How long should I study for the CPA Exam?

Crafting Your CPA Exam Study Plan: A Time Management Guide

how-long-should-i-study-for-the-cpa-examThe average CPA candidates spending between 80-100 hours studying for each CPA exam part according to the 2023 AICPA Annual Survey.

One of the most common questions CPA candidates ask is, “How long should I study for the CPA exam?” Prepping for each section of the CPA exam is tough, so the amount of study time that you should commit to for each section depends on a number of factors including your current knowledge, recent college courses, work experience, and more.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various factors that influence study time, provide recommendations, and offer tips to help you create an effective study plan.

Understanding the CPA Exam Structure

The CPA exam consists of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).

Each section is unique in content and structure, necessitating a tailored approach to studying. To formulate a realistic study timeline, it’s imperative to understand the depth and breadth of each section.

Assessing Your Background and Experience

Your academic background and practical experience play a crucial role in determining how much time you’ll need to dedicate to studying.

Candidates with a strong accounting background may require less time to prepare than those who have been out of school for an extended period or have limited accounting experience.

Recommended CPA Exam Study Hours

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, industry experts often recommend allocating 300-400 hours of study time for the entire CPA exam, breaking down to roughly 80-100 hours per section.

However, these are general guidelines, and your personal circumstances may necessitate more or less time.

  • AUD: 80-100 hours
  • BEC: 80-100 hours
  • FAR: 100-120 hours
  • REG: 80-100 hours

How long should I study for each part of the CPA exam?

Most CPA Prep courses along with the AICPA recommend that CPA candidates spend 80-100 hours studying for each CPA exam section.

Let’s take a look at how to study for each section in detail.

How long to study for the FAR exam?

The Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section of the CPA Exam is considered by many candidates to be the most challenging, due to its vast amount of material and comprehensive coverage of financial accounting topics. To adequately prepare, candidates generally spend more time studying for FAR than for the other sections of the CPA Exam.

Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Study Time

  • Recommended Hours: Candidates typically devote 100-150 hours of study time for the FAR section.
  • Study Plan: A well-structured study plan spread out over 6-8 weeks can be effective. This plan should include time for reviewing the material, practicing multiple-choice questions, working on task-based simulations, and taking practice exams.

Topics to Cover

FAR covers a wide range of topics including financial statement accounts, specific transactions, governmental accounting, and non-profit accounting. Candidates need to have a strong understanding of U.S. GAAP and be able to apply this knowledge to various scenarios.

Practice and Review

Constantly practicing multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations is crucial. Additionally, candidates should regularly review previously studied material to reinforce their knowledge.

Utilizing CPA review courses that offer extensive resources, question banks, and simulated exams can be extremely beneficial.

Final Review

The last 1-2 weeks before the exam should be dedicated to a final review. This is the time to solidify your understanding of key concepts, work on weak areas, and take full-length practice exams to build stamina and identify any remaining areas for improvement.

How long to study for the REG exam?

The Regulation (REG) section of the CPA exam is comprehensive and covers a variety of topics related to business law, ethics, and federal taxation. Given the breadth and depth of the material, candidates generally need adequate time to prepare thoroughly.

Study Hours

Candidates often spend between 100 to 150 hours studying for the REG exam. However, the exact number of hours can vary based on an individual’s accounting background, familiarity with tax concepts, and personal study habits.

Study Plan

Creating a structured study plan over 6 to 8 weeks is a common approach. This allows candidates to break down the vast amount of material into manageable sections, ensuring that all topics are covered.

Practice Questions and Simulations

Due to the nature of the exam, which includes task-based simulations and multiple-choice questions, it’s crucial to incorporate a significant amount of practice questions and simulations into your study plan. This helps in applying the theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios.

Review and Final Preparation

Allocating the last 1 to 2 weeks of your study plan for final review and preparation is essential. During this period, focus on revisiting challenging topics, practicing simulations, and taking mock exams to gauge your readiness.

How long to study for the AUD exam?

The Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section of the CPA Exam assesses your understanding of the entire audit process, including ethics, professional responsibilities, and the preparation and evaluation of audit documentation. Given the complexity of auditing standards and procedures, candidates typically invest a substantial amount of time preparing for this section.

Study Time

  • Recommended Hours: Most candidates find that dedicating 70-100 hours of study time is sufficient for the AUD exam.
  • Study Plan: A strategic study plan spanning 4-6 weeks can lead to success. This should include time for comprehending the material, practicing multiple-choice questions, completing simulations, and undergoing final reviews.

Topics to Cover

The AUD exam encompasses a variety of topics including audit planning, internal controls, obtaining and documenting information during the audit, and forming conclusions. A strong grasp of auditing standards is crucial.

Practice and Review

Engaging in constant practice with multiple-choice questions and simulations is vital. Continual review of material, especially areas of weakness, will solidify your understanding.

Utilizing a CPA review course that offers comprehensive resources, extensive question banks, and simulated exams can significantly aid your preparation.

