Fail CPA Exam? My 3 Pieces of Advice to Retakers

It’s devastating to fail the CPA Exam. Countless hours to study and thousands of dollars wasted.

I know, and I hope this post can help!

3 Most Common Reasons to Fail the CPA Exam

Instead of agonizing over this, let’s move on and evaluate what went wrong. People fail the CPA Exam because they have:

1. Not Enough Time

You may be working full time, busy taking care of kids, and other commitments that eat away the time for proper CPA Exam preparation. Totally understandable.

Did you fail to complete all the coursework before the exam? Or did you finish, but it’s more like skimming without real understanding toward the later chapters?

If the answer is yes, then great — you’ve identified one of the reasons, and you can work on this to greatly improve your odds in the next attempt.

What you can do to pass the CPA Exam next time

  • Finish the coursework in your CPA Exam review course. Start studying where you left off, or backward if you think you didn’t really understand the concept in the later chapters.
  • Evaluate using the diagnostic test. Most CPA review software comes with features that identify your weakest areas. Make sure you work hard on them and get every single MCQ right this time.
  • Create more study time. Let’s be creative — wake up an hour early, study between children’s naps, bring a lunchbox and study during lunch hour, use the mobile version of the review courses to maximize your study time… the list goes on and on.

2. Not Enough Effort

Let’s be honest — did you put in the best effort in your CPA Exam prep? Seriously, did you go right to the test bank, or kind of check your email, grab a coffee, then go to Facebook… and waste the most valuable, freshest morning time to “warm yourself up?” You get the picture.

3. Not Enough Understanding of Materials

Let’s see if one of the following applies to you:

A. Sample Test Only

Hmm. What makes you think that’s enough? You may be an A+ student, but the CPA Exam isn’t just a test in accounting. It would help if you had TACTICS to succeed.

Did you know: all major CPA exam review courses have an 85%+ passing rate, vs. a passing rate of <50% for the Uniform CPA Examination overall.

It looks like the chance of another failure can be drastically reduced based on these statistics. I strongly suggest you sign up for a CPA review course — they work! You can check out the pros and cons of major CPA review courses here.

B. Online Self-Study Course

I feel for you. You paid a lot of money for an online self-study course and still managed to fail the CPA exam flat out. Then your course wants you to pay even more money to keep your access to online study materials for learning content that obviously didn’t work out for you. Something isn’t right.
Same as above, I’d like to ask you a few questions. Did you work through the entire course, or just hit the highlights? Did you watch all of the videos and work through all of the simulations? Do you think you grasp all the concepts in the course? Did you take several timed practice tests or take a cram course?

And even more importantly, did you choose the right course for you to begin with? That is, did you go with a comprehensive course with an adaptive e-learning platform, textbooks, plenty of practice tests and sample questions, live classes or webinars, videos that show you how to work through problems, success coaching, and a final cram? Or did you just go for a test bank and half-heartedly take a few mock exams?

If this is the case, get yourself a more comprehensive and proven course like Becker. Follow the program, as Becker suggests, because it will help you improve your higher-order analysis skills. Review the textbooks, watch the videos, and then work through the questions. And keep working until you get 100% right. Yes, that’s a lot of work, but it is the most effective way to tackle this exam.

pass the cpa exam fast with surgent cpa review

C. Wiley Book Only

Yes, getting the Wiley book is the cheapest option of a review course (if it can be called a “course”), but did you actually study (vs. flip through) the entire book?

The book is very comprehensive, but this perceived “strength” is a weakness for exams — because it could be hard to read. My opinion is that the book can be a great learning tool, but some of us need to take another step or two to take good advantage of it.

Instead, I suggest checking out one of the best CPA Exam review courses and studying with materials from companies like Becker, Gleim, or Surgent.

(i) Writing your own notes may be the only solution you need

You will like this because it won’t cost you any extra. Write your own notes based on the book content, either on notebooks or 3×5 flashcards. Not only that it helps retain the materials during the read-copy-and-reread process; the notes will be presented in the format you are most familiar with.

Give it a try at least one a couple of sections and see if it works.

(ii) Did you get the Test Bank as well?

The exam is in 100% computerized format — studying is one thing, but if we are to practice only with pencil and paper, i.e., not on a platform that closely mimics the actual testing environment, it’s pretty hard to pass the CPA Exam.

With that, I very strongly recommend you get the test bank, too. You might think this is an unnecessary cost (since some Q&A are in the book anyway), but it can make or break your chance of success in your case.

If budget is a concern, then you should really check them out because I buy the Test Bank in bulk on behalf of my readers and offer them at a good discount.

Once you get the Test Bank, keep working on the practice questions until you are 100% correct (repeat those you did wrong — TWICE — to make sure you get it). If you are done and still have time and energy, redo all.  I can guarantee that you will pass (with good grades!) following this advice.

Final Thoughts

Some of you may be thinking about walking away and giving up. This is the last thing you want to do. The score doesn’t reflect your ability — it could simply mean a lack of study time and quite likely some luck. If you keep going and push a little bit harder on your next attempt, I am sure you can nail it.

Please take a good break, devise a solid study plan, and face it head-on again. Best of luck!

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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