Choosing from the dozens of CPA study guides is a time consuming task. We previously compared all of the different CPA review course companies and created a guide on how to choose CPA study materials. Now we will focus more on how to use the material that you have already purchased.
CPA Exam Goals
One of the reasons why many CPA exam candidates have a difficult time passing all four sections of the exam is that many people lack clarity in their goals. More specifically, many people do not have a clear goal and do not take the action steps necessary to track their progress. In essence, these people study for the exam in a scrambled fashion which usually culminates in a late-night cram session before the CPA exam. Sometimes this CPA study method works, other times it leads to failure and wasted time.
First of all, to be successful with the CPA exam it is important to set goals with a very narrow focus. For example, it is too broad to simply say that you want to pass the CPA exam. Your mind requires more clarity than that. Your mind requires that you have a specific score in mind such as a BEC score of 77. Your mind also requires a specific goal that you will pass the exam on the first attempt, and that you complete all four sections by January 1, 2013. As you can see the goal is much more specific than what most people work with. Specific goals such as the aforementioned, make it much easier for you to motivate yourself and get yourself out of bed in the morning. Let’s face it, studying for the CPA exam is not something that most people find particularly fun or enjoyable. Subsequently, we need to trick the mind in order to create an extra boost of motivation. Clarity of goals is one of the tricks that psychologists have identified as being especially useful.
As I mentioned previously a goal must be specific. However there are other components of an intelligent goal. A CPA study goal must be measured and managed. First of all, each goal must have a completion date. If you want to lose 30 pounds it is important to actually set a date by which you will lose the weight. Similarly, it is important to set a specific date for when you intend to pass the CPA exam. You should have a date for when you plan to pass each individual section and you should have a final end date for when the entire process will be completed.
It is also important that this CPA study goal should be relevant and timely. There is little point in setting a goal that is two years in the future as so many parts of life will change in the interim. Subsequently, it is best to focus on parts of the CPA exam that you will pass within the next 3 to 6 months. By limiting your time frame you will actually focus your mind.
Finally, it is also important to measure your progress as you work towards your individual goal. For example, if you are studying for the BEC section of the CPA exam you might use practice exams as a measuring stick. The practice exams can be quantified with actual scores and you can also quantify the amount of time that you needed in order to complete the practice exam. Each week you can actually input your score and see that you are making progress. Furthermore, if you want to be even more precise with your goal you can focus on a particular section of the BEC exam and look to make incremental improvements as time goes by.
The CPA Study Planner
One of the things that you will notice is that each of your individual actions will either take you closer or further away from your specific goals. For example, let’s assume that your individual goal is to score a 79 on AUD section by November 7, 2020. You have a subset of goals that you want to score over 80 on 3 practice exams scheduled on October 22, October 28 and November 1, 2020.
As you are going through your day to day routine, you need to constantly ask yourself if you are moving closer or further away to this specific goal. Staying out at the pub until 1:30 in the morning will most likely take you away from your goal of passing the AUD section with 79 score. Conversely, waking up at 6:30 in the morning will most likely take you closer to your ultimate goal.
As you work through each and every day in your study schedule you need to ask yourself whether or not the specific action that you are currently taking is taking you further or closer to your ultimate goal. Unfortunately, what you’ll find is that you have procrastination habits. There’s nothing wrong with these procrastination habits as we all suffer from them. However, it is important to recognize these bad habits before you try to eliminate them.
Some CPA exam candidates like to write down their specific goal and create a Post-It note on their laptop or put up a note on the fridge. Subsequently, when you are munching on a snack or surfing the Internet, your eye will see the specific goal and also see the magic question – “is what I am doing right now, taking me closer or further away from my goal of achieving 79 on the AUD section on November 7, 2020?”
You will be amazed at how powerful these little reminders can be when you are studying for the CPA exam.
More CPA Study Tips
Most people have difficulty studying with total concentration. In this day and age, we are always checking our smart phone or an email during our study schedule. Studying in this manner is highly ineffective, especially when trying to go through a mountain of CPA study guides.
