Do You Make These CPA Study Mistakes?

Sick and tired of studying

When Albert Einstein was 16 years old, he applied to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school in Zurich, Switzerland. He did well on the math and physics portion, but he failed the general part of the exam. Knowing the hard stuff wasn’t enough to get him into college- that’s very much how the CPA exam is.

But, Einstein went on to apply a second time a year later, and he got in.

This little story about our favorite genius reminds me of the first time I took FAR. I spent most of my study time mastering the hardest FAR topics, because I assumed the test would be full of calculation-heavy questions on things like pensions, stock compensation, and dollar value LIFO.

[if you haven’t yet, grab my free CPA exam cheatsheet here…]

Alas, on test day, I found out that while there were SOME of these hard questions, it was much more important to have a general understanding of all FAR topics… not just the hard stuff.

The CPA Exams Are Hard…. Really Hard

Don’t get me wrong…. learning enough about each topic to actually pass FAR or REG is still incredibly tough. The amount of information you’re supposed to know is massive.

Even BEC and AUD are still very tough exams compared to any test you took in college.

And there’s so much of it that you can study for two months, learn a shipload of new concepts, and then take a practice test and find out that you’ve forgotten everything you studied in the first month.

It seems a lot like shoveling shit… except with a spoon.

I’ve personally seen at least 10 people start in public accounting with the idea of making it a career, only to leave 2 years later because they can’t pass the CPA exams.

I also know people who have been trying to pass them for years. YEARS…. that is a terrible thought.

Now, after that first failed attempt and learning what I had done wrong, I went on to pass all four sections within 3 months of each other. 3 months total.

I’m not trying to brag- I just believe I stumbled onto a better way of studying.

From my own experience and now from helping thousands of other CPA candidates through the process, I’ve identified three major mistakes that almost everyone makes while studying for the CPA exams:

Major Mistake #1: Taking too much time in-between exams

This is a little counter-intuitive. The dedicated student in you wants to make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to really “learn the material”.

And… while you do need to kind-0f learn the material, being able to pull it all out of your brain on test day requires more of sprint-type-studying instead of marathon-type-studying.

Giving yourself four months to study for FAR is a recipe for disaster.

Another big problem you have is by taking 3-4 months per section, that 18-month time limit creeps up on you pretty damn fast… way faster than you think.

I know several people who started when I did that have now had multiple sections lapse. If you think failing a section is bad, try passing a few and then having to take them over just because they lapsed.

Major Mistake #2: “Studying” by watching lectures and reading chapters

This one is the cause of many, many wasted hours… all while the innocent candidate thinks they’ve been studying.

You sit down, open up your CPA review course, and you turn on a lecture. Nice… you’re now studying…. start the timer mom I’m studying!

Except you’re not really studying are you? Your mind starts to wander after a minute, and then the video lecture ends you realize you didn’t learn a thing.

Also, even if you do pay attention to the whole lecture, what do you do with the info dump you just received? It’s hard to take that much information at one time and remember any specific part enough to be able to answer questions about it.

That’s what reading the chapter is for right?


“Reading the chapter” will basically give you the same result as “watching the lecture”, but almost every single CPA candidate approaches studying this way.

There are much more efficient study methods that you can use.

Major Mistake #3: Not Using Study Supplements

This was absolutely huge for me. I had some review notes I purchased, and then some audio notes. I would read the review notes on my phone every chance I got: eating breakfast, eating lunch, walking between buildings, and even for a few minutes every hour at work. Then I would listen to my audio notes during my daily commute, when I was working out, and any other time I was doing something else.

All this extra time studying everyday added up and paid huge dividends on test day. If you don’t have any study supplements in addition to your main review course, you should get some.

Major Mistake #4: Doing a “final review”

This is another score killer that seems like it should be a good idea.

You spend months studying, you stick with your plan and finish your lessons with two weeks left to go. Now you just have your “final review” left.


Except it’s really a terrible approach. Think about it… the amount of information that you’ve put into your head has taken you months to get in there, and now you’re going to essentially re-learn it within two weeks?

It doesn’t work like that…. and it doesn’t… if you’re tried this yourself.

All a “final review” does is remind you of how fragile your understanding of the concepts are, and then you go in to the test with very low confidence. And for good reason.

Again, there is a much better approach than leaving your review for the final two weeks.

If any of these mistakes sound familiar, I recommend you give my Study Hacks course a try…

You’ll find all the solutions to the above mistakes, and much, much more.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field