Should you work hard or smart? The answer is both, but you have to constantly refine your routines as working vigorously while maintaining bad habits is counterproductive. The same applies to studying for the CPA exam. So the good news we're offering here is that you should focus less on studying more, and more on studying better.
Value your time and energy
“Study Efficiently” is better advice than “Study Hard”. Studying for the CPA Exam is unlike doing so for any test you've ever taken before. You're going to need to adapt, allocating time between a highly challenging test, full-time work, and life obligations. Analyzing how you are going to go about this next phase of academia through the lens of efficiency will change how you approach studying.
That being said, this will look different for every one of you. So let’s take a look at some scenarios to help stir your imagination as to what effective studying might look like for you.
Customize your workflow
When it comes to your study schedule, there is much more than putting in the hours. You have a lot going on in life, much more than when you studied for any exam in college, and sometimes you will have the time to space out studying, while other times you will have 10-hour study marathons. Let’s take a look at how to make this rhythm as efficient as possible in the areas of time, atmosphere, and content.
Maximize the time you put in
You really have to think about what works best for you and your other commitments. What is your attention span? Everyone is going to have to put in the time, but can you do that for 8 hours straight, or would breaking it up work better for you? Look back to see what has worked and what has made you miserable. Are big rewards at the end of a long day of studying what work for you, or would smaller breaks/rewards every two hours what is best for you? There is no right answer here, but analyzing yourself and moving forward intelligently is something most of us do not spend enough time doing.
There is no need to haphazardly guess what would work best when people are out there studying it for you! There is plenty of research on effective studying, so do a little research and read up on what science says about your study time.
Where you study
Most people turn into creatures of routine when it comes to the place they study. It is good to find a place where you can focus, but the problem is this consistency might be too consistent. Testing environments are not always what you'd imagine, and things can go wrong even when you prepare your best. There will be a kid who keeps sniffing, a pencil tapper, a wobbly table, or an overly alert proctor breathing down your throat. The more ways you can find to practice keeping calm and attentive by exposing yourself to different situations the better. On top of different stimulus being perfect for getting over the distractions, switching up study spots once or even twice through a study session is a great way to reset and refresh. Getting up and moving to a new place is not wasted time, it is a break. It is like cross-training for your brain. When you think you are sick of studying, you might just be tired of sitting in that quiet white room, and going to the busy coffee shop might be just what you need to feel like you haven’t been studying all day.
What you study is one of the biggest and simplest factors, but how you study is more important to retaining and applying the information. The goal is to have a thorough understanding of the material. Think about how you have studied up until this point. Are you interweaving subject and concepts to see how they relate to each other and thus how they can be applied, or have you spent your time focusing on retention of one thing at a time? Studying this way might be harder. It will consist of coming up with essay questions, testing yourself, balancing flash cards with an application, and challenging your testing weaknesses, but in the long run it will be worth it. This is what separates those who study hard from those who study efficiently.
Again, this is ultimately going to be you analyzing what works for you. Chase after the best approach you can take to set yourself up for success. Every day is practice, and it only makes sense to keep growing by gleaning out the bad and implementing the good.