Here are some CPA study tips that I’ve learned over the years:
- First of all, disconnect the Internet on your computer. You need to remove all temptation to “look something up.” You need to physically remove the Ethernet cable from your computer or turn off your modem in order for this strategy to be effective. It sounds extreme but it works. Many studies have noted that it takes five minutes for one to concentrate on a task after being interrupted. If you are checking email every five minutes or walking into the kitchen every ten minutes, you are barely concentrating on the CPA exam material.
- When it comes to CPA studying, silence is golden. One strategy is to buy some earplugs that block out most noise. Give this strategy a try and you’ll be surprised at how even faint noises distract your mind. Other people prefer classical music and some believe that background music (without words) improves concentration. I find total silence to be more effective.
- Chew peppermint gum? Yes, there are recent studies suggesting that peppermint gum increases test scores. Baylor university conducted a study in 2009 where 62 students were given peppermint gum during study periods. Test scores increased for these students.
- Take regular breaks. It is generally recommended to take a ten minute break every 50 minutes. During your break you can stretch, eat or bounce a tennis ball which is highly relaxing.
- Drink tea instead of coffee. The caffeine rush from tea is generally considered to be smoother than coffee. Many people feel that the caffeine rush from tea is more mild and is released over a longer period of time.
It is always best to try out different techniques to improve concentration. Since the margin of failure is so small on the CPA exam, an increase in productivity of only 10% can be the difference between failing and passing.
Using the Pomodoro Method to Study For the CPA Exam
Most CPA test takers hate studying for the exam. It is hard to look at a mountain of material including your 1000 pg CPA textbooks and hours of video. For most students, it is difficult to be passionately interested in “factor’s holdback” or other terms.
One of the age old methods for studying mundane topics is called the Pomodoro Method. This method advocates splitting up tasks into 25 minute chunks of time. This time management method is especially popular with software designers who are generally mad crammers that load up on Red Bull and Espresso and work insane hours before a deadline.
However, even software designers are noticing that long periods of work, without rest leads to a lot of mistakes. It’s more efficient to try and keep the brain fresh with frequent breaks.
How would you implement the Pomodoro method for learning your CPA material?
Firstly, you would decide on a task that needs to be completed. For example you might want to learn how to calculate the present value of pensions which is part of the FAR section.
Secondly, you would set a timer for 25 minutes. You can get a free desktop timer like Focus Booster. You work on the task for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. You would mark down in your journal that you completed the task.
After 4 “pomodoros” you would take a longer break of 20 minutes. This is when you can raid the fridge for a snack or get some exercise in the backyard.
Why does the Pomodoro method work? It’s largely because it’s easy to convince people to do only 25 minutes of something that they hate. Procrastination usually stems from big jobs that would take hours and hours to finish. This is why we all avoid spring cleaning of the attic or basement. A 25 minute task is small enough that anybody could do it with out too much pain.
Secondly, our attention spans appear to be getting shorter. With the Internet and social media, there is constant distraction. It has become harder to focus and stay seated for an hour or longer. The Pomodoro expects you to get distracted after 25 minutes where you can return to surfing Youtube for funny pet tricks.
The cost of the CPA exam is great. The exam can be expensive in and of itself. Once you have paid and received your Notice to Schedule, you should next check into study material. A CPA study guide is a must have to get you through the complicated material. Many different CPA study programs offer CPA study guides, but often they are so comprehensive, that they are not much help at all. It is suggested that you invest in a robust study program, that suits your needs as far as schedule, learning style and budget and go from there. There are many great study programs available.
Best Supplemental CPA Study Guide
CPA Army offers an intense CPA study guide program, including a study guide, study schedule, MCQ’s, notes, and hundreds of flashcards. It is the least expensive of all the CPA study guides at only $69. It is a great option for all those CPA candidates that need to pass the CPA exam as soon as possible. It is designed to prepare you to pass each section of the CPA exam after 30 days of study.