How much should I study for the CMA, CPA, or CPA?
This is one of the most common questions that people ask us, and it is a very important question. If you do not study enough, you will probably fail the certification exam. If you study too much, you will probably pass the exam, but you will not have used your time efficiently.
How much should you study so that it is enough, but not too much?
Let’s look at this from short, medium, and long-term perspectives.
On a daily basis (the short-term)
You usually should not study more than 2 hours per day. Practicing a little bit every day is far more efficient and effective than studying a lot on only one or two days a week. There are some topics that require time for the pieces to “fall into place.” For most people, this process cannot be hurried in one long study session. The longer you review in any one session, the less you will learn in that additional time – this is the law of diminishing marginal returns.
On a weekly basis (the medium-term)
It is important that you spend 30-60 minutes reviewing the topics that you have already studied. One of the challenges of preparing is remembering the topics that you studied early on, usually months before the exam. In this review, you should do some questions from the topics that you have already learned (15-20 will be enough) and also scan through the textbook to remind yourself about the terms and topics.
Overall (the long-term)
We cannot give you a total amount of time that you need to study because it is so different for each person based on your specific education, experience, study speed, etc. The mock exam can give you a good sense of how prepared you are, but you will need to be honest with yourself in making an assessment of your level of readiness.
Assess Your Level of Readiness
- How confident are you when answering a question? Do you KNOW that choice C is correct, or do you only THINK (or hope) that it is correct?
- For theory questions, do you know why the incorrect choices are incorrect? If you know why they are incorrect, that is a very good indication that you understand the topic.
- Would you be able to explain the topic to someone else? If you know it well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, you know that topic very well.
While there is no magic number of hours that you must study, you can follow our strategies to help you make the most of your study time and honestly assess yourself to know when you are prepared to pass your exam.
Now that you know how much you should study, the question is how to study. And the answer is you have to make a schedule for success and peace of mind.
If you don’t have your exam prep materials yet, you can choose them right now:
The True Character
When we talk about the character of a person, we are talking about “who” they are. A person’s character tells us their values, what motivates them, and how they will respond in a given situation. While someone may be able to act in a way contradictory to their character for a short period of time, eventually their true character will reveal itself.
The UK company Brighton Rock makes candy with the name of the company embedded throughout the entire candy. Even after you have eaten the outer edge of the candy, the name of the company is still visible. Thus, this candy shows what character is – something embedded throughout a person.
What Is the Exam Character and Why is it Important?
Just as having good character is important for a person, having good exam character is very important to passing the professional certification exam. If you only have a shallow understanding of the material, you may be able to get some of the questions correct, but not enough to pass the exam. If your knowledge is deep, you will be able to think and apply the concepts that you have learned to new situations and be able to answer any question asked on the exam.
How to Develop Your Exam Character?
Like personal character, exam character does not come quickly or easily. We need to study and practice and be willing to spend time to make certain that we really understand the topics tested on the exam, and not just shortcuts to answer practice questions. Exam character does not come from shortcuts or study “secrets,” but rather it comes from your hard work and dedication to studying.
How Does HOCK Help?
In addition to helping you pass the exam, what you learn in building your exam character becomes part of you and part of your skills and knowledge that you will be able to use in your career. At HOCK, we help you build your exam character one topic at a time until you are ready to not only pass the CMA, CIA, or CPA exam, but also put your new skills to use every day long after you have achieved your certification.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
In this video, Brian discusses some tips for exam day: how to eat, how to dress, how to prepare mentally, what to bring with you to the exam center, and offers some final words of encouragement.
If the exam date is not coming up just yet, check out the following videos:
In this video, Brian discusses where you should be with one day before your CMA, CIA, or CPA Exam. Limit yourself to some quick reviews and get as much sleep as you can. You are prepared and you are ready to pass the exam!
In this video, Brian Hock discusses where you should be with two weeks before your exam. Continue studying with timed tests to practice time management, reviewing all of the materials, cramming if you have extra time, and planning for exam details like your calculator and how to get to the testing center.
In this video, Brian Hock discusses where you should be with six weeks before your CMA, CIA, or CPA exam. Continue sticking with your study plan, reviewing previously-studied materials, using the flash cards, and plan when you will take your first mock exam.
We have written previously about the importance of having a study schedule and sticking to it (Exam Tip: Scheduling for Success and Peace of Mind), but sometimes you need to take a step back from your plan in order to move forward. If you’re familiar with soccer (football for our non-US readers), it is common for a team to pass the ball backwards in order to regroup and prepare again to go forward. Sometimes in studying you might need to do this, too.
What do I mean, exactly? When you are studying a topic that is taking longer than expected to learn, or is not making sense to you, sometimes the best thing to do is to leave that topic and come back to it later. By learning and thinking about other topics, you can give your mind a break and a chance to process the topic that you were struggling with.
I use this strategy when writing materials, too. Sometimes I get “stuck” trying to explain a concept or develop an example. I can tell that what I am writing is not as clear or concise as it should be. When that happens, I usually will stop, work on something else, and then return to the unfinished topic later. Most of the time this break is just what I needed to finish my writing in a way that is clear and concise.
Just like in soccer, the path to success on the exam is not one that always moves forward. Sometimes a step back today will help you move many steps forward tomorrow.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
How to study for an exam?
