Studying for the CPA Exam

Studying for the CPA Exam

Factors That Impact Your CPA Exam Study Hours

Education History

Do the courses you take in college make a difference on the CPA exam? Maybe a little, but the education requirements to become a CPA are actually fairly consistent.

All kinds of students take the CPA exam though, and everyone learns a bit differently. If you were someone who grasped concepts quickly and didn’t need to read much or take many notes in college, then you may be able to skip some of the more time-intensive parts of your CPA review course. Otherwise, if you’re like me you might need to spend time reading the textbook, watching the lectures, and then maybe reading the textbook again to fully grasp some things.

There’s no perfect way to study for the CPA exam, so just follow the path that works best for you, even if it takes a little bit more time.

Time Since College

Studying for the CPA exam is a slog, but it might be a bit easier if you take it right out of college or shortly thereafter since some of the exam material will still be fresh in your head. This is especially true if you finish with a Masters in Accountancy (MAcc) degree, since your final year will consist of several higher-level accounting courses. You’ll also have the added advantage of still being accustomed to “study mode”.

If you’ve been out of school for a while (>3 years) then it might take a little more time to study, especially on topics that you aren’t regularly exposed to at your job. Don’t worry though, as being out of school for a while can also create some advantages for you.

Depth of Work Experience

The flip side to being out of school for a while is that you may have real-life experience with the content covered on the CPA exam.

If you work as a tax accountant then you’ll likely know or at least be familiar with most of the content on the REG exam relating to the U.S. tax code. Likewise for FAR if you’ve worked as a corporate accountant or in a financial reporting role for a number of years.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still need to study, but having a few years of direct work experience with the content on an exam can easily shave 30-40 hours off of your prep time for that section.

Unfortunately due to how specialized the accounting industry is, work experience will likely only give you an edge on 1 or 2 exam sections at the most, so don’t get too excited!

Job Status

As the old saying goes, “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.”

Most folks wish they didn’t have to juggle the CPA exam with a full-time job, but the demands of a full-time job have a way of forcing you to make the most of your study time.

If your only focus is on studying for the CPA exam then you’re more likely to take your time watching lectures, writing notes, taking practice quizzes, etc. There’s nothing wrong with going at a slightly slower pace if that’s more effective for you, but the extra time can quickly add up!

Peer Group

Having friends and coworkers that are CPAs or that are also studying for the CPA exam can be a huge boost to your productivity. They know what you’re going through and can give you helpful tips and words of encouragement along the way, and can probably help explain challenging exam topics concepts to you a little differently than your CPA review course does.

Your CPA Review Course

Believe it or not, you can pass the CPA exam using any of the top CPA prep courses, but your path to success will be slightly different with each. When choosing a review course, think about your individual learning style and go with a course that’s suited to how you learn best.

Some review courses are uniquely suited for visual learners while others are better for auditory learners. Some aim to offer the most material possible, while others lean on adaptive software to streamline your studying experience and minimize your study time.

How Much Will I Need to Study for Each CPA Exam Section?

The amount of time you need to study for each CPA exam section will vary because each section covers different topics and a different volume of material.

Here’s what you need to know about each exam section to determine how much time you’ll need to study.

Here’s what you’ll see on the AUD exam:

  • 72 multiple-choice questions
  • 8 task-based simulations

TOP AUD CPA Exam Study Tips

  • Pay careful attention to the wording of practice and exam questions, as answers can hinge on subtle differences in how a question is written
  • Understand the hierarchy of audit evidence and what qualifies as “sufficient” evidence for each financial statement area / process

Here’s what you’ll see on the BEC exam:

  • 62 multiple-choice questions
  • 4 task-based simulations
  • 3 written-communication tasks

TOP BEC CPA Exam Study Tips

  • Know your financial ratios inside and out, to the point that you could interpret and explain them to someone else

Here’s what you’ll see on the FAR exam:

  • 66 multiple-choice questions
  • 8 task-based simulation

**The 3 written communication tasks is only applicable for students who are taking the exam in 2023. In 2024, the written communication will go away and be replaced with the new CPA evolution. 

TOP FAR CPA Exam Study Tips

  • As you progress through your CPA review course, periodically quiz yourself on the earlier sections so the material stays fresh in your mind
  • If you didn’t take any governmental accounting courses in college (like me!), set aside extra time to study this material for the CPA exam.

Here’s what you’ll see on the REG exam:

  • 76 multiple-choice questions
  • 8 task-based simulations
  • TOP REG CPA Exam Study Tips

  • REG covers lots of rules, so plan memorize A LOT on this exam
  • For additional resources when studying, head on over to and read their instructions for Forms 1040, 1120 and 1120-S. Sometimes reading something presented in a different way is all it takes to finally “click”
CPA Exam Section Recommended Study Time Study and Take Exam Within
AUD 70-90 Hours 4-6 Weeks
BEC 60-80 Hours 4-6 Weeks
FAR 100-120 Hours 6-10 Weeks
REG 90-110 Hours 6-8 Weeks
TOTALS 320-400 Hours All 4 Parts < 1 year