How to Study Effectively for Exams: My 9 Tips for Success

how to study effectively for examsThis is my second post series on how to study for the CPA exam with young children around.

I’d like to share my observations based on the stories of these amazing moms and dads, as well as from my daily conversations with aspiring CPAs.

How to Study Effectively for Exams When It Seems Impossible

1. You can Be Super Busy and Still Pass

Many people assume that it is easier to pass the exam if they have more time to study. I don’t think it is necessarily true.

I have seen lots of candidates with full time job AND young children passing the exam on their first attempts. These candidates are desperate to pass because they can’t afford the time to retake the exam. Interestingly, out of this “fear”, they end up to be more successful than others in passing.

As one of the dads was saying:

It’s been a grind as we have no family or close friends to help with the little ones. But that just makes me more determined to pass and move on with my life.”

Another sharing from a mom:

I feel like they get shafted all the time. I miss them. They miss me. BUT I just keep telling myself that the quicker I get this done the sooner I can spend as much time with them as I want.”

For those who work crazy hours, the same applies.

2. There Isn’t a “Best” Time to Study

Many candidates choose to study at night, typically after 8-9pm when their kids are in bed. Some top it up by getting up early and studying for a couple of hours. It’s not as common but some study at lunch time and during commute.

Everyone’s schedule is different. Don’t worry about finding that “best” time slot. Be flexible.

3. Success Requires Highest Level of Self Discipline

Discipline is a must to maximize study time. A few candidates mentioned getting up at 4am in the morning.

4. Don’t Forget Breaks

While discipline is important, breaks are critical to keep your sanity. Most of the successful candidates in our stories have scheduled in breaks on a weekly basis, e.g. Sunday or Friday / Saturday evenings. To get the most out of their time, these breaks are spent as quality family time.

5. Face the Challenge as a Family

Almost all of them mention a supportive husband or wife. By supportive, it doesn’t mean he/she takes up all the house work. In fact, quite a lot of the spouses work full time as well and the chores have to be shared.

I like how one of them are having “daddy/kid day” on Saturday and “mommy/kid” day on Sunday, so each of them has one full day to study.

Also, husband can take up cooking, and kids can be more responsible in doing their homework. The older ones can help with some housework.

6. They Sacrifice Free Time but not Family Time

Free time is gone for at least a few months for these parent candidates. But I am pleasantly surprised that the moms manage to take the kids to after school activities and dads can still have daily bedtime stories for the children. One of the candidates mentioned how he switched to total dad-mode when their twins were born, then after a few months switched back to exam-mode and passed the exam.

One dad candidate summarizes it well:

This is all about sacrifice for the betterment of you and your family. Always remember that.”

7. Stop Being a Perfectionist

Little things can make a huge difference! Paper plates and silverware to save time doing dishes. Cook double or triple the portion, then freeze for a quick and easy reheat for another meals.

Many of us can relate to this honest sharing:

In the last 7 months, my house has turned into a complete pit, but something had to give and I chose housework.”

8. Get Yourself Comfortable in Whatever Ways

For example, a few moms have an “open door policy” when studying to make sure their kids are safe. Some prefer absolute silence.

It really doesn’t matter as long as you find a balance that works for you.

9. Get Outside Help

Good sitter, daycare, even TV for a while are good solutions, especially in the last couple of weeks before the exam. Little things make a difference!

For Your Further Reading

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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  • Candy says:

    Hello Stephanie,
    I love your posts, thank you for all your comments, they really spired me. I am a Latin woman, 37 years old; I came to USA when I was 30 years old. My main concern is not to be able to get a job even after completing my exam because my accent or my age. Do you know more people who feel that their ethnicity or age is a problem? My family and friends tell me that I am wasting my time.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Candy, thanks for your note and I appreciate your honest sharing. In my opinion accounting is actually more “accommodating” in terms of diversity. It doesn’t mean there is no difficulty, but if you have the qualification, it’s generally not too hard. If your accent is very strong, it could be a bit of a drawback if people need to pay a lot of attention to understand what you say. Age is probably more of the bottle neck here… but I do have readers who found jobs in their 40s.

      I guess it is easier to start small, because fresh grads may not prefer small CPA firms. Emphasize your stability and endurance (e.g. going for the CPA exam at 37 needs a lot of that!). Typically once you are qualified to take the exam with 150 credit hours etc, you can put that in your resume because people assume that you will one day be a CPA if you try hard.

      CPA qualifications do not guarantee jobs, but it helps. Your personality, attitude and past experience count a lot too. Hope it helps! Stephanie

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