Acing your CPA Exam (with Help from a few Professionals)

January 11, 2016


By Carson Bigsby, Connor Doyle and Erin Silkowski

Strategies to help you prepare for test day

As three accounting professionals who have recently passed the CPA exam, we understand the stress that comes with preparing for the test. You may be struggling to balance studying with a job and your personal life, putting in long days and late nights as you count down to test day.

Here are some planning strategies we learned as we studied and prepared for the exam that can make this prep time easier. 

Know what you’re up against. The CPA exam is a major challenge, with just 6 percent of exam takers passing all four tests on the first try. While many become hyper-focused on one test, it’s vital to note that the exam is a marathon, not a sprint. While you shouldn’t expect disappointment, it’s important to know how to overcome tough periods and finish strong through your exam day. 

Start as soon as possible. All four sections of the exam must be passed within an 18-month period, so take a good look at your calendar when you commit to starting. Take as much time as you need to study for the first exam, but once you receive a passing grade, the clock begins ticking. Plan out your study periods far in advance and recognize that unexpected events will arise over the year-and-a-half testing window. Acknowledge that you’ll often have to jettison weekend plans for some quality time with study guides. 

Treat studying like a job. While there are no benchmarks for hours studied to achieve success, it’s not uncommon for applicants to spend upward of 100 hours studying for sections of the exam. To get the most out of your study time, find the study environment that works best for you. Some people prefer the quiet chatter of a local coffeehouse, while others require total quiet and privacy. Do you feel more productive taking a classroom review, or are you better off seeking online resources?

As your exam date draws nearer, take vacation time to study. If you work for an accounting firm or department, inquire about taking paid time off to study, as many employers in this field offer that benefit. 

Take advantage of all study resources. The Internet offers plenty of CPA study guides and tutorials, along with scheduling assistance resources, moral support, and yes, even CPA humor. Here are some links that helped us get through the prep period.

CPA Study Guides and Prep Courses

Registration, Test Centers, and Scheduling

Humor, Support and Empathy

Plan your test-day strategy. What is your best time of day for taking a very long exam? Are you sharper first thing in the morning or after you’ve been awake for a few hours? Exam sessions are available on various days and times during the week and on weekends – except during the blackout months of March, June, September and December. Make sure you schedule your exam at least one month in advance to get your first choice of dates. It’s especially important to schedule far ahead of the last sessions before a blackout month because this is when everyone tries to squeeze in. And — as obvious as it seems — make sure you get to bed at a respectable hour the night before your test day.

Ultimately, you’ll need to devise the studying and test-taking strategy that works best for you. And even if you fail the first time,— it’s not the end of the world. Evaluate how your previous study plan worked, prepare a new course of action and follow through with discipline and confidence. Best of luck!

Carson Bigsby, Connor Doyle and Erin Silkowski are staff auditors at Wiss & Company LLP. They can be reached at, and


Reach out to a Wiss team member for more information or assistance.

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