When I was younger, studying was always an item on a chore list, something you wanted to do quickly and then be done with it. If asked why I studied I doubt I could have come up with any answer other than “if I don’t I will fail.” Luckily, I was a pretty efficient studier. I memorized fairly well, I could regurgitate equations, and I wasn’t easily distracted by my environment when studying. By the time I was a senior in high school I had perfected the study method of “If I look at this long enough it will make sense and I will remember it for the exam.” Unfortunately, that studying method could not possibly be more incompatible with preparing for the CPA exam. There simply isn’t enough time to memorize every little thing. Even if you somehow were able to memorize, say, 75 percent of the material and recall it directly from memory, the random nature of the exam will often punish you for neglecting the other 25 percent. Studying for the CPA exam requires a more active approach. Lucky for me, studying in college prepared me for this by promoting more active learning. Becoming an active learner is one of the best things you can do when starting your college career. You will be tested in your collegiate years to adapt to different teaching styles and find ways to learn material in many different ways. For a lot of students this proves to be the toughest challenge in adjusting to college life.
I’ve been told all my life that your brain is a muscle and learning, as it relates to studying, is a skill. I was told you must practice this skill and that if you do it enough, you will inevitably succeed. In some ways this is true. You are much more likely to succeed if you study as opposed to not studying. However, at a certain point it is common to hit a “wall” of sorts. For example, if I study four hours a day for a section of the CPA exam I will clearly score better than I would have if I studied 30 minutes a day. But how much better would I do if I studied six hours a day? Probably not much better. What if I said goodbye to my friends, ate two meals a day, and studied for 12 hours a day? I would probably do much worse than if I studied four hours a day like I had originally planned. If studying effectively is a better way to prepare than using the amount of time I study as the sole measurement of success, then I need to focus on what makes me an effective studier.
This is where you come in. Only you, through experience, can determine what works for you. Behavioral scientists have observed up to eight or nine different learning styles that are unique and vary from individual to individual. Discover what learning style suits you as early as you can and you will be rewarded handsomely in the future. In that way, studying is an art form more than anything else. It is a personal process that tests your creativity as much as it tests your cognitive abilities. Learning should be fun (or in the very least not painful) and if you aren’t having any fun, it might be time to try something different.