Studying

The Definitive Number of Hours to Study For One Section of the CPA Exam Is… 445 Hours?

Over the years, I’ve generally suggested to CPA exam candidates that they should spend 2 – 3 hours studying homework per hour of review lecture they watch, which means most candidates will spend about 300 – 400 hours total studying for all four sections. That formula must not be too terrible as it somehow helped thousands of future CPAs find success. Of course, not all CPA exam candidates are created equal and some need more while some need less.

So when I was trolling the CPAnet forums last night and came across a thread entitled “The definitive number of hours to study,” I definitely had to check it out. Maybe things have changed since I walked away from CPA review forever, gotta keep up with what the kids are doing.

I’ve seen many posts that ask how many hours to study. I’ve come up with the following guidelines that I believe determine the amount of time to devote. I’m using Becker with Wiley for supplemental questions, so I’ll use them as a basis. I’m studying for REG, so I’ll use that as an example.

First, watching each video takes about four hours each. Seven videos times four hours is 28 hours. Second, reading each chapter is mandatory. Each chapter should take 6 hours each, if it is read carefully and slowly. So 6 hours times 7 chapters is another 42 hours. For each question, I think you need an average of fifteen minutes each. This includes understanding everything in it, reading the textbook for information regarding that question, and doing each one three times. Between Becker and Wiley, there might be 1500 questions. 1500 questions at 15 minutes each comes to 375 hours.

The grand total is 28 + 42 + 375 = 445 hours.

Is that too much? Probably….but I bet if you follow those guidelines, you’ll pass.

OK, hold the fuck up. 445 hours? For Regulation?!

It would take a full 30 days of studying for nearly 15 hours a day to meet that. And who on Earth has that kind of time? Besides, your brain turns off after the first 3 or 4 hours of a constant task (unless that task happens to be playing hooky with the one you love in bed all day or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3), so studying any more than 4 hours at a time a day is pretty much useless – this is explained by the crash many of us feel at work around 2pm.

While it is important for candidates to know their own study ability enough to figure out how much time they actually need to study for the exam, 445 hours is DEFINITELY overdoing it. It should never take 6 hours to read one chapter of a review book, even if you are a slow reader and need a lot of time to actually comprehend the material. This is why most review courses advise their students to watch the videos first and then read the chapters, you should have enough of a base after watching the video to get the concepts. And while it might be a good idea to spend 15 minutes on each question you get wrong, it should not take you 15 minutes to review the answers for each question. In fact, you’re smart to do time drills that allow 30 – 45 seconds per MCQ so you can train yourself to breeze through them on the actual exam.

Will you pass if you study for 445 hours? Probably. But you can also pass if you study for 90 hours, so why overdo it four times over?!

Did I Start Studying For the CPA Exam Too Early?

Friendly reminder: Going Concern’s own Adrienne Gonzalez will be chatting with CPA exam candidates over at CPA Exam Club on 8/3. We’ll be talking about the exam process, study strategies and all things CPA exam so if you haven’t already, head over to CPA Exam Club to RSVP for the chat if you have questions that you’re just dying to get answered.

Today’s reader question is probably one that some of you are more than familiar with… you graduate and jump right in to CPA review hoping your state board will process your application quickly and assume you’ll be ready to sit in a matter of weeks, only to discover that state boards aren’t nearly as quick as we wish ’s the sitch:

I recently graduated from Yeshiva University with a BS in Accounting. The week after I graduated, I started a Becker course (started with FAR) and planned to take the test at the end of July. Since then, my NTS has taken forever, so I prob. won’t get it for a couple weeks.

I recently started a full time position (hours are not regular, only staying 2-3 hours late a couple days a week) and am in the middle of moving apartments so my studying habits have been, for lack of better word, shite. [creative edit on our part]

The Becker AUD course starts on Tuesday. Would you say that sitting in on the course, while simultaneously studying for FAR is a bad idea? And also, assuming I’m starting from square 1 with FAR all over again, planning on taking it in the end of August, is this enough time, IYO, to be prepared to pass? (Obv with a structured study schedule of about 3 hours per day).

First of all, for those of you who haven’t already made this mistake, please keep in mind when you are plotting out your exam strategy that just because you are ready to take the exam doesn’t mean the state board is ready to process your application. A general rule is it can take anywhere from 4 – 10 weeks from the time you send in your application, fees and transcripts to the time you are actually ready to schedule your first exam. If you are 100% sure you meet the requirements to apply in your state, it’s safe to start your review a few weeks after you apply.

