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Balance CPA exam and school?

How do I prepare to take the CPA exam while also studying for my Master's in Accounting?

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Megan’s Answer

The CPA exam is a big undertaking, so I'm glad you are thinking ahead! Here are some things that helped me when I was in college:

- Make sure you're learning during college and not just cramming for exams, that way when you take the CPA exam you can apply all your learning from college that went to your long-term memory. I was a TA and was surprised by how many students did not know the accounting equation by heart.
- I highly recommend obtaining CPA review study materials. My CPA firm paid for me to get Becker. Review study materials are just that - for review. They help you review concepts you already know and introduce and summarize speciality concepts for you that you may have not been exposed to in college if you did not take the speciality elective (e.g. Government and Non-Profit Accounting).
- Create a study plan for yourself.
a) For topics you are comfortable with, there's no need to block off study time for that topic. You got it!
b) For things that need a quick review, budget a few hours. Just enough time to get yourself to feeling 98% good about it.
c) For things you've never heard of before or completely escape you, budget as much time as you think you need to be comfortable seeing the material in an exam setting.
- Make sure you budget breaks and free time for yourself so that you're not studying all the time. You don't want to burn out and you want to make sure that you can recall what you learned and reviewed down the road when it's finally exam time. I took small weekend trips to break up study time so that I wasn't just at my desk all day and all night.

The joke is that CPA stands for Can't Pass Again. With the exam changing over the years to continue to stay relevant for the profession, the exam I took is not the same exam you will take, but the exam you will take will look more like the work current day CPAs are doing out in the business world. Best of luck!
Thank you comment icon I appreciate you taking the time to answer this. Liseth
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josh’s Answer

The route that you are taking is that recommended by many accounting professionals and professors. A set cadence or schedule is the best way to plan for studying for the CPA. When considering the plan, you should take into account when you want to finish all the exams (better to estimate passing each one on the first try). From there, you can see the estimate time to study for each exam and then you can proportion that out for each exam and how long it will take you to study. Also figure out what your limit is to the amount of studying you plan to do per week. Depending on how much time you allot, you should add a couple weeks buffer to allow for additional studying. Weekends and light weekdays are great times to get larger chunks of studying in. You should also try not to take time away from school work or friends/doing things. I have to say if you plan it out right, you don't need to sacrifice your normal life activities. In all, CPA and Masters is very obtainable at the same time and if you plan, you will set yourself up for success.
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Grant’s Answer

I studied for the CPA while enrolled in Temple University's MAcc program. While it can be challenging to carve out time outside of the classroom to focus solely on CPA studies, remember that it's a marathon and not a sprint. In the back of your head, you need to remember that you only need a 75 to pass each part. Hence you don't need to know all of the content on every single page of those Becker books. Now I will say the repetitiveness taking those multiple choice practice tests/exams are very beneficial to getting a true feel for how the real exam will be at a testing center.

Megan listed out a few good tips and tricks on how to develop a study plan that will help you be successful. I myself did something very similar and developed a plan working backwards from the date I wanted to take the test. Have a goal in mind to tackle 1-2 chapters a week. Allow yourself an extra 1-2 weeks as a buffer but the reality is that if you chip away at all the chapters in the book and are comfortable with answering a majority of the topics/multiple choice practice test questions, then you should be in a good position aka ready to take the test. Good luck!!
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much, Grant! Liseth
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Shaye’s Answer

Hi there,
One piece of advice is to take some time off after graduating from your Masters in Accounting just to focus on studying for the CPA exam. This way you can get a lot done and won't forget the materials. Another advice if you're still in school and have the flexibility is to take the classes that are relevant to the CPA content, whether that is reviewing the undergrad class materials or your current Master's classes. Lastly, you can ask professors if they could share studying and practicing materials since it could be expensive if purchased by yourself.
Good luck!
Thank you comment icon Thank you, Shaye! Liseth
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Jue’s Answer

Time management is key. I would focus on one section of the CPA at a time. If any of your Accounting courses overlap, leverage the material and resources there to help with the CPA exam studying.

I would definitely also recommend getting CPA study material such as Becker and keep to it. Practice the review questions and concepts as much as you can. It takes a lot of discipline to study for the CPA but certainly do-able while getting a Master's in Accounting. Good Luck!
Thank you comment icon Thanks for the help. Liseth
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Meghan’s Answer

Hi there!
Great question and congrats on taking on both of those impressive routes.
The key to multiple competing priorities is time management and organization. You have two very complex items you are focusing on and you can’t do both at the same time. What I mean by that is you want to organize your time to allow deep focus/deep work on one item. You can split your time in any increment but you should first look at the immediate milestone dates you have to meet. When is the CPA exam compared to active masters classes? You also don’t want to burn yourself out.
Creating a schedule for yourself that includes studying, exercise, sleep, social etc is going to be helpful. When you make this schedule allow for your deep work to be on just one of those topics. Taking 1-2 hrs on a weekend morning to work on studying for the cpa will help you truly focus on the content and then maybe the next day you focus on the other for just 1-2 hrs. I would stress you want to also make sure you take a day to not work on either. It’s about balance when you have multiple high priorities.

