How to Get Motivated for the CPA Exam

Motivation, or lack-thereof, is one of the most common challenges that candidates face.  It’s also the one that most people don’t talk about.  No one likes to admit that they aren’t motivated to take the next step in their careers, or that they just don’t feel like studying all the time.  They definitely don’t want to admit that they might be intimidated or even down-right afraid of the challenge.

Some candidates are naturally motivated to get the exam out of the way.  Others struggle throughout the process to build and maintain the motivation to keep going.  Here are some ways to explore your own motivation for the exam, and build the momentum you need to keep moving forward.

What’s in the way of motivation?  From my experience, it’s one of two things- fear or lack of incentive.  

The knee-jerk reaction is to say “I’m not afraid of the CPA exam” and leave it at that.  But, if you truly want to build motivation and pass this exam, it’s worth digging into further.  Fear about the exam goes far beyond the test itself- it includes fear of failure, being afraid to disappoint yourself or others, fear of being the only one who doesn’t pass, even the fear of being stuck in stuck in a career that you hate.   

If we don’t address those underlying, deep-seeded fears and conversations that are running in the background, it will be difficult to bring yourself to take action towards this exam.  Even if you do manage to get started, sticking with it can become a challenge.  Check out our Motivation Challenge for step-by-step guides on breaking down these stories.  

The other side of motivation is incentives.  We are either driven by rewards or by avoiding consequences, and some people who are really resistant to taking action need both.  No judgement either way- it’s all about having a structure to get you to take the action you know you need to take.  

Let’s start with “What’s in it for me?”.  This is a critical first step in getting motivated to do anything.  You’ve probably asked yourself this at least subconsciously already.  It’s important to get it out on paper and actually think about what’s in it for you to take on the challenge of the CPA exam.  Get beyond the obvious- money, promotion, career progression.  Dig deeper to discover what really drives you and what’s most important to you.  Seeing this exam as a vehicle to get you to what you really want is key to maintaining forward progress.

Next up, rewards.  Incentivize yourself!  Think about ways that you can reward yourself for all of the hard work you’ve put into this exam.  I recommend rewards at any interval that motivates you- for the completion of each section of the exam, or even small rewards for each successful week/month of preparation.  Whatever works for you- embrace it!  

Finally, consequences.  Sometimes, our resistance is so high (because our fear of what might happen or the risk involved is SO significant), that rewards aren’t enough to get us moving.  

We can easily convince ourselves that we don’t need those rewards, that bonus or even this career!  In this case, consequences in combination with rewards can be very helpful.  What’s a consequence that you will do anything- even study- to avoid?  Make sure it’s enough to get you into action.  One of my coach’s favorites is to write a check to a political party or charity that I DO NOT support.  If I don’t take the action I say I am committed to taking, that check goes in the mail.  Ouch!  Brutal, but effective tactics.  Be bold with yourself, have some fun with this, and really explore what consequences you need to get into consistent action. 

Motivation & commitment is an inside game.  Discovering what is holding you back and what will drive you forward is a personal journey.  My hope is that this has inspired some ideas for you and given you a first step to take towards building your internal motivation.  

For step-by-step guides and exercises to get motivated on the exam, check out our 5 Day Motivation Challenge.  

Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more!

Erin Daiber


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