Overcoming CPA Exam Failure

You studied day and night, stopped drinking, stopped hanging out with friends and spent so much time in the library that people knew not to sit in your unofficial assigned seat. Yet somehow, you still did not pass the exam. Although I am sure life feels as though it is ending, as someone who knows firsthand-surely it is not. Here are a few of the ways you can overcome exam failure.

Throw an Impromptu Pity Party

Obviously, the party you were planning to celebrate your emancipation from this dreaded study life included champagne, maybe a nightclub VIP section and some fun. However, if you did not pass your exam those plans would be a bit frivolous and awkward to follow through with now. If you devoted your time and money to passing this exam and you did not pass — you deserve to have a pity party. This party can be alone or with guests, but do take a moment to bask in the sorrow of defeat if you must. It is important that you deal with these emotions because they are real. It isn’t just a test like some may think. For many of us, passing this exam determines the fate of our careers. The potential for career growth rests on successfully completing this exam so if you need a moment– take it.

The most important part of having a pity party, however, is ending it in a timely fashion. You simply cannot afford the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself for more than a few days. Take some time to sulk but eventually you MUST move forward.

The ‘Come to Jesus’ Moment

Now you need to have what I call the “come to Jesus” moment when you reflect on what went wrong. You will probably blame everyone and everything except yourself at first but eventually you must take accountability. Maybe you thought that you had given the exam all that you had to give and left your entire soul at the Prometric’s testing center. Perhaps you devoted months to preparation and used your PTO — surely that should have been enough, you thought. The reality is that the amount of time or money you spend preparing for the exam entitles you to nothing. You need to reflect on whether or not you studied effectively or simply put in the hours. Putting in the hours could mean having the lectures play out while you allowed your mind to think of things completely unrelated to accounting. You have to be honest with yourself about the amount of effort you put into actually grasping the concepts of the material. This is the only way to determine what you need to adjust to get that passing score.

The Strategy

Now that you have witnessed firsthand what the enemy looks like (the enemy is the exam-just so we’re clear) you have to come up with a tactical plan for defeat. Look over the email that you get from NASBA, the one that is sent to remind you that you failed just when you were starting to get over it. That email should detail what your weaknesses were on the exam. This will be helpful in determining what you need to focus on when reviewing for your retake. Your strengths should be listed in the email as well. Make sure that you continue to review those areas in which you performed well because the longer you look away from the material, the less likely you are to retain the information. It also helps to speak with people who have passed the exam after failing. Ask them what they did to adjust and improve their scores and try doing the same.

Support Groups

Without the necessary support system and mindset, it is easy to want to just throw the whole goal away (this is slang for giving up). Everyone may not have a “village” and perhaps you are on this journey alone. Maybe you do not currently work in accounting and literally no one around you understands what you are going through. If you find yourself surrounded by people who say things like “Dang, are you seriously still studying for that test?”, you need new friends. Building a solid support system is critical. You need people to vent to but you also need people to hold you accountable. When your loved ones know that you are on this journey they are likely to encourage you and check in with you on how everything is going. Once you let people know you are working on something great, if you do not accomplish it the first time you feel obligated to keep trying because your reputation is at stake.

 One of the hardest parts of failure is having to face everyone and let them know that you did not accomplish what you set out to accomplish. However, try to think of how much more beautiful the victory will be after all the added drama of repeated failure. Exam failure stings but understand that you have not completely failed until you decide you are done trying altogether. Keep pushing until you prosper, it will indeed be worth it.

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5 thoughts on “Overcoming CPA Exam Failure

  1. Courtney this was so timely and great advice! I definitely needed this. I have been sulking for a few days over my score and I definitely rolled my eyes at the email from NASBA. Lol.

  2. Courtney,
    You have no idea of how absolutely proud i am of you!!
    Continue to press your way, the reward is mos def in your grasps, so stay the course!! Do you see and hear your grandma, uncle Ben, aunt ReRe, and all the rest up there in the stands cheering and waving their flags and signs, Go Courtney, you got this Courtney?

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