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How to Study for the CPA Exam without Going Crazy!

BY Robert Zaffrann, CPA
05/25/2016 - 3:44pm
If you are reading this then you are probably looking for tips to pass the CPA exams. Passing these exams isn’t easy for anyone and takes a lot of time and willpower to study for them, especially if you have a full-time job. It took me about a year to pass all the exams while working, and now that I’m done I want to help others to study and pass them as efficiently as possible. Hopefully, the following few paragraphs will give you some insight on how to study for each exam and will make your life a lot less stressful.
General Tips
First, get the mandatory study materials. I don’t know how you could pass these exams without them. It doesn’t matter if you get Gleim, Becker, or some other materials, but if you don’t want to absorb the cost to get the Becker materials, I would get Gleim because it was less expensive and helped me pass all of the exams. 
I also recommend taking the exams in the following order: Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), and Regulation (REG). I like this order because FAR is the hardest part in my opinion and FAR, AUD, and BEC are all somewhat interrelated to each other, so in a sense, you are studying for all three at once. The REG stands alone as far as content which is why I recommend taking it last. 
Next, I would try to set a goal for yourself each week to get through a certain amount of sections.  This is a great way to keep yourself on track because it can feel overwhelming if you fall behind. Make sure to take as many multiple choice quizzes as possible before taking each exam.
FAR Exam Tips
The FAR part of the CPA exam has the most material out of all the sections. For that reason, when you read each section of your study materials, you must make sure you understand each accounting principle that is being taught so that you can apply it to any situation. For the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) differences, I used flash cards to study, but in my experience this part wasn’t highly tested. 
AUD Exam Tips
The AUD exam is more conceptual rather than mathematical like the FAR section. The one thing I liked about this exam is if you have a decent understanding of each concept, you should be able to eliminate at least two of the answers right off the bat. Read the question a couple of times so you make sure you know what it is asking. There were several instances where you can quickly identify answers that just don’t make any sense or don’t relate to the question at hand.
BEC Exam Tips
The BEC section is different from the others because it involves several different topics that don’t directly interrelate with each other. The sections on economics are fairly straight forward for studying purposes. The sections on IT can become overwhelming with all the different terms and definitions. I would use flashcards for this section because they were useful in helping me memorize everything. The other section involves cost accounting. This was the hardest section for me and really just involved using flashcards for all the variance formulas and going through a lot of multiple choice questions. 
REG Exam Tips
This part of the CPA focuses mainly on taxation and a little on business law. I didn’t have to memorize phase out ranges for different deductions or anything similar to that. The tax questions I received when I took the exam were very basic, so as long as you know all of the general concepts you should be fine. I would use flash cards for the business law section because most of that is terms and definitions. 
The best tip I can give you is to stay motivated and keep on track with your studying. It’s very hard to come home after a long day at work or after school and study more when all you want to do is relax your mind. You can still have a social life, but you just have to utilize your time more efficiently. After you take the exam, don’t automatically worry that you did terrible, because that’s how I felt and I managed to pass the exams. Good luck to everyone and thanks for reading!