Time management tips for the CPA Exam

10 min read

Effective time management skills are a critical aspect of passing the CPA Exam. In this blog, we’ll reveal four tips that can help you make the most of your time and increase your chances of passing the CPA Exam.

Before we jump in, let's break down how the test works because it will impact how you'll manage your time. The CPA Exam is given in four parts, and test takers are given four hours to complete each of them. Four hours may seem like a long time, but the CPA Exam covers a lot of material, and it can go by quickly.

 The exam uses a multistage testing format and is broken into sections called “testlets.” Each section of the exam starts with two multiple-choice question (MCQ) testlets, followed by one task-based simulation (TBS) testlet, an optional 15-minute break, and two final TBS/written communication (WC) testlets.

The first testlet you receive will be of moderate difficulty. If you do well on it, the next testlet will be harder. Perform poorly, and the testlets get easier. Strategically dividing your time between easier and harder questions is therefore critical to achieving your best score.

Use the following time management tips to help you navigate the testlets for optimal performance.

Time management tips for taking the CPA Exam

1. Move through the first CPA Exam testlet quickly

As noted above, the testlets will automatically adjust the level of difficulty based on your performance on the previous testlet. Do your best to move quickly through the first testlet so that you have more time to tackle the likely more complicated and point-worthy questions that come in testlets two and three. For example, you might plan to spend 40-45 minutes on the first testlet and roughly 55-60 minutes on the third testlet. 

As a general rule, try not to spend more than three minutes on a single MCQ. Not all questions are graded, so if you find one that really stumps you, flag it and return to it at the end because it may not even count. Fifteen of the 90 MCQs for FAR and AUD and 12 of 72 questions for BEC and REG are not graded.

2. Divide your time evenly on each TBS and WC problem

The CPA Exam includes a total of 31 TBS problems, and these count toward 50% of your overall score. Generally speaking, TBS problems comprise the last three testlets of each section of the exam. 

Divide your time evenly between each TBS. This will give you about 12-15 minutes to complete each one. Start with the easiest ones and finish with the hardest. If you run into a particularly hard problem, you can save it for the very end and quickly fill it out in the last five minutes. One of the seven TBS problems for AUD and FAR and one of the seven for REG are not graded, so try not to spend too much time on any one simulation to stay on track. For the BEC WC, one of the three prompts is not graded. You should allot about 12-15 minutes per WC. 

Above all else, make sure you at least get to every TBS with enough time to throw out some guesses. The CPA Exam uses a positive scoring system, so you won’t be penalized for getting something wrong. 

3. Practice your CPA Exam time management skills

The best way to make the most of your CPA Exam time is to practice, practice, practice. Sitting for practice exams allows you to try these time management tips in a risk-free environment, honing your test-taking skills and improving your confidence as you form your game plan for exam day. 

With these success factors in mind, we designed the Becker CPA Exam Review to mimic the exam format, testing system and types of questions you'll encounter on exam day. This includes a library of MCQs to work on for practice. Since MCQs are 50% of your exam score, dedicating study time to these questions will improve your ability to read and answer them quickly, as well as your comfort level with how you approach each question.

Another way to enhance your time management skills is to take advantage of the simulated exams, also included in the CPA Exam Review. Practicing with simulated exams will help you learn how to pace yourself and build test-taking stamina. Becoming familiar with the exam structure will also help you develop your exam strategy to calmly and steadily finish your exam on time. 

4. Prepare yourself mentally 

Performing well on the CPA Exam is just as much about knowing the content as it is about having the right mindset to push through those four hours confidentlyand it all starts with having a plan for both.

Using an organized approach to studying gives you ample time to fully grasp the concepts and exam format while keeping stress at bay. When you stick to a well-planned study strategy, you're more apt to reach a deeper comprehension of the topics, which can quell nerves on exam day. 

As you approach the day of your exam, set yourself up for success by minimizing any last-minute preparations and decisions. For instance, read up on your test center's rules of engagement and gather all the items you'll need to bring in advance. It's even helpful to lay out your outfit the night before your exam. In the weeks leading up to your exam, take care of your physical health by exercising and eating and sleeping well. These simple actions can go a long way toward keeping you sharp, calm and confident on the big day.


Becker offers industry-leading CPA Exam prep tools, including practice tests that closely reflect actual exam content and simulate real test conditions. Find out why 1 million+ CPA candidates chose Becker to help them prepare—and make the most of their time on the CPA Exam

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