The Best Way to Recover from a CPA Exam Failure

Failing a section of the CPA Exam sucks, but you can take comfort in the fact that this is a very challenging test and that many people do not pass the first time they take it. In fact, pass rates for the different sections of the exam have ranged from 47-57%.

It’s normal to feel upset and even angry if you fail a section, especially if you thought you studied hard and did your best, but my advice is to get over it, and get back on the horse by signing up for the exam again as soon as possible, while you still remember some of what you learned. Follow the steps below to help you pass the test the next time you take it.

Determine Why You Failed

To increase your chances of success the second time around, you should try to figure out why you did not pass the first time. You may already have an idea of what happened, but just in case you aren’t sure, consider the following possible reasons:

1. You tried to wing it with a few all-nighters

Maybe you didn’t study long enough, or you started preparing too late. This is not the time to relive your glory days in college when a few targeted nights of all-night studying was enough to get you through your finals. The CPA exam is hard, and it is hard for a reason. Only a well-thought-out plan of consistent study over a longer period of time is going to set you up for success. (Unless you are one of those genius types who never has to study, but then you probably wouldn’t be reading this.)

You are most likely juggling a full-time job or school while you prepare for the exam and are short on time, which makes it especially important to carve out time to study. You should also start the process well in advance of your exam date so that you can get through all of the practice material. Studying for the CPA Exam is more like a marathon than a sprint to the finish.

2. You studied, but weren’t consistent

Maybe you had a plan, maybe you didn’t, but you did log a respectable number of hours. In that case, you either didn’t study hard enough, took a haphazard approach to studying the topics you thought would be on the test, or didn’t study in an efficient way. Even if you studied for many hours, you may not have studied the right topics or types of questions.

If you want to pass the CPA exam, it is crucial to have a comprehensive study plan in place, and then you need to buckle down to execute that plan. There are no points for effort and good intentions – you have to put in the work and be smart about how and what you choose to study.

3. You didn’t sign up for a CPA review course

Yes, I know, CPA prep courses will cost you some money up front. Maybe you told yourself you’d just buy a few study books and figure it out on your own, but it is hard to stick to a schedule when no one is around to keep you accountable.

One of the major perks of a well-designed review course is that it keeps you on track by holding you to a schedule. This is especially true for live and live online courses, but even self-paced courses often include a schedule, study plan, and feedback on your progress and a countdown until the exam. Prep courses also help you study the right material by zeroing in on your weaknesses and giving you the opportunity to spend more time practicing those problems.

4. You signed up for a review course but failed anyway

Review courses are not all the same, and you’ll need to pick the one that is right for you. You should make sure your review course matches your learning style, and you should consider switching to a different prep course if the one you used didn’t work for you. Maybe you are more of a visual learner who needs to watch lectures several times at your own pace, or maybe you need to log in to attend regular online sessions taught in real time by an experienced instructor. You may have tried a review course that did not work well for you, and then found success after trying a review course from a different company.

5. You froze under real exam conditions

You studied hard, but you’ve never liked standardized tests and just didn’t perform as well as you should have. The answer to this is almost certainly to practice full-length exams under exam-like conditions. If you are on a tight budget, you may need to go to a public place that is not too loud with a few full-length practice exams you’ve found online or in a book, and time yourself according to the instructions of the actual exam.

If you can invest some money in a review course, many of them include many practice exams that are extremely similar to the actual test, and many Prometric testing centers allow you to pay a small fee to do a 30-minute trial run or “test drive” in the testing center before your exam date. The name of the game is to practice under conditions that simulate the exam experience until you can shake off those nerves and can perform to the best of your abilities when the time comes.

Not Your Grandparents’ Prep Course

Prep courses have come a long way since students trooped into lecture halls to practice filling out bubbles while an instructor lectured and worked out problems on the board.

If you haven’t checked out the many CPA review course options that are available for students today, you may be surprised by the number of choices and the ability of sophisticated software to help you determine your weaknesses and tailor your studies to your specific needs.

You can take a self-paced course that is entirely online, or sign up for a hybrid course that combines live or live-online lectures with adaptive-learning software. You will be amazed at some of the tools, apps, and games that optimize learning, and may even make studying and memorization a little more fun.

You Can Do It!

I’ve researched, demoed, and reviewed over a dozen different CPA exam prep courses in order to help you find the one that will fit your specific needs.  Realize that just because you didn’t pass a section the first time doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed on the next one, as long as you take the necessary steps to prepare yourself.
If you need a gentle nudge to get yourself back in the saddle, be sure to check out my reviews of the Best CPA courses on the market to help you decide which prep company is the best match for your specific learning style. Then get ready to hit the books and CRUSH the CPA Exam!