How to Pace Yourself When You Take the CPA Exam

How to Pace Yourself When You Take the CPA Exam

There’s nothing worse than sitting for the CPA exam and feeling the pressure of the ticking clock. If you want to achieve success at this, you’ll need to plan ahead for suitable pacing.

Not only will that enable you to avoid feeling rushed and pressured into answering questions too quickly, but it could also empower you to proceed with confidence. Thinking about this often-overlooked facet of exam preparation will give you a significant advantage over your peers when it comes time to sit for the test.

The Importance of CPA Exam Pacing

The CPA exam is an absolute behemoth. It’s a massive undertaking that requires weeks of study and grueling preparation. And though learning the information and concepts is obviously the central task of preparing for the exam, planning ahead to pace yourself could make the difference between coming up short and passing with ease.

As you probably know already, the CPA exam is in reality a combination of four different exams (typically referred to as “sections”): Financial Auditing and Reporting (FAR), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Each section has a unique makeup with distinct types and styles of questions intended to assess knowledge and understanding of the relevant topics.

Each section has a time limit of four hours (which makes a total of 16 hours across all of them). The individual sections are broken down into a couple of tasks with a 15-minute break between the first and second tasks.

Four hours might sound like a lot, but many first-time CPA exam takers are surprised by how swiftly the time goes. Few things are more dispiriting than looking up and feeling the pressure of the ticking clock after you’ve prepared for weeks.

At best, the time limit is intimidating enough to impinge on your full focus on the exam questions. At worst, it’s enough to totally disrupt your flow and result in a poor score.

By understanding how to pace yourself properly on exam day, you can relieve this pressure point and allow your full attention to be devoted to tackling the content.

Four Pacing Tips for Best Results

As you think about ways to pace yourself so you can achieve the best results, here are four practical suggestions or techniques that others have found helpful.

1. Take Practice Exams

There’s no substitute for practice. Register for a reputable CPA review course and take full advantage of the practice questions and mock exams they put before you. In addition to helping you get familiar with the types of questions that are asked, these mock exams give you an idea of how to manage your time for solid results.

2. Develop a Time-Budgeting Strategy

It’s recommended that you get to know and develop your time-budgeting style. Some people who take the CPA exam prefer to scan the question quickly and select the answer that first comes to mind. Then they return later to double-check their results and shore up any loose ends.

Other people prefer a more thorough approach, in which they spend more time with each individual question before moving on to the rest. The most effective way to develop a time-budgeting strategy is to take mock exams and get familiar with the test structure and time limit.

After you’ve gotten two or three practice exams under your belt, you’ll have a much better idea of what works best for you.

3. Have a Plan for Multiple Choice Questions

This goes hand in hand with the previous tactic of time budgeting. Because much of the CPA exam consists of multiple choice questions, it’s useful to have a plan of attack for questions to which you don’t know the answer.

The first (and most important) thing to remember is that you won’t get penalized for wrong answers. So even if you don’t know the answer, a guess is going to be better than nothing. At the very worst, it gives you a 25 percent chance of being correct; and if you can eliminate one answer, that boosts your odds of getting it right to one in three.

4. Know the Directions in Advance

You want to remove as many variables from the exam day “equation” as possible. One way to do this is by carefully researching and understanding the exam rules and instructions ahead of time.

This enables you to avoid the unnecessary waste of time and energy absorbing these details while the clock is ticking, and gives you the green light to devote all your energy to answering the exam questions.

Planning Ahead

There’s no way to simulate CPA exam day in advance. Mock exams and intensive study can only accomplish so much.

At some point, you’ll have to stick your hand in the fire and do what you’ve been preparing to do. The hope is that by mastering such facets as pacing, you can put yourself in a position to be as successful as possible.