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The Definitive Number of Hours to Study For One Section of the CPA Exam Is… 445 Hours?

Over the years, I’ve generally suggested to CPA exam candidates that they should spend 2 – 3 hours studying homework per hour of review lecture they watch, which means most candidates will spend about 300 – 400 hours total studying for all four sections. That formula must not be too terrible as it somehow helped thousands of future CPAs find success. Of course, not all CPA exam candidates are created equal and some need more while some need less.

So when I was trolling the CPAnet forums last night and came across a thread entitled “The definitive number of hours to study,” I definitely had to check it out. Maybe things have changed since I walked away from CPA review forever, gotta keep up with what the kids are doing.

I’ve seen many posts that ask how many hours to study. I’ve come up with the following guidelines that I believe determine the amount of time to devote. I’m using Becker with Wiley for supplemental questions, so I’ll use them as a basis. I’m studying for REG, so I’ll use that as an example.

First, watching each video takes about four hours each. Seven videos times four hours is 28 hours. Second, reading each chapter is mandatory. Each chapter should take 6 hours each, if it is read carefully and slowly. So 6 hours times 7 chapters is another 42 hours. For each question, I think you need an average of fifteen minutes each. This includes understanding everything in it, reading the textbook for information regarding that question, and doing each one three times. Between Becker and Wiley, there might be 1500 questions. 1500 questions at 15 minutes each comes to 375 hours.

The grand total is 28 + 42 + 375 = 445 hours.

Is that too much? Probably….but I bet if you follow those guidelines, you’ll pass.

OK, hold the fuck up. 445 hours? For Regulation?!

It would take a full 30 days of studying for nearly 15 hours a day to meet that. And who on Earth has that kind of time? Besides, your brain turns off after the first 3 or 4 hours of a constant task (unless that task happens to be playing hooky with the one you love in bed all day or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3), so studying any more than 4 hours at a time a day is pretty much useless – this is explained by the crash many of us feel at work around 2pm.

While it is important for candidates to know their own study ability enough to figure out how much time they actually need to study for the exam, 445 hours is DEFINITELY overdoing it. It should never take 6 hours to read one chapter of a review book, even if you are a slow reader and need a lot of time to actually comprehend the material. This is why most review courses advise their students to watch the videos first and then read the chapters, you should have enough of a base after watching the video to get the concepts. And while it might be a good idea to spend 15 minutes on each question you get wrong, it should not take you 15 minutes to review the answers for each question. In fact, you’re smart to do time drills that allow 30 – 45 seconds per MCQ so you can train yourself to breeze through them on the actual exam.

Will you pass if you study for 445 hours? Probably. But you can also pass if you study for 90 hours, so why overdo it four times over?!