Final Review

The last 1-2 weeks before your exam should be dedicated to a final review, focusing on consolidating your knowledge, addressing any areas of uncertainty, and completing practice exams to build endurance and identify areas for final revision.

How long to study for the BEC exam?

The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section of the CPA Exam evaluates your understanding of business concepts and the significance of a CPA’s professional duties within the larger context of the business environment.

Study Time

  • Recommended Hours: Candidates generally find that 50-80 hours of dedicated study time is sufficient for the BEC exam.
  • Study Plan: A 3-5 week study plan can be effective, incorporating time for learning the material, practicing multiple-choice questions and written communication tasks, and performing final reviews.

Topics to Cover

BEC encompasses a wide range of topics including corporate governance, economic concepts and analysis, financial management, information technology, and operations management.

A unique aspect of the BEC exam is the inclusion of written communication tasks, which assess your ability to effectively communicate in a business environment.

Practice and Review

Regular practice with multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks is essential.

Utilizing a CPA review course that provides comprehensive resources and practice materials can be invaluable.

Final Review

The last 1-2 weeks before your exam should be focused on consolidating your knowledge, addressing any remaining areas of uncertainty, and completing practice exams to build your test-taking endurance.

How long does the whole CPA exam take to pass?

Passing the entire CPA Exam typically takes candidates anywhere from six months to eighteen months, depending on various factors. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

1. Study Time

Most candidates spend 300-400 hours studying for the entire exam, which breaks down to 80-100 hours per section. How quickly you can pass the exam heavily depends on your study schedule.

If you’re studying while working full time, you might be able to commit 10-20 hours per week, suggesting a timeline of several months to a year.

2. Exam Scheduling

The CPA Exam is offered during four testing windows throughout the year: January-February, April-May, July-August, and October-November. You can take one section per testing window, or more depending on your preparation and state board regulations.

Therefore, the earliest a candidate could potentially complete all four sections is within six months, but this is quite aggressive and may not be realistic for everyone.

3. Exam Results and Retakes

You need to score at least 75 on each of the four sections to pass. If you don’t pass a section, you have to wait until the next testing window to retake it, which could extend your timeline.

Additionally, keep in mind the “18-month rule”: once you pass your first section, you have 18 months to pass the remaining three, or your first passed section’s score will expire.

4. Experience Requirements

After passing the exam, most states require one to two years of relevant work experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA to actually become certified. This work experience can sometimes be obtained concurrently while taking the exam, depending on the state.

Tips to Reduce Your CPA Study Time to Pass the CPA Exam Faster

Creating a Study Schedule

Developing a structured study schedule is paramount to your success. Consider the following steps:

  1. Set a Clear Goal: Determine your target exam date and work backward to allocate sufficient study time for each section.
  2. Assess Your Availability: Honestly evaluate how many hours you can commit to studying each week, considering work, family, and other obligations.
  3. Break It Down: Divide your total study hours by the number of weeks available, ensuring you allocate time for practice exams and final review.
  4. Stay Consistent: Aim for consistency in your study routine, whether it’s early mornings, late nights, or weekends.

Quality Over Quantity

While the number of study hours is important, the quality of your study time is paramount. Focus on active learning techniques, such as practice questions, flashcards, and summarizing concepts in your own words. Avoid passive learning methods, like simply reading or highlighting text.

Utilize CPA Review Courses

Investing in a reputable CPA review course is highly advisable. These courses offer structured materials, practice exams, and guidance to streamline your study process.

Practice Exams and Final Review

Allocating time for practice exams and final review is critical. These components help consolidate your learning, identify areas of weakness, and boost your confidence.

Balancing Life and Study

Maintaining a healthy work-life-study balance is crucial. Ensure you take regular breaks, engage in leisure activities, and prioritize self-care.

Adjusting Your Plan as Needed

Be prepared to adjust your study plan as you progress. If you find certain sections more challenging than anticipated, allocate additional time to address those areas.


Determining how long to study for the CPA exam requires a thoughtful and personalized approach. By understanding the exam structure, assessing your background, creating a structured study schedule, focusing on active learning, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, you set the stage for success.

Remember, the CPA journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Invest the time and effort required, and you will reap the rewards of this prestigious designation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I study for the CPA exam while working full-time?

Yes, many candidates successfully study for the CPA exam while working full-time. It requires meticulous time management and a commitment to consistent study habits.

How do I know if I am ready to take the CPA exam?

You’ll know you’re ready when you consistently score well on practice exams, feel confident in your understanding of the material, and have completed your study plan.

Is it better to focus on one section at a time or study for multiple sections simultaneously?

Most candidates find success focusing on one section at a time, allowing for a concentrated and deep understanding of the material.

What should I do if I’m not making progress in my studies?

If you’re not making progress, consider adjusting your study methods, seeking additional resources, or giving yourself more time. Don’t hesitate to reach out to mentors or peers for support.

Approach your CPA exam preparations with patience, dedication, and a well-thought-out plan, and you’ll place yourself on the path to success. Remember, the time and effort you invest now will pay dividends in your future accounting career.