For our friend here who jumped the gun, however, it’s a little late so let’s see what we can do.

I’m going to say no on starting with Audit simply because I’m somewhat familiar with Becker’s repeat requirements (some of the strictest and most expensive in the exciting world of CPA review) and chances are you are going to need that class later on down the road. Our humble advice is to keep studying FAR and hope you can schedule yourself for that section in the final window of the year. The last window is always the hardest to schedule but we’re anticipating additional scheduling problems this year because of the rush to get exam parts in before the CPA exam changes in 2011 so be prepared to pick an alternate Prometric center or adjust your desired dates/times. As long as you’re open to that, you should be fine.

You can, of course, start studying Audit now and plan to take that one in the last window along with FAR but again, you’re likely to run into some serious scheduling trouble for Q4. Normally we’d tell you to go for it but this year is special and you’ll be lucky to get in one section let alone two before 2011 so worry about cramming in additional sections come January. Simultaneously studying is fine but we’re betting you won’t be able to get in to take both in the last quarter so save yourself the time and trouble by focusing on FAR for now.

Be honest, have you studied for FAR at all? Starting from scratch you can put in anywhere from 80 – 150 hours of studying so even between full-time job and a move it can be done but it sounds like what you need more than my advice on Audit is a study strategy that actually works for you. My biggest piece of advice is to take this process seriously and put off any other unnecessary drama (like an apartment move), if possible until after you have passed.

Three Ways Soon-to-be Accounting Grads Can Get Ready for the CPA Exam

With May graduation season nearly upon us, handfuls of future CPAs around the country are preparing to tackle one of the most important events of their careers: the CPA exam. Unlucky for them, few colleges adequately prepare accounting grads to enter the real world and though you may have the knowledge necessary to practice the art of accounting, chances are you’re completely lost on how to get started on the CPA exam.

Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here. Just a reminder that if you have a CPA exam question for us, do feel free to get in touch and we’ll do our best to help you along.

Anyway, soon-to-be grads, here’s what you need to be thinking about:


Confirm when your degree is posted – As with most things CPA exam, the rules and procedures vary depending on the state you will be sitting in. Few states allow you to sit with less than 150 semester units and even fewer allow you to sit without your degree posted to your transcripts so the first thing to do now is find out how long your school takes to post your degree. Some schools will let you pay an extra fee to expedite this process so if you are in a rush, inquire at your school if you can move this along.

Apply to sit for the exam with your state’s board of accountancy – Once you have your degree, you’ll need your school to send your transcripts to the board of accountancy to which you are applying (NASBA if you’re in a NASBA state, or CPAES – authorized provider of CPA exam qualification services for some states). You cannot send them in yourself (even sealed, official ones) and should submit any application fees and forms in at the same time as requesting your transcripts be sent.

The Board will match your application (and likely cash your check before doing anything else) with your transcripts and like magic, you’re authorized to sit for the exam. If you meet your state’s requirements, that is. It’s usually a good idea to look these up before leaving school just in case you need to sneak in Federal Taxation or Advanced Accounting to please your State Board.

Start studying for the exam when you apply to sit – Though it’s probably wise to focus on finals for now if you are graduating this spring, you can get a jump on studying by starting your CPA exam review around the same time you submit your application. Always check with your state to see how long this might take (generally 4 – 6 weeks) as you don’t want to start studying for BEC 4 months before you will actually be able to sit. Keep in mind that just because you are authorized to sit for the exam you will not necessarily begin testing immediately and will still have to factor in wait times for your payment coupons (NASBA wants their money) and Notice to Schedule (NTS). Generally these take 10 business days each to arrive.

So start the application process as soon as you qualify. A summer off can turn into 2 or 3 years of procrastination and next thing you know you are trying to remember which side debits go on and still no closer to your goal of CPA licensure.

Hope that helps and good luck to all of the soon-to-be new grads!

Top Five Excuses for Not Studying for the CPA Exam

CPA exam candidates are good at a lot of things; unfortunately, their most common talent is an exceptional ability to procrastinate and make excuses. A career in public accounting, naturally, seems to exacerbate this problem, creating a laundry list of reasons why candidates can’t put in the time to pass the exam.