One of the most common questions I get from students is how to study for an exam. I have written about how to study before, but there is one part of the study process that I want to specifically address again.
When you make the decision to study for a professional exam, you have made a time commitment that will span months, if not years (depending on the exam). On the first day of a class, I would often tell my students that for the next few months they would no longer have to ask themselves, “What should I do with my free time?” Once you start studying for an exam, you always have something that you could be doing, whether that’s reading the book, watching videos, or answering practice questions.
The problem is that the feeling that you should or could be studying is always in your mind. When you are reading a book for pleasure, you begin to think, “I could be studying the textbook.” When you are watching your favorite TV show, you think, “I could be watching a video lecture.” When you are exercising, you think, “I should be reviewing that last chapter that I read.”
Make a schedule
To help manage your time when studying for an exam, I strongly encourage you to make a schedule of when you will study each week by specifically designating time for studying (our standard study plans suggest about 10 hours per week). It might be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings from 6 – 8 p.m. It might be 6 – 7:30 a.m. Sunday through Friday. It might be an hour at 8 a.m. in the morning and an hour at 7 p.m. night on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Whatever will work for you.
Having a schedule of exactly when you will study will make your non-study time more enjoyable. You will have your set study times, but you also will know that during all of the other times of the week, you can do whatever you want. For example, if you know that you study on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, you also know that the other nights are not times to study. So, when you are relaxing on Wednesday evening, you do not need to worry that you should be studying because you know it is not a time that you need to be studying.
Success and peace of mind
A schedule is critical not only for your success on the exam, but also for your peace of mind while studying. If you have a schedule already, congratulations. If you do not have a schedule for studying, then the first thing you should do today is to make a schedule. Both your studies and your personal life will be more enjoyable and less stressful as a result.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Students frequently ask us what kind of device they should use to study, and whether a laptop, tablet, or smartphone is best. In this post, we will give a quick reference for which materials we recommend using on each type of device, and which devices work well for each type of materials. The HOCK website is optimized for all sizes of screens including smartphones. This means that you can access and use My Studies and the PassMaps on all devices.
Note: For our purposes, a tablet is a full color touchscreen device running iOS or Android with at least a 7 inch (18 cm) screen. Black and white or eReader tablets are not supported.
- Computer: A computer is ideal for using the HOCK materials. With a large screen, you can easily read the textbook, watch the videos, and answer practice questions.
- Tablet: A color tablet works well with the HOCK materials. We do recommend doing the mock exams on a computer to mimic the exam environment and get practice taking the exam on a computer.
- Smartphone: We do not recommend reading the textbook on a smartphone, but you can still watch the videos or use the practice questions on your phone. The audio files can be downloaded and played offline, so listening to the audios on your smartphone is a good way to use travel or exercise time to study.
By type of material:
- Textbook: The textbook is easily readable on computers and tablets. While the textbook can be viewed on a smartphone, it is tedious to read with a lot of scrolling and zooming required.
- Videos: The videos work well on any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Some slides with a lot of text may be difficult to read on smaller smartphone screens. The closed captions may also be difficult to read on a small screen.
- Practice Questions: The practice questions can be used on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The smartphone is not ideal because longer questions require scrolling or zooming, but most questions will be easy to read.
- Flash Cards: Our electronic flash cards are in PowerPoint format and can be viewed with any program or app that can open PowerPoint files. Some cards with more text may be harder to read on smaller screens.
A computer or tablet are both good choices to study for your exam. While all HOCK materials are usable on smartphones, we do not recommend using only a smartphone to study for an exam. However, the smartphone is a great way to supplement your studies when you are not able to use a larger device, especially by listening to the audio files.
If you have any questions about the HOCK materials or how to use them on any type of device, we will be happy to help.
Do Exam “Shortcuts” and “Cheat Sheets” Work When Studying for a Professional Exam?
Studying for a professional exam is just like preparing to accomplish any significant goal—the only way to succeed is to put in the required time and effort. There is a specific and defined body of knowledge that you need to know to pass a professional exam and until you have mastered that body of knowledge, you will not pass the exam.
When someone advertises that they have a shortcut or very short materials that condense the exam into “only what you need to know,” this is only a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, marketing does not help you pass the exam. Marketing may help you feel confident that you have some special knowledge, but when you get to the exam you will be in for a surprise if you don’t know the information that is tested on the exam.
Practice Questions vs Exam Questions
One comment that is often made by unsuccessful candidates is the questions on the exam were different than the practice questions. Of course the practice questions and exam questions are different—they should be different! If the actual exam had only questions that you practiced with, then the exam would not test what you know, but only how many questions you can memorize.
Candidates who pass that exam understand the concepts and theories tested on the exams and are able to apply that knowledge, even if the questions are asked differently than the questions that they had practiced with. Earning the credential means that you can apply your knowledge to new situations, and this is what your employer expects you to be able to do. Memorizing specific answers is of no value to your employer.
How to Save Your Time and Money
In order to be prepared to pass the exam the first time, you need more than shortcuts or simplified materials. You can save yourself a lot of time, effort, and money by studying only once using complete and comprehensive exam prep materials that prepare you to pass on your first attempt.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA