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How to maintain your social life while studying

Tips for balancing exam prep and personal relationships

Accounting graduates beginning to prep for the CPA Exam face many decisions ahead. They must determine when and where to study, how many hours to devote to the exam, and how to balance an already hectic schedule, particularly if they are already working in the profession. They also need to decide how quickly they want to study and take all sections of the exam, at either an accelerated or a slower pace. If they manage this successfully, the reward — passing the exam, pleasing one’s employer, and furthering one’s career — can be great.

“It is not an IQ test. It’s a test of discipline,” said Kristin Lynes, chief operating officer of San Francisco-based Roger CPA Review, which helps accounting students prepare for the exam. “The difficulty comes in having a plan and a structured study schedule.”

During this period, busy exam takers may avoid friends, family, and social gatherings, citing no time to do much except work and study. But detaching oneself from others can be isolating, and can cause rifts in valued relationships if not handled properly.

Lynes and Erin Daiber, CPA, founder and president of Erin Daiber Coaching & Consulting in San Diego, offer the following tips for maintaining bonds with friends and family during the exam study period:

Set expectations. Most family members and friends don’t realize the preparation involved in taking the CPA Exam. So it’s important to establish expectations upfront about time constraints and scheduling, and share information about the process. Students need to outline to friends and family the periods of time they will be studying, what is entailed, and what activities they can and cannot do.

Create your dream team. While it’s important to set expectations, it’s equally vital to have a support network to motivate you when necessary and help you stick to your schedule. Let friends and family know that you need their support. If you need a break, secure a friend who can “bring over a pizza and a movie” on short notice, Daiber said. Friends and family are “natural cheerleaders,” added Lynes, and successful candidates leverage them for support. “They make their friends and family part of the solution, versus a distraction,” she said.

Set your own pace, but don’t overdo it. Determine what works best for you as you set your agenda, to successfully complete the tests in 18 months or less. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” advised Daiber. “Rushing through or trying to cram too much in at once (without balance) can result in burnout” and could cause you to fail, she noted. In addition, doing too much at once can be tough on relationships. “We highly recommend that students study for one [exam section] at a time,” Lynes added.

Take a break. It’s imperative to set a schedule and devote hours to exam preparation, but it’s equally essential to take a break and refresh. So, take Friday or another day off from studying to revitalize. “Go hang out and grab a beer, watch a show, go out to dinner, so you are getting the time with your friends and family and reminded of why you are doing this in the first place,” Lynes said. “Make them a part of the celebration for your small and big wins.”

By Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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