn’t give me “full credit” for completing the section if I didn’t (seems really lame now looking back on). This benchmark is similar to the “Becker Promise” that Becker offers which won’t allow you to reuse their study materials free of charge if you don’t complete each homework assignment with at least a 90%.
After my first test I would review the answers I got wrong and retake the test. I found that I would start memorizing the answers just to so I would score high on the next test even if I didn’t fully grasp WHY it was the correct answer. On some of the longer tests I would sometimes have to retake them 3 or 4 times before I “passed”! This type of memorization is counter-productive to learning and focuses on getting a good grade which is NOT the goal of studying.
I decided to challenge the status quo of most CPA review courses and stop caring about my test scores and focus on learning instead. Here was my new routine:
1. Take each practice exam once
2. Review each wrong answer and read the explanation of why it was wrong
3. Find that subject matter in the textbook and highlight any information that would have prevented me from getting it wrong
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for all incorrect answers
5. Move on to the next section
It did not matter if I got a 50% or a 90% on the test I would stick to this same process every time. Instead of retaking the test and seeing 80% of the same questions I already answered correctly I focused solely on the 20% I missed and was amazed at how much more I was actually learning. This type of studying forces you to actively engage your mind rather than switching it into auto-pilot and will save you a ton of time.
These two simple strategies saved me 45 hours of my life and regardless of how you learn best there are ways to refine your studying habits to do the same. If you have found any other study hacks, shortcuts, tips or techniques that have helped you study more efficiently please share with us in the comment box below. People helping people… that’s what it’s all about folks so share your knowledge and help out your fellow colleagues!
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