The CPA Exam: 7 Things You Must Know

cpa exam

1. You have to study for the CPA Exam

Well, dirrrrrr. Breaking News, I get it.

Here's the thing, though, people don't actually like to study for the CPA Exam.

I get emails all of the time – usually after a score release and someone is frustrated after scoring another 71 on AUD (see what I did there).

My first question is always, “walk me through your CPA study plan”.

Come to find out – they're not actually studying. Well, technically they are, but 5-10 hours a week ain't studying.

(Don't use “ain't” on your BEC Written Communications, kids).

If you're not studying 20 hours a week, you're not studying.

(Here's a free study planner to keep it all together)

2. The CPA Exam is not easy

Imagine a college accounting class where the pass rate is only 45-55%.

Everyone else failed.

That's the CPA Exam.

3. You'll need a lot of time – even during Busy Season

“But Jeff, I can't study during tax season!”

Yes you can.

Let's face it – you're an accountant.

The CPA Exam isn't going away.

Busy season isn't going away.

You can make the case that half the year is “busy season”. You're either gearing up for it (November/December), in the thick of it (January – April), dealing with extensions (May – June), dealing with procrastinators (October), and we haven't even touched on entity returns and deadlines.

Oh – and the IRS loves to jack with filing deadlines, causing a miserable existence where tax season NEVER ENDS (See 2020 and 2021).

Just to add insult to injury, you have those awesome quarterly deadlines (940s, 941s, etc.) that you absolutely hate but your boss loves because it's easy (and automatic) firm revenue.

It's always busy season. Study.

See also: Fail Your Recent Exam?

4. The CPA Exam is long and difficult (but worth it)

If you are a normal CPA candidate, you will fail.

The average person studying for the CPA Exam fails two exams, per NASBA.

There will be times when you want to quit.

There may even be times when you think the AICPA hates you and has personally designed the CPA Exam just so you can fail.

(they don't – and they didn't)

Long after the misery of that 73 (or a 74 – read My Story) has faded, you will look back on your CPA journey, certificate proudly framed and displayed on the wall (until you change jobs, and then it will stay in a box for the rest of your accounting career, only to be discovered by your kids as they divide up on your things someday), and glad that you did it.

(but you WILL have dreams (nightmares?) about FAR years after you pass – bank on it)

5. There will be surprises in your CPA Exam journey

Expect the unexpected as you study for the CPA Exam.

You get sick.

Family members get sick.

Lose a job.

Change jobs.


Marital stress (brought on by CPA Exam studying).


Exam changes.

All of these things have happened to people who emailed me within the last year.

6. Your amazing college grades mean nothing

So, you were Summa Cum Laude and had an 8.7 GPA.

BEC don't care.

You will walk in and stumble out.

I warned you.

7. You must have a healthy outlet

This one is tricky.

If you focus 100% on studying, you'll crash and burn.

If you have too much “me time”, you'll never want to study.

You must have an outlet – but keep it in check.

By “outlet” I mean something physical – not netflix.

Running with a spouse.

Biking with kids.

Jiu-Jitsu with a friend.

Your study time is precious, so you must be efficient.

Combine your outlet with a family member or close friend.

You'll get the mental and physical break you need.

(and they'll be reminded that you like them better than your FAR Book).