Not Having a Study Plan Could Cause You to Fail That CPA Exam

Gina Deveney
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The CPA exam ranks as one of the toughest tests in the world, as less than 40 percent of people who take the exam actually pass it on their first attempt. It is not from a lack of accounting knowledge, because most people take several years of college to learn what it takes to be an accountant. Rather, many people fail the exam because of a lack of a study plan.

Without a study plan for the CPA exam, you might focus too much on easier topics at the beginning of your study sessions versus towards the end. During lengthy study sessions, fatigue may set in, causing you to feel frustrated as you study complicated topics.

Order of Importance

Prioritize the most important topics first as you begin studying for the CPA exam. Government accounting and nonprofit accounting take up a larger portion of the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section compared to other topics. Studying complex problems, such as business combinations, takes more time than going over cash flows. When you study more comprehensive topics first, you have ample time to review less complex subjects as you get closer to test day.

Time Per Section

Schedule a specific amount of time to study for each section of the CPA exam. For example, if you want to spend 50 minutes studying multiple choice questions, give yourself five minutes to complete one practice multiple choice question, and plan to complete 10 practice questions per study session. When you break down your study time into blocks of minutes, they become more manageable, and it becomes easier to fit blocks of studying into your day. Also, know the format of the test. Each of the four major sections of the CPA exam comprises 90 multiple-choice questions for a total of 360.


Take breaks during your study time by going for a walk or enjoying a healthy meal with a friend. It's important to unplug for a moment and not think about the CPA exam. Enjoy your breaks fully without feeling guilty. When you don't fret over missed study time, you stay relaxed and feel rejuvenated when you're ready to hit the books.

Keep Track

Keep track of how much time you spend preparing for the CPA exam to ensure you're putting in enough study time. Reward yourself after a certain number of hours to stay motivated; consider spending time with someone special or engaging in an activity you thoroughly enjoy.

Studying for the CPA exam is more manageable when you have a plan in place. Having a plan can also help to reduce test-related anxiety. Once you create a study plan, stick to it to increase your chance of performing well on test day.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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