You Failed the CPA Exam. Now What?

Let’s face it passing the CPA exam is basically a 50/50 proposition. However, it still feels like a devastating, crushing, soul sucking defeat when you log on and discover that your score was not up to snuff. The dread of having to study the same material all over again is mixed with the fear that since you failed one exam, you might fail the next exam too.

This is my step by step process to restore your confidence and prepare for the next exam.

First of all, you have to do a post-mortem analysis. Why did you fail the exam? By what extent did you fail the exam? A lot of times, I see students decided to skip studying a section. With some bad luck the section featured prominently in a simulation and they got rattled.

The most likely reason people fail the exam is cramming. You can get away with cramming in college. As a matter of fact, you can even achieve A’s just with cramming a night or two before the exam. Students use the same approach for the CPA exam and get slaughtered. There is simply too much material. If you have failed the CPA exam, you have to honestly answer this question – “did you cram for the exam?” If the answer is yes, you have to create a study schedule and stick to it. Spread out the studying based on your own personal work and family situation. If you have six weeks, create a six week plan. If you can only study on weekends, create a weekend plan. There is no cookie cutter schedule. However, you have to ensuer that you do not cram for the exam on the second go round.

The second part of your post mortem should examine the study materials you used. Did you try to use outdated materials? Did you balk at spending money on a CPA Review course? Did you study unnecessary topics?  I know it is painful to fail the exam and then determine that you need to pony up for a CPA review course but sometimes you simply didn’t study with the right tools. Most successful students use a CPA Review Course and purchase some supplemental material. Analyze your MCQ scores and determine if you need more CPA practice questions.  Similarly, if the simulation questions threw you for a loop you may need to practice more SIMs. Usually, what I see is that students get bogged down with the volume of material. They study things that are not necessary. You should make condensed notes or borrow/purchase condensed notes. As you approach the exam, you have to reduce the volume of material you are dealing with.

Finally, you have to determine if your own psychology tripped you up on exam day. Not to sound like Donald Trump, but did you choke on exam day?

cpa exam stress

It is fairly common for some test takers to get rattled on exam day. The stakes are high and the failure is a little bit more high profile. However, out of all the failure stories that I have heard over the years, I would estimate 15-20% involve some form of meltdown. The student knew the material but couldn’t sleep the night before. Or the student hit a section of the exam that they didn’t study for and started to psyche themselves out thinking that they are bombing the exam. Self doubt can sabotage a CPA exam. If you think that you failed the exam due to stress you need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. The best way is to over prepare for the exam.