Chipper is an app you can download to your phone which will help with your time management. There are others too but this one appears at the top of many lists.
Best of luck

Thank you comment icon Thank you, Meghan! Liseth
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Jessica’s Answer

Hi Liseth!

Balancing your studies and taking the CPA exam can be a hard task to take on but is worth it at the end of the day. Here is some advice that you take on while thinking about balancing these things:


When you are studying for the CPA exam , try to focus for 90 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. This allows you to get in the zone and actually study for a good amount of time and then relax for a little bit.

It can be easier to pass the CPA exam when you're not working full time at a corporate job like a Big 4 accounting firm. There is always going to be a tradeoff and something will be sacrificed. When you're in your master's program and balancing the CPA exam you may not have as much time to socialize. When you’re working and taking the CPA exam, you may have to sacrifice lunch hours (if you can). You have to decide whether you want to take the CPA exam during school or during work. Time management is super important! It's best to plan how much time you will allocate to the CPA. You can do a couple hours a day or dedicate one day a week to studying. The most important thing is to go at your own pace. Don’t worry how quick other people pass. It is your journey and you will pass when you can!



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Thank you comment icon Thank you, Jessica for the advice. Liseth
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April’s Answer

I tried to do this by lining up my exam dates with the classes I was currently taking. For example, when I was taking my tax masters class, I was studying for the REG exam because studying for one felt like it was also preparation for the other.
I also think you need to be ok with not being a perfect student. You might not get straight A's - but I think most professionals will tell you that it is better to have your grades suffer slightly and finish your exams before beginning your career. Looking back I don't even remember my GPA coming out of college, but I do think all the time how grateful I was that I was able to finish my exams before starting.
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josh’s Answer

A lot of people in accounting programs tend to do their CPA and Masters at the same time as it's much easier than CPA and full time work. With that said, plan x number hours a day to study and you can fluctuate based on classes and weekend. There is no need to sacrifice your study life balance as would suggest keeping studying to the day time so you can enjoy the night.
Thank you comment icon Thank you Josh! Liseth
Thank you comment icon Also, try to leverage the current classes or ones you just finished. For example, take the REG exam at the end of an advanced tax class or the AUD exam after an advanced audit class because you will have just covered a good portion of the test material and it will be fresh in your mind. Michelle Borkhuis, MSA
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Adam’s Answer

Hi there! The CPA can be an overwhelming endeavor to take on, however it is very doable with the right approach. I completed all 4 sections of the exam while in a full time MBA program, as well as working 20 hours a week part time and still felt I had work life balance with the approach I took.

What I would recommend is to set aside 3 hours a day, 5 days a week that is uninterrupted CPA studying time. I found that many of my peers who struggled with managing the exams tried to sprinkle in studying throughout their days, and could never turn off the studying mindset throughout the day, hence leading to burnout. If you block out deep focus time either first thing in the morning, or as the last thing before bed, you will be able to get all your studying in with better focus than trying to study throughout the day. Your studying will be higher impact, and once you are done for the day, you do not need to feel guilty about focusing on other things. For me, this looked like studying for the CPA in the morning, working my job mid-day, then doing night classes and homework in the evenings. This left my weekends relatively free, and allowed me to "shut off" the CPA worries unless it was in the specific time frames I set aside for it in my study blocks, whereas others treated the whole day as CPA time.
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Victoria’s Answer

Hi Liseth! I started preparing for the CPA exam during my Master's in Accounting program at the University of Maryland. I was able to start sitting for the CPA exams after I obtained by bachelor's degree, and took my first of the four CPA exams while I was in my second/final semester of my master's program. I studied for the exam while doing my master's program, and really picked up my studying during the winter break between semesters. I successfully passed my first exam before finishing my master's program and then after graduating, I took the other three CPA exams during the summer after graduation and then started working full-time in the fall. Looking back, I was happy with the way I planned out completing the exams. Studying for the CPA exam is very time consuming so taking the entire summer to focus on passing three of them was a great decision. Taking one during my time in my master's program was manageable especially since the exam that I decided to take first (the audit and attestation exam) was the topic that I was most comfortable with considering I had a few audit classes under my belt and also completed an internship in audit.

Best of luck on your journey!
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Jerel’s Answer

Hi Liseth! Studying for the CPA exam can be challenging, especially while also balancing your coursework for your Master's degree. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

Make a plan: The key to success is to plan ahead. Make a schedule that includes dedicated study time for both your Master's program and CPA exam prep. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you're devoting enough time to both.

Focus on the essentials: The CPA exam covers a lot of material, so it's important to focus on the essentials. Make sure you understand the core concepts and principles that will be tested, and use study guides and practice exams to reinforce your knowledge.

Use your resources: Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Your professors, classmates, and accounting professionals can all be great resources for help and advice. You can also take advantage of online resources like study guides and practice exams.

Stay organized: Keep your notes and study materials organized so that you can quickly and easily find what you need. This will help you maximize your study time and ensure that you're focusing on the right material.

Remember, preparing for the CPA exam while also studying for your Master's degree can be challenging, but it's definitely doable with the right preparation and mindset. Good luck with your studies!
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