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10 tips to tackle the CPA Exam during busy season

Busy season juggling If your time already seems extra valuable during busy season, try studying for the CPA Exam at the same time. Many do it, however, as they power forward to earn a credential that will significantly enhance their professional lives. If you’re about to jump into juggling the demands of busy season and test preparation, here are a few tips from CPAs I talked to who’ve been there, done that and earned their CPA.

  1. Plan your time.

CPA Leighton Smith, who is a finance director at Microsoft, calculated the time he thought he’d need to study each quarter. He then tracked his actual weekly progress and made adjustments as needed. “I didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” he says.

  1. Stretch the workday.

To keep on track, you’ll have to wake up early, get to bed late and study on the go. “When I took the metro to work in the morning, instead of reading or listening to music, I worked with flash cards that I had made the night before based on my reading,” says CPA Jeff Wilson, advanced QuickBook ProAdvisor at The W2 Group, LLC. During his 30-minute commute each way every day, CPA Caleb Bullock, business development manager at Somerset CPAs and Advisors, listened to lectures. “I did it every spare minute,” he says.

  1. Dedicate some of your downtime to the cause.

A day off is a great time to sleep late, but getting up a little early and putting in an hour or two of study time is a better idea over the long run. When I did this while studying for the exam, I found I could use the rest of the day to relax and recharge. I was also less stressed about the need to catch up with studying another time. The work doesn’t have to be too intense, just enough to keep you up on the study materials.

  1. Know how you learn best.

Tailor your study methods to your learning style. I know I can have a short attention span, especially when I’m stressed or tired, so at the end of a long day I used flash cards as a quick way to reinforce key information.   

  1. Dial back on social life.

The prospective CPAs I spoke to also scaled back on their social time. “Often when friends asked me to go to lunch, I had to say no,” says Bullock. That was particularly difficult since he was in a new job and eager to get to know his colleagues. “Finding the discipline to stay at your desk and study can be as tough as the exam itself,” he says.

  1. Take on tutoring.

CPA Patrick Kmieciak, who is now an assurance associate at PriceWaterhouse Coopers, worked as a tutor and teaching assistant while preparing for the exam. He found that helping others enabled him to retain crucial knowledge. “One question on the exam was on intense technical regulations, and I had just gone over the regulations in tutoring someone the previous week,” he says.

  1. Strategically schedule your test days.

As Wilson notes, scheduling a test date at the end of the exam window gives you more time to study, even if it means having to drive to a distant testing location. He also recommends scheduling two exams in the same test window, if time allows and you’re able to fiscally. “Even if you don’t pass the second exam, it gives you a sneak peek at what you’re facing and helps you understand what you need to study in the next exam window.” It can also help keep you on course. “People who’ve passed will tell you that momentum is important,” says Wilson. “Once you pass one section, keep going.”

  1. Refresh your knowledge as you go.

After reading or listening to lectures on one topic, Kmieciak noticed that he wasn’t retaining as much as he hoped from previous sections. To address this, whenever he completed one topic, he did a brief review of all he had learned so that more of the material would remain fresh in his mind.

  1. Have an accountability partner.

Link up with someone else studying for the exam who’ll cheer you on and sympathize with your complaints, Bullock advises. It also helps to explain what you’re up against to friends and family outside the profession, so they understand why study time is so critical and can offer support.

  1. Start sooner rather than later.

Bullock decided to take the exam as soon in his career as possible. Some colleagues preferred to put it off until they were more settled in their jobs, “but in public accounting you always have things to do,” he says. “If you wait for the perfect opportunity when you have all the time in the world, you’re not going to do it.”

How will you seize your opportunity to pass the exam despite busy season responsibilities? By following these tips, you’re sure to improve your chances for success! 

The CPA Culture of Support Toolkit offers a wealth of resources to help prospective CPAs succeed and firms support their staff in the CPA Exam journey.

Kari Hipsak, CPA, CGMA, Manager, Firm Services –Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Juggling priorities courtesy of Shutterstock.


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