My Best CPA Exam Study Strategy

cpa exam study strategyStephanie, I read my review book 3 times and still failed. What should I do?

Many of my most diligent readers use this CPA exam study strategy: reviewing the materials over and over again, day and night.

According to a research conducted by Washington University in St. Louis, this type of repetitive reading and reviewing is the most common study strategies among students.

Most Common Strategy = Most Effective?

Research has shown that repetitive reading enhances a sense of familiarity on the review materials, but since the information is not “processed”, it often fails to store in our long-term memory.

In other words, we thought we know the materials so well… but we are not. A very dangerous thing to do.

The Effective Way Is…

What we should do instead is to repetitively “test” our knowledge on the subject. Reflect on what we have read and learned. Ask yourself: does it make sense? How can this apply to my daily life?

Try testing yourself in different ways as well. 2 examples:

  • Think of a few questions that examiners would ask on this topic, attempt to answer, and check against the book to see if your answer is correct.
  • If there are lots of technical terms to memorize (e.g. REG’s Business Law), go through them in the glossary section. Test whether you know the meaning and application of each term.

Self-Prepared Questions vs Provided Questions: Which is Better?

Should I create my own set of questions or make use of the provided ones at the end of each chapter? Let’s find out in the following research.

Participants were asked to read 3 articles based on 3 different study strategies:

  • Article 1: Read the article again (i.e. read twice in total).
  • Article 2: Read the article once, then answer questions provided by the researcher.
  • Article 3: Read the article once, then self-testing by coming up with a list of questions.

After this exercise, researchers asked the participants to take a test and assess their level of comprehension.


Performance was the worst in Article 1, implying that repetitive reading is not the best study strategy.

The group did equally well in Article 2 and Article 3, meaning there is no noticeable difference using self-prepared questions and third-party questions.

Conclusion: feel free to use the ones provided to save time.

Implications on Your CPA Exam Study Strategy

Research has shown that repetitive testing of your knowledge is the most effective to study. Yet, only 10% of students follow this approach on a regular basis.

This explains why so many readers told me how they read the entire review book multiple times and still failed. When I asked them to focus on “active” (vs passive) studying, most passed on the next attempt.

What is Active Studying?

Any study strategy that involves the materials “processed” in your brain is a type of active studying. Examples include:

  • Rewrite your own notes on flash cards;
  • Read the text aloud, record and play back for self-listening;
  • For key concepts, pause and think about how a concept can be applied in business situation;
  • Test your knowledge using online practice questions.

The Importance of Online Test Prep Software

The online practice questions, be it Wiley Test Bank, Gleim test prep software, or the ones provided within the Becker, Lambers and Exammatrix packages, are all designed for this study strategy.

If your budget is tight and you can’t afford an integrated review course, then get yourself any of these question sets. Practice, practice and practice until the concepts become part of your long-term memory. For best result, focus on your weakest area when using this strategy. Good luck!

Research Reference

  • Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L. (2009). Metacognitive strategics in student learning: Do students practice retrieval when they study on their own? Memory, 17, 471-479
  • Roediger, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210
  • Weinstein, Y., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2010). A ocmparison of study strategies for passages: Re-reading, answering questions, and generating questions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16, 308-316.


About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites

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  • celine says:

    what do you recommend for retakers , whole system again or just online practice and practice . If so, which one is better gLEIm test prep or wiley test bank or both/.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Celine,
      I won’t go for both as it would be confusing. As for which one is better, the decision isn’t whether one is a retaker or not, but whether the course is suitable for that particular individual. So I encourage you to take a look at the pros and cons of each, as well as their teaching style, to make a decision.

      Alternatively, you can tell us what type of learning style you prefer and we can help you out. Regards, Stephanie

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