When to Delay (or Not Delay) Taking the CPA Exam

You’ve made your plan, you’ve purchased your study materials, and you’ve set your test date… and then something happens. Something prevents you from studying or interferes with your exam date, and all of a sudden, you’re rethinking your plan. Is it worth delaying the CPA Exam to give yourself more time? Here, we’ll go over some situations when it’s probably a good idea to delay the CPA Exam and one situation where it isn’t.

When to Delay Taking the CPA Exam

Of course, this is an incomplete list, as no one can foresee all possible complications. However, these are some of the most common situations where it makes sense to postpone the CPA Exam.

You haven’t finished studying, and you know it.

You’re never going to feel like you’ve “finished” studying. You could always go through your flashcards one more time or take one more practice test. However, when you know a certain number of topics are likely to be on the test, and you haven’t had time to get to all of them, you definitely haven’t finished. And if you try to cram weeks or months of studying into the last few days before the exam, you won’t retain all of it. Delaying your start date to study for the CPA Exam usually isn’t a good idea, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

Be honest with yourself – are you too far behind on your studying to realistically make a good attempt at the exam? To answer this question, take the remaining study sessions you have to complete, including your final review, and space them out over the days you have left. If it’s just too much work per day, you know you won’t be able to finish. There’s a big difference between inventing an excuse not to take the exam and simply running out of time or energy to prepare.

Your practice scores are still too low.

If you’re taking the CPA Exam, chances are you like being able to rely on numbers to make crucial decisions. Here’s a good number for this decision: your most recent practice test score. Of course, there will be some variation in practice scores and actual scores, but if your score is just too low, you can probably say with certainty that you’re not ready.

If this is the case, try to identify the problem. Is it a lack of available time to study? Is it being distracted when you study? Or is there a specific type of question or topic that you’re struggling with? The answer to these questions is your first step in raising your practice scores. Don’t waste time and money taking the test if the numbers tell you that you probably won’t pass.

You aren’t making progress with your study materials.

Most CPA Exam prep courses show you metrics of your progress as you go along. That can let you see whether you’re as far ahead as you need to be. Not all study materials are perfect for every test taker. For example, if you’re a visual learner, but you’re trying to study with audio lectures, you might not be fully absorbing the material. If you find the professor in the lecture videos unbearably annoying, you’re probably not able to give the content of the lecture your full attention.

It can be difficult and expensive to switch study materials mid-preparation, but if your study process really isn’t working for you, trying something new can be worth it. It’s almost certainly better than taking the exam anyway and failing. Check out our list of the best CPA Exam review courses for some alternatives.

You’ve never had have proper study materials.

Unfortunately, most CPA Exam review courses are expensive. Some students will try to cut costs by purchasing old study materials or getting their study materials from a less reputable source. Others may try to study with only their accounting school material. Outdated, incomplete, or inappropriate study materials can make all that time you spend studying worth nothing.

The good news is that some review courses don’t cost thousands of dollars. Also, many courses offer discount codes that lessen the overall cost of your study materials. Most test-takers can find something that will fit their budget, even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of adaptive learning software. If you’re worried that your study materials may be deficient, find a way to take a practice test. This should give you a better picture of your preparedness. If you aren’t happy with your results, you can try a different set of study materials.

You’re dealing with an extenuating circumstance.

These are the same time-sensitive, urgent personal circumstances that would cause you to miss even an important work or family event. A severe illness, a death in the family, sudden financial or marital issues, or a mental health crisis can all take your mind off the exam material – and for good reason. If an external distraction keeps you from concentrating on your studies or the exam itself, consider postponing. You want to be able to face the exam when you can give it your all. If you try to white-knuckle your way through, you may fail and sabotage your own self-confidence due to factors you couldn’t control.

You have work commitments you can’t get around.

As important as the CPA Exam is to your career, in the short term, your current job sometimes has to come first. After all, you ultimately have to complete the CPA work experience requirements in addition to passing the exam.

While you certainly can have a full-time job and study for the CPA Exam at the same time, sometimes your job will ask for time commitments that substantially interfere with studying or test-taking. If you see something like this coming, first try talking to your boss to see whether it’s a project that can be delayed or given to someone else. However, if you really can’t work around it, consider postponing the exam.

Your stress level has gone far beyond normal.

Naturally, you will experience some anxiety when taking a difficult standardized test. This is absolutely normal. However, you also need to consider what stress normally looks like for you. Having a bit of trouble falling asleep some nights is inconvenient but probably tolerable. Tossing and turning all night because you can’t stop thinking about practice questions isn’t.

If you find that anxiety keeps you from sleeping, eating, or concentrating on your studying, first try taking a short break. If that doesn’t help, or if your first response is “What? I can’t possibly take any kind of break, or I’ll fail!” then your anxiety has exceeded normal levels. At that point, you need a longer break.

Additionally, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. None of this means you’re crazy; it just means you need a little help dealing with the pressure. You may be heaping extra worry on yourself that you don’t need, and a professional can help provide you with the tools you need to work through this anxiety. If you suddenly couldn’t see your textbook, you’d go to the eye doctor to find out what was wrong. The same thing applies if you’re too anxious to focus.

There’s a broader safety risk.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that daily life – even on a large scale – is unpredictable. Sometimes a hurricane or earthquake strikes. Sometimes there’s a global pandemic. These events are thankfully rare, and we all hope they won’t happen to us, but sometimes they do. And when they do, it’s okay to delay something that can be rescheduled, including the CPA Exam.

