It’s no secret that I had a hard time figuring out what study methods worked best for me. I went from not studying hard enough to locking myself away like a crazy person. It really wasn’t until I got myself organized and made some plans, that I started passing. These are a few things I learned on my way that made my life a lot easier and finally got me my license.
1. PLAN PLAN PLAN!!!
The best advice I can give is to make a plan and stick to it. In college, I was one of those students who could start studying two days before a big exam and pass no problem. Cramming for CPA exams? Not possible. It’s all about actually learning and understanding concepts rather than memorizing the material (who knew!). So when the time came to start studying I would map out a plan to study so many chapters and review so many questions in one week up until my exam date. And I would try to leave at least one week before the test for final review. Schedule your exam as soon possible so you actually have that end date in mind.
Be as flexible as you can with your schedule because things can happen that are out of your control. So instead of planning day by day, I planned it by weekdays (at least 2 hours) and weekends (6-8 hours a day) separately. I learned that if I planned day by day and I couldn’t complete it (let’s face it, there are those days when you just can’t study or nothing seems to stick) then I felt like I was already failing. By breaking study time down to increments (but not micromanaging) it was a lot less overwhelming and it felt like I was achieving goals every week.
2. Figure out the study method that works best for you.
For the Visual learner:
- Take notes while you’re studying.
- Make your own flashcards. Flashcards from the review courses are helpful but sometimes it needs to be written in your own words.
- Highlight the most important information in your review material. I followed Becker's live classes and did their exact highlights. It turned out that pretty much everything got highlighted except “and” or “the”. Not that helpful. Only highlight the important information that you know you’ll need to review again.
For the Auditory learner:
- Listen to audio lectures.
- Watch the self-study lectures.
- Reread the information aloud that you just learned.
For the Hands-On learner:
- Study with a buddy or in groups and workout the material together.
- Take live classes that explain material by demonstration rather than straight up lecture.
Just for CPA exam purposes, I was more of an auditory learner. I got the audio lectures for both FAR and REG and listened to those while I was at work or in the car. The information actually stuck with me since I just repeated the lectures over and over whenever I got a chance. I also found it helpful to hear myself repeat what I just learned out loud. Music was a life saver during my journey so I actually sang the information out loud. It really helped to hear the information to a beat. I know I know, that may not be for everyone but it worked for me. And I won’t even lie, I caught myself jamming to my beats while taking the exams (a very big you’re welcome to the Prometric exam watchers). Whatever works!
3. Find a balance.
You’ll find yourself saying “no” to more things than you’d like, but you don’t have to say no to everything. I let myself have one night a week and half a day on the weekend to not study. I spent my free time going to dinner with friends, going to music shows, or even just some “me-time” to make sure that I was still working out and eating healthy. Keeping to a plan will allow you to balance your social life with work and study. Cutting everything out of your life is pretty detrimental to your sanity. Trust me, crazy-town is not the business. So make that time for your friends and family and some fun that will keep you motivated and refreshed to keep going.
4. Take breaks.
Listen to your body and mind! If nothing is getting through, there’s really no point to keep pushing it. Take a break when you need to. If you’re like me and you take the stress of your job home with you, then leave yourself a good hour after work to just hit the restart button. It really got me going when I went for a run, went to yoga, or even just threw down a quick beer right after work. I swear it, a beer a day will keep those 74s away!
5. Study at any chance you can get!
Take your study materials wherever you go. You’ll find that you have a lot of random downtime moments that are perfect for studying. I studied on lunch breaks, doctor’s appointments, car check-ups, flights, or that dreaded laundry time. There’s no wasted time when you have your materials on hand and at the ready.
6. Ask for help!
When you need some help, ask for it! Whether it be from friends, family, or work, you need to let them know when you need their support. People who haven’t gotten their CPA license just can’t understand what we’re going through but it’s always nice to hear them tell you “you can do it!” or just have that support and understanding that you’re neglecting them for a good reason. If you’re lucky, then you have someone going through it with you where you can vent and they’ll actually understand the torture you’re going through. Or just utilize your resources and search out blogs or websites that have people who are going through it too. You’re not alone! A big reason why I started this site was so that I could help people who are struggling, like I did. I had a hard time reading blogs or websites about people passing all the exams on their first try. Yeah, it’s possible but come on. Shit happens!
At work, I just needed that all too valuable time and I had to ask for it. I had a boss who was completely understanding and let me take some time off to study when I felt that pressure being up against the clock. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen when you ask? They say no and you move on. Nothing can change if you don’t ask for it up front.
7. Keep that end goal in mind.
Why are you doing this in the first place? Always keep that reason in mind. I had a few things that kept me going to the end. I wanted my bonus, those three letters after the end of my name on my business card, and by the end I looked forward to the day that it was all over so I could have my life back. I kept it posted on my computer background screen “Imagine the day when it’s all over”. It was truly a beautiful thought. And yes, the day when it was all over was quite magical!
Beat the CPA