How to Study 20 Hours Per Week During Tax Season

CPA Exam 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.

Study 20 Hours a Week During Tax Season (Without Anyone Noticing)

You will have to plan to fit it in work, family/friends, sanity, and studying 20 hours a week.

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:


CPA Exam Study Tax Season

Get up 1.5 hours earlier than normal. Don't shake your head in disgust if you are already getting up at 4. 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 at your computer (which you also set up the night before).

Study for an hour. If you refuse to watch your scheduled lecture, 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.


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 you can spend more time with loved ones instead of hanging out with people you otherwise wouldn't do outside of work.

You take your lunch to your desk (which you 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 in 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.


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 must 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.

Ready to Finally Be a CPA? Choose Your NINJA Study Path.

Study 2 hours.

Do this four days a week, staying late on 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.

Adjust accordingly to your life circumstances.


To Your Success,

Jeff Elliott, CPA (KS)

NINJA CPA | Another71