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CPA Exam Prep: Setting Yourself Up for Success

CPA Exam Prep: Setting Yourself Up for Success

Taking the CPA exam may appear to be a daunting task. With work and everything else going on, it's often intimidating to strategize where to start and how to get across the finish line. Well, let's make it simple…

But first: You have already ordered your CPA materials, right? If you haven't, what are you waiting for? Go order it!

Note: In 2024, there is a new CPA Exam Blueprint. For more information on the new blueprint, see


I recommend taking the hardest and most intimidating part first. Here’s the reason: You have more time and energy in the beginning and can discipline yourself to a regimen when you are motivated.

As you get through each part, you will fatigue and become less motivated. If you take the hardest part when you dedicate less time and energy to it, it will be more challenging to pass. For audit people, I find that REG is hardest and then FAR. For tax people, the opposite may be true. I would take AUD third because it allows you more time to gain audit experience that will contribute to your studying. For tax people, I would recommend taking FAR first, which is generally the hardest for non-audit people, then AUD, since that may be the second hardest for tax people. I would take REG third because it will allow more time to gain tax experience that will contribute to your studying. The Discipline Exam (BAR, ISC, or TCP) would be last because you can choose what might be easiest for you.

To recap, here is the recommended order:


Audit Personnel

Tax Personnel











Discipline Exam (BAR, ISC, or TCP)

Overall timeframe

For those who are ambitious, you can conceivably get this done in 13 weeks, or about three months.

Figure this: A week for reading the first time through, a week for going through the multiple-choice questions, a week to re-read, and a week to redo the multiple-choice questions and simulations. You can get each section done in a month or less! Just dedicate your time to get each part done.

Once you put it down to focus on something else, you'll have to start all over again. For AUD (for auditors) or REG (for tax people), you won't need quite as much time to study because you have work experience. So about 3 weeks should be fine if you follow the study plan. I believe that the Discipline Exam should only require about 2 weeks if it is anything like Business Environment and Concepts (BEC).

Force yourself to commit to the plan by going ahead and scheduling your exams. If there is still 1 month per quarter where there is a blackout period (no exams), then schedule the first exam on the first Saturday that the blackout is lifted and use the blackout month to study for the part 1. This will allow you sufficient time to finish part 4 prior to the next blackout period.

To recap:

Part 1: Allow 4 weeks.

Part 2: Allow 4 weeks.

Part 3: Allow 3 weeks.

Part 4: Allow 2 weeks.

Total: 13 weeks or 3 months for those who are very ambitious.

Disciplined approach

  1. Plan out your studying by reading every chapter all the way through. Break out the chapters so you can get through the entire book in a week, addressing several chapters per night, every night except Sundays. Take one day off each week to relax and recharge—you will need it!
  2. After you have read the book through, determine how many multiple-choice questions there are in the test bank for that section and break out the questions to go through over the next week or so. I recommend organizing the groupings of the multiple-choice questions by chapter. Once you have gone through all the multiple-choice questions, assess which chapters require reinforcement for your understanding. You should expect an overall score between 65% and 80%, and don’t panic if you are on the low end. If you are below 65%, on the re-read of the book, don’t just read the words; read the content.
  3. Re-read the book again, chapter by chapter, focusing extra attention on the sections you did not do as well on during the practice multiple-choice questions.
  4. Re-take the multiple-choice questions that you got wrong. At this point, you should probably be able to get between 70-80% of these questions correct. You may ask, “Why 70%? That isn’t passing.” Let’s do the math: 65% on the first try plus 24.5% (70% of the 35% of the questions you got wrong the first attempt) equals 89.5%!
  5. Go through the simulations. By now, after reading the book twice and reinforcing everything you studied through multiple-choice practice questions, you should be able to answer the simulations pretty easily. At this point, it is more about familiarizing yourself with the question format than answering the questions correctly. If you get any wrong, try to identify why you struggled with it.
  6. Go sit for the exam! You should be ready!

Studying recap

Week 1: Read the book, cover to cover. Take very brief notes if you must, but focus on reading and understanding the concepts. You should have allocated chapters for each day over the 6-day week, with Sunday as a day to rest and recharge.

Week 2: Take all the multiple-choice questions organized by chapter. Plan out the number of questions you will take each day and at the end of the week, assess your score for each chapter and identify where additional focus is needed.

Week 3: Re-read the book, cover to cover. Focus your reading on the areas where you need additional support, as identified from your scores in the multiple-choice question results.

Week 4: Re-take all the multiple-choice questions you got wrong from week 2, then go through all of the simulation questions. (Hint: for REG, there is a farming simulation—make sure you know how to do that. I have had feedback where that was the difference between passing and failing.)

Sit for the exam at the end of week 4. Try to schedule a Saturday exam. That will allow you to get through week 4 and still have Sunday off to recover. Jump right into the next part the following Monday. Adjust your timeline for parts requiring less than 4 weeks.

Day of the exam

Don't cram; if you didn't follow the plan, just take the consequences or count your lucky stars. Get plenty of rest and have a good meal the night before. On the morning of the exam, have a good breakfast; you'll need the energy.

Allotment of time during the exam

With the new CPA exam blueprint, the format may have changed, but your test should be in four sections: the first three sections are multiple-choice, and the last section is the simulations. Don't—I repeat, DO NOT—listen to the Becker advice on allocating time. Once you finish each section of the multiple-choice, move on to the next section. You're not going to suddenly get smarter during the exam, and you'll need that extra time for simulations. Don't underestimate how mentally fatigued you'll be after the first 3 sections. Always allocate enough time to finish the last question.

Psychological aftermath

You may experience doubts as to whether you passed the exam or you may feel very good about the exam immediately after taking it. Don’t dwell on that for more than the next 24 hours. It is emotionally draining and will take away from your energy to refocus on the next part. You will know soon enough when you get the results back.

If you pass, pat yourself on the back and take a moment to celebrate. But remember: the job is not over until you pass the final part—then you can really celebrate! If you didn’t pass, don’t give up; you only fail if you stop trying!


Written by John Wai.

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