Don’t put your physical or mental safety at risk by forcing yourself to take an exam under these circumstances. You probably won’t do your best anyway. Instead, take a deep breath, reschedule, and start planning for a new test date.

When NOT to Delay the CPA Exam

Perhaps one of the most common questions on this topic goes like this: “I don’t feel I’m ready for the CPA Exam. Should I still take it?” Yes, you should.

Here’s a better way to phrase it: being ready and feeling ready are two different things. Does anyone ever feel prepared to take the CPA Exam? Probably not! It’s a challenging test with a lot of material to study. If you wait until you feel ready, you may never actually take it. Again, unless you’ve memorized the textbook, there’s always more studying you can do. Even then, you still wouldn’t know what kinds of TBSs you’d be facing or how to apply the facts you know to every situation. You can be ready without ever feeling ready.

So how do you know if you’re ready to take the CPA Exam? Here are some excellent indications:

  • You’ve covered gone through all the lessons in your prep course.
  • You’ve completed a final review to cover the most essential topics again.
  • You’re achieving passing scores on your practice tests.
  • There’s no issue weighing so heavily on your mind that you won’t be able to concentrate on the test itself.

Again, be honest with yourself. Your goal isn’t to walk in the door feeling confident that you can answer every single question correctly; your goal is to pass the test. If there’s something that really will prevent you from doing your best, there’s no shame in CPA Exam postponing. And if you know you’re unprepared, it’s better to wait until you are prepared. On the other hand, if the thing that’s preventing you from doing your best is not feeling ready, it’s time to ask yourself how realistic that feeling is and how much you want to let it hold you back.

How to Postpone a CPA Exam

Although we’ve already covered this more thoroughly in our post explaining how to reschedule your CPA exam, here’s a quick review. Fortunately, the process is pretty simple, and you can pick a later date by signing in to the Prometric website. The issue is timing and fees – if you know you need to reschedule, do it as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you may significantly increase your cost to take the CPA Exam.

You can postpone your exam for free up to 30 days before the test date. Between five and 30 days before the date, you’ll pay a rescheduling fee of $35. If you reschedule one to four days before, you’ll have to pay the full testing fees over again. And you aren’t allowed to reschedule at all less than 24 hours before the exam. Thus, if it’s less than five days before your date, you might as well sit for the exam unless you’re dealing with a personal emergency.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I take the CPA Exam?

Although when to take the CPA Exam is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself, in general, you should take the exam as soon as you can after finishing your study material and taking a final review. More study time is not always better, as you don’t want to burn yourself out. Moreover, you may be well-prepared even if it doesn’t feel that way.

If you schedule a CPA test, can you postpone it?

Yes, you can delay and reschedule your CPA Exam date. You can do so for free if it’s more than 30 days before your date and for a small fee between five and 30 days beforehand. As for how much to postpone a CPA Exam, that will depend on your reason for delaying. However, your application and fees may expire if you wait too long.

Can I delay CPA past my NTS date?

After your CPA Exam application has been approved, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) that allows you to actually pick your exam date. Although every state and jurisdiction is different, most issue an NTS that expires after six months. If you fail to schedule and take your test within six months of the issuing date, you’ll have to pay all your fees again to take the test.

Thus, you can postpone your exam past the NTS date, but you’ll have to pay your application and testing fees again. NASBA strongly recommends that you don’t apply for an NTS until you’re ready (or almost ready) to actually take the exam. It’s a good idea to schedule the exam early in your NTS six-month period so that you have time to reschedule if it becomes necessary.

How many times can I delay my CPA Exam?

Theoretically, you can delay your CPA Exam as many times as you want within your NTS’s validity period. Even after that, you could keep applying for a new NTS as many times as you wish. It becomes a matter of cost – you’ll be paying your application and testing fees multiple times.

How long do you have to take the CPA Exam?

For each individual part of the CPA Exam, you have about six months (depending on your State Board’s NTS) to schedule and take that section. As for the whole process, you have 18 months to pass all four parts, starting when you pass the first part.

For a CPA, if you fail, can you postpone other exams?

If you mean other parts of the CPA Exam, be aware that you can only schedule one part at a time. Your State Board will only issue you one valid NTS at a time, so you can’t schedule multiple sections at once. On the other hand, if you’re talking about other professional standardized exams, you’ll have to check with the organizing body of those exams. However, it’s probably not a good idea to attempt to study for more than one difficult professional exam at a time.

For a CPA, can you postpone an exam to a different window?

Before 2020, the CPA Exam was only offered during several testing windows throughout the year, but the exam could be taken year-round between 2020 and 2023. However, the CPA Exam changed at the beginning of 2024, and candidates now must follow some CPA Exam blackout dates.

Furthermore, if you think you failed a section, you must wait until you receive your scores to re-schedule. For instance, if you took AUD but think you didn’t pass, you can reschedule your AUD exam after receiving your scores for your first attempt.

How many times can you take the CPA Exam?

There’s no limit to the number of attempts you may make on the CPA Exam. The only limit may be your budget since you’ll need to pay new application and testing fees each time.

When do you feel ready for the CPA Exam?

I hear a lot of people say, “I’m not ready for my CPA Exam.” Many times, the issue is that they don’t feel ready. You may never feel ready to take it, even if you are ready. At some point, you need to trust yourself and your preparation. I didn’t feel ready to take the exam. Even after I took it, I wasn’t sure I had passed. Nevertheless, I passed each section on my first try.

About the Author R Bax

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