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How to Study for the CPA Exam During Busy Season


It starts out so quiet, so innocent.

It's Monday January 6th and you settle into your chair. Tax season eh?

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 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 you back in December, you scheduled Financial Accounting and Reporting for April 21.

No Rest for the Weary.

How to Study for the CPA Exam 20 Hours a Week During Busy Season.

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

Plan or Die.

The first thing you need is the NINJA CPA Exam Study Planner (Just click the link and I'll send it to you right away).

From there, follow the ELL (Early Lunch Late) Plan.

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.

CPA Review

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 and books (which you also set up the night before).

Study for an hour.

Notice that checking your e-mail, Facebook, sports sites, or news was nowhere in this sequence.

Did you really sacrifice an hour and a half of sleep to check celebrity gossip? No you didn't.

Don't even fire up the Internet browser. Not even once.


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 hit “play” on your CPA Review course.

Your legal pad and pen will get food smears on it while you take notes, as will your mouse, but who cares. 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.


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, either start studying at your desk or bolt the office 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
Saturday: None
Sunday: All Day – 6 hours

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, leave the laptop and study books 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.

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 Tax Season, then hopefully this will give you some sort of game plan to follow.

Adjust accordingly to your life circumstances.

Can the NINJAs send you some free study weapons that can help you…

Study Less
Avoid Common CPA Candidate Mistakes
Get Higher Scores
Spend More Time with Friends and Family
Finally Pass and Get On With Your Life?


The CPA Exam Survival Guide
NINJA Study Planner

Enter your Name and Email Below and they will arrive in your inbox instantly.

Jeff Elliott another71Jeff Elliott is a Licensed CPA (KS), who worked two tax seasons before he escaped through the emergency exit door and then got lost and couldn't find the building again.

You can download his CPA Exam Survival Guide free.

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  1. February 2, 2017 at 11:23 pm — Reply

    The plan is reasonable that Jeff has outlined with a few tweaks. At my firm 55 hours is required per week. My work hours are typically 10 AM to 830 PM, but I leave home 915 AM and arrive home 915 PM.

    I have been doing the following– and I have 2 boys and married —

    MON to FRI– 7 to 830 AM . Lunch 30 min.. After work 1 hour –my brain is fried when i get home , so easy stuff at night and hard stuff in AM and lunch. total 15 hours weekdays

    SAT- work until 4 then study from 7 to 9 PM.
    SUN- 4 hours where I can find it , but no work.

    Keep in mind I married with 2 small boys and still get around 21 hours per week in with a nasty commute (1.5 hours a day)

  2. March 24, 2016 at 2:55 am — Reply

    Thanks ELL

  3. Danielle
    February 12, 2014 at 7:03 am — Reply

    I’ve been doing the ELL plan fairly well up until this week. I usually eat at my desk and do work during lunch so I’ve been trying to do 3 hours at night and skipping the lunch part which seems fine. The tough part right now is getting home at 8 when I thought I would be starting to study at 8. Maybe I could try 1 hour in the morning 2 hours at night, Do yoga on Wednesdays (instead of not studying Friday), skip Saturday study Sunday.

    If anyone reads this I HIGHLY SUGGEST doing yoga. You don’t have to be an expert or flexible or anything but it seriously reduces the stress level. Go to a yoga studio, not your gym’s yoga class, the environment of a yoga studio really makes a difference.

  4. Matt
    February 11, 2014 at 8:59 pm — Reply

    Real talk. Studying during busy season ain’t possible. Simple math. 168 hours in a week. Subtract 70 for work. 49 for sleep. Subtract another 20 for studying?! and now your just talking crazy. We’d be taking 3 hours a day to say hello to your significant other, cook dinner, exercise a little bit, daily chores, normal everyday routine stuff,(etc.). Do yourself a favor and knock out the CPA exam the 40 weeks of the year it isn’t tax season. That is the only way to keep your sanity and most importantly your health. No disrespect Jeff.

    • Jeff @
      February 12, 2014 at 9:52 am — Reply

      I hear you, Matt. Glad to hear the other side of the story. It’s not ideal, but it is possible and people do it – and pass during busy season. This was hopefully helpful to anyone trying to balance everything without going insane.

  5. Nina P.
    February 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm — Reply

    Thanks Jeff! I enjoy the helpful tips on how to squeeze time in in the mornings and during work hours, because my family life is rather demanding between working, being a mother with two small children and my husband also working, studying and preparing for his Aviation licenses. So this is helpful for us both. With daily challenges we currently work interchangeable schedules. So family time is important because the one day off is normally a day one of us still have to work. Yeah, it sucks! But we are always working on ways and fitting in time to make it all work. Very challenging it is,so thank you!

  6. Vaishnovi
    February 11, 2014 at 1:21 pm — Reply

    Wow Jeff, thank you for this article on how we really CAN study regardless of how busy we are. I’m so swamped with work but if they’re a will, there’s a way. This is just what I needed to read this morning in order to push myself to continue to study and take the exam and PASS IT! 🙂

  7. Mel
    January 21, 2014 at 7:13 pm — Reply

    Haha – Jeff, you have hit so many issues surrounding studying during tax season to a T! I find it’s easier to study first thing in the morning or if you have to do evenings then at least take an hour or two to get your eyes off of the computer and readjusted as I’m sure you’ve been looking at the computer for the past 14, 15, 16…hours!

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