Failing a CPA exam can be seriously disheartening. This is why it is important going in to know that this happens all the time. After all, the CPA exam is hard, with a pass rate of below 50%, which means that most people fail at least one section of the exam during their journey towards acquiring their CPA license. So, don’t beat yourself up about it. Once you have your license, no-one will ask you how long it took you to get it or even what marks you got. Below, we’ve compiled some tips that can help you deal with the hard reality of a CPA exam failure. 

1. Breathe 

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to give yourself some time to breathe and calm down after your failed CPA exam. You might even take a little while to process the failure – especially if you were really expecting to pass. You’ve invested a great deal of time and money into the exam, so it’s natural to feel down. Give yourself a couple of days off from your studies. 

Don’t take too long of a break, though. It can easily turn into dwelling on your failure and procrastinating getting back into the grind. Remember, the CPA exam tests your endurance, not just your intelligence. You need to get back on the horse! Failing does not define you. 

2. Identify your weaknesses

Once you have taken some time to recover, it is in your best interests to take a good look at your score report and identify where you went wrong. When you receive your failed score, you will also receive a candidate performance report. The report is a useful guide – it shows your strengths and weaknesses by question type and content area.

Look closely at your performance according to item type (i.e.: Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs), Task Based Simulation (TBSs), and Written Communication Tasks). When you are going through your candidate performance report you could become frustrated, especially if you have failed by a score of 74 (the passing score is 75). Remember, this isn’t a percentage based score. It is a sliding scale. This means that a score of 74 actually reflects a sizeable hole in your knowledge. 

3. Critique your preparation 

Have a detailed and honest look at your original study plan. Did you set goals that were too unrealistic? Did you take shortcuts? Did you skip on the practice tests? Did you try to cram study? Did you give in to too many distractions (read: social media)? Did you put in the recommended hours of preparation towards studying for your exam? Look, sometimes failures happen regardless of how hard you study or how meticulous your exam study plan. But it is still worth assessing your original approach and making changes to refine it. 

Another important consideration is whether you decided to not use study guides the first time round. While its true that they are expensive, CPAs swear by them for a reason, and there are also many cheaper alternatives if you can’t afford an advanced package such as those offered by Beck and Wiley. For instance, there are YouTube channels such as Farhat’s Accounting Lectures, secondhand guides and free online MCQ sets. If you’re unsure of what is reliable, the r/cpa or r/accounting subreddits on Reddit are good places to ask.

4. Reschedule your CPA exam

Failing gives you the opportunity to try again. Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, apply to take the CPA exam again! Before you do so, there are some important things to note.

Firstly, your NTS is only valid for one testing appointment. You are going to need to get a new NTS to reapply. If you apply for a new NTS during the same testing window as your failed attempt, your NTS effective date will be the start of the following testing window. In other words, you can’t take the same section more than once in the same testing window.

Secondly, you will need to wait at least 24 hours after you receive your scores to reapply for the exam. But since the exams are now held continuously throughout the year instead of only four times a year as in the past, this is not as great a setback as it used to be. You can also still sit another exam part in the mean time and return to this section later.

5. Build a new study plan 

Your new study plan is going to look different to your original plan. This time, you have the opportunity to identify your weaknesses. Using the candidate performance report, pay attention to the areas the tripped you up, and allocate extra time to revising these sections. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to revise the sections you excelled at. You will need to allocate time to study all of the content again.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the report is a pretty general reflection of your performance. Don’t base your new study plan entirely on the report. A good way to assess whether you are improving is to take practice papers and MCQs. As you revise and practice, you will see your mock marks improving, and will be able to continue identifying and revising those areas where you are still weak.

Need a little more inspiration? Read 7 Reasons Why You Should Become a CPA. Once you have passed all four of the exams and become a CPA, your failures are going to be distant memories!