The Uniform CPA exam is known to be among the more challenging professional licensing exams in the US. What makes it slightly more challenging is that many applicants study for the exam while working to fulfil their experience requirements for their CPA. This means they’re exhausted and have very little social life, in addition to preparing for a serious exam.

How long should I study for each part of the CPA exam?

This is a matter of personal opinion and what content your find easiest to some extent, but for now we are going to focus on a more general approach based on what CPA students themselves recommend on various forums. Firstly, it is important to consider the difficulty of each exam section, as well as the allotted time frame for passing the exam parts. Here is a table showing the pass rates for each section during 2021, taken from the AICPA’s website:

Section Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Cumulative
AUD 48.56% 50.49% 47.21% 45.04% 47.98%
BEC 61.16% 63.31% 61.73% 60.27% 61.94%
FAR 46.64% 42.63% 47.83% 40.70% 44.54%
REG 59.29% 58.81% 63.12% 57.78% 59.88%

As you can see, FAR and AUD are consistently the sections that applicants struggle with, and therefore are likely to require more time and attention than the other two. Not that a 40% failure rate for BEC and REG isn’t something to be concerned about, either. In general, the AIS-CPA recommends studying a total of 300-400 hours for the CPA exam. This equates to around 80-100 hours per section.

How long to study for the FAR exam?

Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) is generally considered to be the most difficult section of the CPA exam to pass. For this reason, many applicants feel that it is best to start with FAR. This is because you only have an 18-month window in which to pass all four sections of the exam, and it would be horrible to take FAR last and struggle to pass it while one of the other exam sections expire in the meantime. The same is true of AUD.

The AIS-CPA suggests dedicating about 100-120 hours towards FAR. Generally, CPA exam takers seem to recommend dedicating at least 8 weeks towards studying for this part of the exam. During this time, you should try to put in at least 2 hours daily towards studying and practicing questions, which would amount to around 112 hours of study time. Most also recommend taking some kind of preparation course such as Becker’s or Wiley’s, and to especially focus on taking MCQs, as these will help you both with studying, and to become familiar with the type of questions that are likely to appear on the exam.

How long to study for the REG exam?

The amount of time that you should dedicate to Regulation (REG) is really dependent on your familiarity with taxation laws, but the AIS-CPA recommends studying for between 90-110 hours beforehand. If you work in tax, you may be able to get away with studying 3-4 hours a day over a 3-week period, if you are able to fit in the time. If not, and especially if you struggled with taxation during college, then 6-7 weeks with 2-3 hours a day might be better. This is because it will give you time to slowly process and internalize the concepts, as opposed to trying to cram in as much as possible a quickly as possible while risking forgetting things or getting confused during the exam.

How long to study for the AUD exam?

It is generally recommended to set aside between 70-90 hours in preparation for the Auditing & Attestation (AUD) section. Therefore, studying for around 2 hours a day for between 6-7 weeks, should be a good amount of preparation time. You could also reduce that to 3-4 weeks by studying 3-4 hours a day.

How long to study for the BEC exam?

The Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) section is considered by most to be the easiest section to pass, and the pass rates reflect that. However, there is still ~40% failure rate, so it’s best not to get overconfident about it. It is recommended to put in about 55-75 hours of study time towards this section, which amounts to 2-3 hours a day for 4-5 weeks.

How long does the whole CPA exam take to pass?

It really depends on you. There are some people who manage to pass the exam in 2 or 3 months, which is usually not feasible for most people. After all, there is a reason why AICPA has chosen an 18-month window. Following the maximum suggestions of the above schedule, along with a 2 week break between slots, it should take about 33 weeks, or around 8 months to pass. This means that you would still have more than enough time to fit in retakes within the 18-month window, if you were to fail a section or two.

However, it is important to bear in mind that a new CPA exam format will be implemented in the beginning of 2024, so it would be wise to keep up to date on any changes that may be implemented in the mean time as well.

Other considerations

Prometric is known to cancel exam dates sue to closures, covid or other reasons, so you might need to change your exam dates to ones that don’t really suit you. The same might be true on your side; something unforeseen might occur that would require you to adjust your schedule and exam dates. So that should be factored in as well. This means that when planning out your study and exam schedule, you should take into account time for retaking exams within the 18-month window, as well as unforeseen cancelations and rescheduling. Another consideration is recuperation time. You might want to schedule in a week or two of recovery time before beginning your preparation for the next section so as to avoid burnout.

Study tips

  • If you commute, try dedicating that time to either studying or dong MCQs
  • Have a set schedule and stick to it. That way it will become routine and easier for you to focus
  • Try to find somewhere quiet to study. If you can’t, then try to create a quiet space by investing in earplugs or a noise-cancelling headset
  • Schedule in chill time to avoid burnout
  • Reward yourself for sticking to your schedule, such as by giving yourself a chocolate or 30 minutes of gaming time (if you have the self-control to stick to it)
  • Try these other tips