In the interest of knocking you all around a little bit (out of love, of course) on this, the second day of the 2nd testing window of 2010, I present the top 5 excuses for not studying I’ve heard from candidates over the years. Perhaps you have a favorite of your own?


I’m too busy – This is a CPA exam candidate’s favorite lifeline. Busy season, pursuing a Masters, brown-nosing management and balancing a drinking habit with a dysfunctional relationship is hard work. We all know how many hours you work a week but some of you forget everyone else can see what you’re doing on Facebook. That hour you spent finding stray ducks in Farmville could have easily been an hour worth of MCQ practice. Stop deluding yourself – if you are too busy to study, maybe you’re too busy to be a CPA. I hear Starbucks is hiring.

It’s too hard – Really? A professional license is hard? You don’t say! Listen, if this were easy, everyone would be a CPA. It’s hard for a reason but it’s also manageable if you attack it with knowledge and preparedness. Go in there like a boy scout amped up on espresso and you’ll get your BEC merit badge in no time.

I’m really bad at tests – Jealous of that asshat you went to school with who could drink all weekend, cram for seven hours and ace finals while you studied your ass off only to get a D? Guess what, you’re in luck. The CPA exam isn’t like college exams and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to pass. Look around your office at some of the CPAs you work with and try to tell me otherwise. That’s what I thought.

I never took auditing (economics/tax/government accounting/et-effing-cetera) in college – So? I bet the guy who wrote the CPA exam questions you’re panicking over didn’t take auditing/econ/tax/etc either. The CPA exam requires you to know a lot about a little, no one is saying you need to be an expert in ANY subject. Again, look around your office and tell me some of those geniuses you work with are experts in anything, let alone subjects like advanced and governmental accounting.

I’m too old – This one is always funny to me, as if there’s an expiration date on your brain. Taking on the exam later in life actually puts one at an advantage: I don’t have official statistics on the matter but my professional experience has been that older candidates actually do better than younger ones. Think about it – if you’re over 30 now, look back to how you were at 22 fresh out of college. Do you really think 22 year old you was better equipped to be disciplined enough to commit 400 hours to studying? Exactly.

The reality is that excuses are more plentiful than CPAs – unfortunately there could be more but the potential future CPAs that could have been obviously got consumed with coming up with excuses instead of coming up with real study plans and goals to pass the exam.

If you’re a candidate struggling to create one yourself, get in touch and >75 would be happy to help. Seriously. Just don’t start making excuses or I’ll front you off on Facebook next time I catch you playing Farmville when you should be learning pensions.

Three Ways to Get Back into Study Mode for the CPA Exam

Masochism at its finest means just thinking about the CPA exam while fully head down, eyes closed and trudging towards the busy season finish line. It’s cool, CPAs are a masochistic bunch and if you’re going to subject yourself to the torture of studying for the CPA exam while tackling your least favorite part of the year, have at it but please be smart about it.

It’s almost April and you know what that means – a brand new testing window filled with fun and exciting >75 action. Hopefully 75s, if you little masochists plan right.


Here are a few tips, you can do whatever you want with them. Ideally, you can ignore them for the next few weeks until you shift from busy season mode back to exam mode.

Don’t be unrealistic about your work load – Some of you complain about “busy season” and know damn well you haven’t pushed a difficult piece of paper in months while others haven’t seen the light of Facebook (nor the end of the tunnel) in weeks. Take a reasonable assessment of the free time you have to commit to the exam and plan accordingly. If you’re grinding all the way through April 15th, maybe a late April test date is a tad optimistic and not all that smart.

If you aren’t ready, blow it off – This goes against everything I always recommend to CPA exam candidates but it’s a wise piece of advice this time of year. If you are not ready for an exam, try to reschedule. Maybe taking FAR on April 1st made a lot of sense when you scheduled it in October but now that April is almost here and you haven’t seen daylight in two months, it’s not looking like such a bright idea. Of course, if you’re in a situation where you are about to lose credit for exams previously passed but still not prepared, there’s no harm in going to the exam anyway as you’re basically forfeiting the exam fee and might as well find out what’s on the test for next time.

Don’t permanent vacation yourself just because you’re tired – Shifting from busy season to exam mode, it is really easy to rationalize an extended vacation from studying just because you need a break. The rest is deserved but don’t let a few days of relaxation turn into several months of procrastination. It’s easier than you think and I’ve seen it enough times to know it happens all the time. Don’t be lazy, this is what you wanted.

