Preparing to pass the CPA Exam is a challenging and time-consuming process. Now imagine doing it while working 40 plus hours a week – or even worse, maybe its busy season. Yikes! Is it even possible?

Rest assured, with the proper planning and by following the steps in this two-part series, it most definitely can be done!

PART 1 – The Basics:

  • TAKE THE EXAM BEFORE YOU START WORKING FULL TIME! I know this contradicts the point of the blog but ask anyone who took the exam while working and they’ll agree they regret not getting it done beforehand.
  • Create a realistic study plan. A CPA candidate can expect to spend approximately 350-400 hours preparing to pass all four sections of the Exam.

Here are some estimates on the time to allot per section:

  1. 130 – 150 hours for the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section
  2. 80 – 100 hours for the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section
  3. 80 – 100 hours for the Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section
  4. 100 – 120 hours for the Regulation (REG) section

I recommend 20-25 hours a week for 4-7 weeks when tackling each section of the exam. When planning your schedule, if you are not able to devote this amount of time, you are not creating a realistic study plan. Make sure you identify any outside factors that will limit your studying (for example, busy season!)


  • Craft a condensed study plan versus a diluted one. Shrinking your study plan to 4-7 weeks maximizes your retention of the material. I find that those who try to stretch the material over a long period of time tend to forget content they covered in the first two weeks. This especially occurs in the vastness of the FAR section.
  • Maximize the testing windows with the goal to complete all four parts in 6 months.

Sample 6 Month Plan:

  • Find a study partner or create or join a study group. A study partner can provide support, motivation and keep you on track. Creating a study group is beneficial as it’s helpful to know that other employees are going through the same struggles.
  • Set daily goals and stick to them — consider allocating 30-45 minutes of your lunch break or an hour before bedtime or after you wake.

So, we’ve gotten this far with Part 1 of the series: “Tips on Passing the CPA Exam Early in Your Career.” Though we went over some of the essentials, there is still a lot to cover. So, don’t miss the next part of this blog where I will detail time management tips, exam strategies, the new exam format and CPA review programs!


Written by Nick Dentice, Career Coach and Recruitment Specialist