Did you know that the AICPA has an army of evil geniuses who are actively plotting to ensure you fail the CPA exam? They sit in a room with no windows and green eye shades pulled low creating question after heinous question. When they create one that's truly diabolical, they read it aloud and cackle with evil, maniacal laughter thinking of the years the added stress is taking off your life. It's true - I've seen it.
Well, that may not be "exactly" how questions are developed, but I'm sure more than a few of you have felt this must be the case at one or two times during your studies.
In truth, they are protecting the profession by preventing those who are unprepared from being able to put CPA after their names. Given this barrier, you owe it to yourself and those close to you to make your own diabolical plan for dominating the exam.
If you do not take the time to plan out what you will study and when, you will find yourself among the ranks of the unprepared. You will spend too much time on the topics you study at the beginning of your preparation and you will not have enough time to devote to topics you are studying closer to your exam date.
"Winging it" will not get you prepared to pass the CPA exam. A personalized study plan lays out in detail what topics you will study and allocates an appropriate amount of time to each. For instance, studying business combinations is going to take most people a lot longer than studying the statement of cash flows.
You should also prioritize the most important topics first. For instance, government accounting and not-for-profit accounting make up a huge percentage of the FAR content. It is more important that you study those topics than personal financial statements or SEC reporting. If you run out of time before your exam date, you want to make sure you have at least studied the significant topics.
How Much Time Per Section?
One of the tricks I like to use for planning out study time is to look at how many multiple choice questions your review course has on a topic. Allocate 5 minutes per MCQ, and that will give you the amount of study time you need for that section on top of the length of the video.
For instance, if there are 80 business combination questions, plan on 6-7 hours to get through the MCQ for that section after you finish with the videos.
This is important because if you develop your plan assuming you can get through a section like this in 2-3 hours, you are going to introduce added stress and anxiety because you are "falling behind."
As you are answering your MCQ, you may find that 5 minutes is either too long or too short, so revise that figure as you get a better idea of how long it is taking you.
This only works if you lay out your entire study plan. If you plan a week or a month at a time, you will not fit it all in.
Managing The Ups And Downs
Recognize that you will go through periods of feeling great about your chances on the exam to feeling overwhelmed and doubtful about your chances. This roller coaster of emotions over your study period is normal.
Having a well-defined study plan gives you peace of mind and confidence for these low points. You can remind yourself that you have built a solid schedule that prepares you to successfully pass the exam.
Can't I Just Use A Standard Study Plan?
Using someone else's study plan sets you up for failure. It is fine to use a template as a starting point, but what works for someone else is not likely to fit your schedule.
Maybe you are working full time. Maybe you have a family. Maybe there are health situations you are dealing with. Maybe you are trying to pass two parts in one exam window.
These are all challenges each successful CPA has had to overcome in one variation or another. Not everybody can dedicate 4 hours of study time per day each and every day over the course of several months to get ready for the exam. Instead, you will likely find that certain days and times are better for you to study than others.
You will also recognize that certain weeks are bad for studying. We all have events that come up in the middle of a study period. Maybe it is an out-of-town trip or a big project you have due for work.
For me, it was new hire training. I started my first job in public accounting a little over a month before my exam date. I knew that during these 2 weeks of new hire training, I would not get much, if any studying done. Turns out it was zero studying and lots of drinking....
I built that into my plan so that I would not be behind when I got done with training.
Expect To Miss Planned Study Time
Equally as important as making a study plan is how you think about your study plan. Mike Tyson (famously paraphrasing Joe Louis) said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." While you are studying for the CPA exam, you are going to take some hits. Life will happen and there will be days you cannot stick to your study plan.
Beating yourself up over not sticking to your study plan is not going to help. It will only hurt your study progress.
Studies of human behavior show that people who make a goal of doing something every day fail quite frequently. This is because doing something every day is hard. If something out of your control comes up that prevents you from doing the activity that day, people get discouraged and end up quitting.
For instance, people who set a goal to workout every day may do it for a few days, or even a few weeks. But, when they get sick or have to travel or some other event comes up that prevents them from going to the gym for one day, it is a major psychological hurdle to get over already feeling like they have failed.
Instead, expect that there will be days you cannot study as much as you wanted and give yourself some flexibility in your plan.
Keep Score For Motivation
If you need the motivation, give yourself points for each minute or each hour spent studying. Try to score as many points as possible each week. This way, if you can't study one day, you are still motivated to study the other days you had planned for. You have not totally ruined your plan - you can still earn points that week.
The Bottom Line
To sum it all up - plan for interruptions to happen, study the most important topics first, and remind yourself that your plan is a good one. You will find setting a personalized study plan is one of the most valuable things you can do to get ready for the exam.
This is the week to show those evil geniuses that you are no one to be trifled with.