>75: How Long Should I Study for Each Section of the CPA Exam?

>75 received this week’s question via Twitter DM from a CPA exam candidate who wished to remain anonymous. Whatever. For those of you who prefer being open, almost crude, about your CPA exam experiences in a social atmosphere, try CPAnet’s CPA Exam Club (GC is there). This guy won’t be signing up any time soon.

Candidate halfway through the exam process asks:

“How long does it take to study for each section? Like is two months enough for FAR?”


I get this question a lot, almost too often. It’s an easy answer: that all depends on you.

The general rule (according to the AICPA) is that you should be doing 2 – 3 hours of self-study (MCQ/sims) for each hour of review lecture you watch. So there is no magic timeframe to aim for; some people take a few weeks to prepare for FAR, others need more than 3 months. Since lecture times vary depending on who you’re with, it’s hard to pin down the sweet spot in terms of weeks or months.

If you are going alone without a review course and using just practice questions, you can substitute textbook reading (like Wiley CPA Review textbooks) for lecture hours but you will probably want to count half an hour of reading as the equivalent of one hour of lecture. Sorry, that means more MCQ.

A key point to keep in mind is that studying for the CPA exam is like dieting, you’ll do better if you take it in smaller pieces. If you were trying to lose some of that audit engagement weight, you’d eat several small meals instead of three large ones. Your study plan should be the same, spending no more than 2 or 3 hours at a time plugging away at lectures or practice questions. Anything beyond 4 hours and you’re zoned out.

I know, you’re unemployed and have all this time and want to knock out FAR in three weeks studying 8 hours a day every day. Best of luck with that! You’re wasting 5 hours a day as your brain tunes out around hour 3 and will not be able to draw upon what you’ve studied once you’re actually at Prometric.

As I said, this doesn’t really answer your question because only you can answer that question. Is two months enough time for FAR? Sure. Adjust it accordingly based on whether or not you are employed, dating, engaged in any other activities, and/or have any sort of life whatsoever. Just don’t ever ask me how to study for BEC in a week again, obviously that is not enough time.

>75: What to Do Two Weeks Before Your Exam

Happy Friday CPA Exam munchkins! For the self-loathing types that are going through busy season and sitting for an exam, let’s discuss what you should be doing in the two weeks before your exam, not how to quit your job (not my line of expertise).

At this point, you should be through lecture videos and homework at least once. Really? You have two weeks left! If you’ve been disciplined up to this point, you’re feeling comfortable with most of the MCQ.

A final review at this point is essential. You have enough time to go back over weak areas and give everything a last look over. If you have software or your firm blew a bunch of money on overpriced programs to do this for you, use it. If you’re going with just a book, take a look at questions you’ve gotten wrong more than once and review those areas in the text.


Though we all know it’s illegal to discuss what’s actually on the exam, there are plenty of blogs and forums that share “commonly tested” items, many of which are updated often. The CPANet forums are a perfect example of candidates openly sharing their experiences and identifying common testing patterns. The AICPA Board of Examiners used to give paper and pencil candidates a COPY of their exam as they left so don’t let partners tell you it was way more rough back in their day. Still, there are channels available; it’s up to the candidate to use them.

The BoE has also committed to faster scoring and a continued evolution of exam content. They do not expressly state what that means for candidates, that’s why it’s important to ask questions and know about changes. The only real signals they’ve sent so far are that they are excited to start testing IFRS years before it is implemented in the US and the computerized exam is due for more changes in the years ahead. And? Get it over with now, whether or not BEC will be easier with communications but an extra half an hour.

Anyway, the last week. It’s your last chance to review weak spots and work through practice questions once more. I know you’re pissed at me for not writing “now you can screw off and play PS3 after 16 hours of work” but that’s not really how it works.

At this point, you shouldn’t expect to feel entirely confident and that’s okay; focus only on the last few, most heavily-tested areas. You should already know what these are, if they don’t, put off your exam and start asking questions or reading textbooks. Most CPA Review programs (even the cheap ones) give you some idea of what these areas are.

Hope that helps. On the next >75, we’ll talk about what “simulataneous IFRS implementation” really means for FAR unless you have a CPA exam question, in which case I’ll save my anti-IFRS rant for a different Friday.