How to Study 20 Hours Per Week During Tax Season (Without Anyone Noticing)

CPA Exam Study Tax Season

Busy Season.

Audit? Tax Season? It's the same.

It starts out so quiet, so innocent.

It's early January, and you settle into your desk chair.

Memories of last year's nightmare of a busy season have all but faded away.

Maybe this year won't be so bad after all.

But you're wrong.

It's worse.

January … then February … then March … 6 days a week … and then 7 days a week … and then a pandemic … and then new tax laws … and then a new audit report structure for non-issuers

… and then finally 8 days a week as it crescendos into a three-hole-punched-sign-here-sticker-zombie-utopia where you're willing to slam day-old Folgers just to stay awake

Every Day is the Same.

Every. Day. Sucks.

At least you're getting overtime.

But wait – there's more.

You wanted to start the year off with a bang, so back in December, you scheduled FAR for April 20-something.

Mistake. Maybe?

If you're an auditor, you're thinking “hey, at least you only have one busy season…stop crying.”

No Rest (or sympathy) for the Weary.

How to Study for the CPA Exam 20 Hours a Week During Tax Season (Without Anyone Noticing)

To fit it in work, family/friends, sanity, and studying 20 hours a week, you're going to have to plan.

Plan or Die.

From there, follow the E-L-L CPA Study Plan (Early-Lunch-Late … it conveniently matches the first three letters of my last name, so I went with it).

The plan is simple.

The sacrifice is not. Most people will not implement it, but the payoff is huge if your family (and your sanity) suffers less from you being missing in action because of it.

How it works:


Get up 1.5 hours earlier than normal. If you are already getting up at 4, don't shake your head in disgust. This plan isn't for you. For those who normally get up at 6 or 6:30 am, start getting up at 4:30 or 5. Stumble to the coffee pot (which you loaded the night before) and hit the “go” button.

While the coffee is brewing, go take a quick shower and wake up. Head back to the coffee, grab a cup and sit down at your computer (which you also set up the night before).

Study for an hour. If you refuse to watch your scheduled lecture, then hammer NINJA MCQ as a last resort vs going back to bed.

Notice that checking your e-mail, social media, sports news apps, or news was nowhere in this sequence.

Did you really sacrifice an hour and a half of sleep to check Instagram?

Don't unlock your phone. Not even once.

Need a timer? The one on the microwave will do.

See also: CPA Exam Quiz that 83% of CPA Candidates Fail


Say “no” to the co-workers heading down the street to grab lunch and talk about how dumb their boss is for an hour. While that sounds fun, you're here to study so that instead of hanging out with people that you otherwise wouldn't outside of work, you can spend more time with loved ones.

You take your lunch to your desk (which you also packed the night before).

Start eating and log in to your CPA Review Course.

Your legal pad and pen will get food smears on them while you take notes, as will your mouse, but who cares. The same rule applies as the morning: no e-mail or Internet.

Study for an hour.

If your boss frowns on one-hour lunch breaks, consider asking for permission because you are trying to study. Unless there are pressing deadlines or they are just a jerk, they will likely have no problem with it.

(Click the playlist arrow in the top-right of the video to pull up the entire “CPA Exam Study Tips” playlist)


This is where it will differ greatly based on your home situation. If you are single with no children, married with no children, or married with children but your spouse is at home, then this could possibly work for you.

If none of these apply to you and you need to get home after work, then you will need to defer your study time until later in the evening from 9-11 pm.

At 7 pm – or as soon as culturally permitted in the workplace during Tax Season or on an audit. Either start studying at your desk or bolt the office/client and head to a coffee shop or library.

Study 2 hours.

Do this four days a week, staying late 2 of those days.

Take Friday night off.

Sample schedule:

Monday: ELL – 4 hours (Study late @ work)
Tuesday: EL – 2 hours
Wednesday: ELL (Study late @ work) – 4 hours
Thursday: EL – 2 hours
Friday: EL – 2 hours (Take the night off!)
Saturday: None (Take the night off!)
Sunday: All Day – 6 hours (Take the night off!)

Total: 20 hours

If your family is feeling left in the dark from you studying all of the time, mark this schedule on the calendar and let everyone know your plans.

When you study, study.

When you're with your family, put the laptop away.

If you're reading this and shaking your head because you struggle just to find 5 hours to sleep and eat during busy season, then this plan isn't for you and you probably shouldn't study for the CPA Exam during this time.

Download the NINJA Study Planner.

Try it. It's free.

Prove me wrong. 🙂

I realize that this isn't a perfect system that will fit everyone's schedule exactly, but if you want to make a “go” of it during Busy Season, then hopefully this will give you some sort of game plan to follow.

Adjust accordingly to your life circumstances.

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To Your Success,

Jeff Elliott, CPA (KS)

Another71 | NINJA CPA