What to Do If You Fail a Section of the CPA Exam

You stayed up almost all night for the CPA Exam score release, anxiously awaiting the appearance of two numbers that would indicate how much longer the exam process might last for you. When your score finally arrived, it was lower than you had hoped, and your heart sank with it.

You didn’t pass that section of the CPA Exam, so now what? Don’t despair! Follow these steps to pick yourself up and get back in the CPA game.

Recovery Steps for CPA Exam Section Fail

  1. Take heart

    If you ever experience CPA Exam failure, know this: you are not alone. A quick look at the recent pass rates proves that many candidates – in fact, usually the majority of candidates – do not pass the exam sections for which they sit in a given testing window. Even if you don’t know any other candidates who have failed, you can be sure that they’re out there and can find solidarity in their presence.

    Furthermore, you can find comfort in this time from the CPA Exam mentors who are here for you as well. Gleim CPA Review includes access to these mentors, known as Personal Counselors, and they are always there to provide you with the encouragement you need to deal and the perspective you need to move ahead.

    Finally, you must remember that millions of candidates have passed the CPA Exam (Gleim CPA has helped many of them), and that is because passing is possible, even if it involves the occasional failure. You’re not stupid, you’re not a hopeless case, and you shouldn’t quit now. You can still do this.

  2. Find the problem

    Passing the CPA Exam may require you to take a few swings at a section before you nail it, so don’t let your first (or second or third) failure discourage you. The test is designed to be quite challenging so that newly licensed CPAs are quite prepared for the position. Reaching that level of preparation takes time, so give yourself some. If you fail a section of the CPA Exam, you now have the chance to become even more worthy of the CPA designation by discovering and strengthening your weak areas in accounting. That is exactly what you need to do in response to a section failure.

    To determine your weaknesses with this section, you should start by checking your score report. How far away from that 75 were you?

    If you scored somewhere between a 70-74, you were close, but not close enough, and that is true of both your exam score and your content knowledge. These scores suggest that you do have a strong grasp of the topics, but some either slipped your mind or left you struggling.

    The fact that your score was so close means that you should try to take this section again as soon as possible. The information is fresh in your memory, and you don’t want the passing of time to push much of that info out and force you to relearn it.

    However, the fact that your score wasn’t a passing score means you should repeat your review of all testable content in that section. You don’t want to make assumptions about your knowledge that could leave you with less than a 75 again. Re-start your studies for the section you failed and cover all the content again so you’re sure to secure a pass the next time around.

    If you scored 65 or lower, you still had major gaps in your understanding of the concepts, so you need to renew your focus and rethink your study strategy. Whether you should retake that section right away depends on where you are in your exam journey.

    If you felt prepared for the section you failed but received a low score, you may have overestimated your strength with a particular topic and/or underestimated the frequency at which that topic would appear on the exam. Either way, you’ve got to face that topic head-on and really commit yourself to have a fighting chance to pass. No matter how much you may dislike that material, it is the obstacle standing in your way, and you must master it on your path to CPA Exam success.

    If you did not feel prepared for the section you failed, you probably did not see all of the content you needed to before you sat. The remedy for this situation is more time. You need to increase the amount of study time you’ve allotted for this section so that you can complete every study unit and take plenty of practice quizzes. A lack of attention to any exam topic results in an unnecessary number of weak areas, so you’ll also need to boost your content exposure in order to reduce your weaknesses. Finally, you may need to better familiarize yourself with the functionality of the exam so you don’t waste precious seconds on exam day figuring out the exam format.

  3. Pinpoint the solution

    After you’ve considered the implications of your score report, you should assess the particulars of your study process so that you can make the necessary corrections. Determine the extent to which you need a study overhaul by asking yourself the following questions:

    1. Did you use an up-to-date study course?Occasionally, candidates attempt to save a few bucks by purchasing outdated, secondhand books or by not buying CPA review at all. Neither of these decisions is prudent in the long run. Outdated books fail to inform you of format or content changes to the exam, while the lack of any exam prep leaves you with minimal insight into the the exam content, question types, layout, etc. In order to be as prepared as possible for the CPA Exam, you need a current and cutting-edge review course that provides you with a variety of convenient and effective study materials.
    2. Did you use the right review course for you?While a real review course is better than nothing, the wrong review course can still leave you scrambling for exam success. The best CPA course for you is one that detects and targets your weak areas, adapts to your study preferences and review needs, features thorough content coverage, provides plenty of support, and gives you all the confidence you’ll need for exam day. If your current course failed to meet any of these requirements, you should switch to a better option before you dive back in to the CPA Exam.
    3. Did you schedule your exam section too soon?Maybe you’re straight out of college and thought the exams from your last accounting class would prepare you well enough. Maybe you’ve been an accountant for years now and were sure that your abundant work experience would fill in for study time just fine. Whatever your situation, if you planned to cram for the exam or wing it, you probably set your exam date sooner than you should have and didn’t give yourself enough time to study. Each exam section covers so much content (and retaking a section takes even more time) that you should review all of it before you sit just to be safe. To do so, you should give yourself at least 6-7 weeks to study for each section. This timeline is doable but aggressive, so if you need a refresh on more than a few accounting topics, you could give yourself as many as 10-12 weeks per section.
    4. Did you follow a study schedule?If you didn’t have time to review the exam material as much as you needed to before you sat, you might not have been following a productive study schedule. Among many other benefits, a CPA Exam study schedule allows you to hold yourself accountable for your study progress with firm calendar dates that revolve around your exam day. Consequently, a study schedule also gives you a manageable means by which to work through all of the content for the section in time for your test. By sticking to a realistic study schedule, you’ll be on the fast track to success, so be sure to create one for each exam section you have left. If your CPA review course comes with an interactive study planner that simplifies your agenda and motivates you to keep moving forward, you should definitely use it.
    5. Did you study well?Due to the fact that the CPA Exam tests on a vast range of subjects within a strict time limit, passing it requires dedication, hard work, and concentration. You must train your mind to endure 4 four-hour sessions of intense testing, so you can’t slack off with distracted study sessions. When you open your books, you must close yourself off to everything else so you can truly absorb what you’re learning. After you complete one section of the exam, you must plow ahead to the next so you can stay in game mode and pass within your 18-month window. If you take a lighthearted approach to this serious examination, you’ll never rise above a score that’s too low.
    6. Did you experience anything unexpected on exam day?An exam day filled with the unexpected always makes putting out a passing performance more difficult. If you labored to locate the testing center, arrived only minutes before your appointment started, discovered your attire was less than ideal for the testing environment, or were overcome with hunger halfway through the exam, these and other scenarios can really shake your spirit on exam day. Before you sit again, recall what went wrong and plan to amend it for next time. Better yet, rely on a free CPA Exam guide to tell you everything you need to know about the CPA Exam. Then, take your preparations to the next level by studying with exam-emulating CPA review. With a review course that mirrors the look and feel of the CPA Exam, you won’t just learn what the exam covers: you’ll learn how the exam covers it. You’ll be able to see what the exam looks like and how it operates so that you can feel completely at home with it. When you can minimize the number of surprises you encounter during the exam, you can maximize your exam score.
  4. Once you conclude which issues contributed to your failing a section of the CPA Exam, take the steps to resolve them as soon as possible. You need to make these adjustments for the sake of both the section you failed and the sections you have yet to take. If you ignore the signs now, that CPA passing score may continue to evade you, and your CPA Exam journey may extend much longer than you anticipated.
  1. Keep moving forward

    You know you’ve got to go at that failed CPA Exam section again, but when should you schedule your retake?

    Once you pass 1 section of the CPA Exam, you have 18 months to pass the other sections. If you fail a section of the exam, you must check the status of your 18-month window and work as hard as necessary to retain credit for any sections you’ve already passed. A failed exam section could cause you to lose credit for a passed section, so strategize your retake carefully to avoid jeopardizing your previous testing triumphs.

    As mentioned, if your score was within five or so points of a 75, you should retake the failed section as soon as you can. Even if you’ve already started studying for another section, you should put that new section on the back burner so you have less to relearn for the section you failed.

    Scoring in the 60s or lower signifies that you’ll need more time to restudy, so when you reschedule depends on whether or not you are already studying for another section. If you’re well into your review for a different exam section, you should carry on with your plans for that new section and apply what you’ve learned about the exam from the section you failed. Once you’ve taken another section, return to the section you failed and completely restart your review so you don’t miss any content. Resolve to strengthen your weaknesses, whether old or new, and give yourself even more time to prepare for your second attempt.

    When rescheduling your failed exam section, keep these rules from NASBA in mind:

      • You cannot repeat any exam section within the same testing window. If you reapply for the same section within the same testing window, your new Notice to Schedule (NTS) will not be effective until the next testing window.
      • You must wait at least 24 hours after you receive your score to reapply for the same section. Your NTS is valid for one testing event or until the expiration date, whichever you exhaust first for each exam section.
      • If your exam has already launched at the test site, you won’t be eligible to reapply and sit in the same testing window. The effective dates for your new NTS will begin in the next testing window.

Add the date of your retake to your study planner and recommit to the study process. Don’t harbor any fear or frustration with the section you failed; just begin anew and refine your preparations until you feel supremely confident.

CPA Review for a CPA Exam Section Fail

Several factors may have led to your CPA Exam section failure, but if the wrong review course was one of them, that’s an easy fix. Finding the right CPA review course is as easy as learning more about Gleim CPA Review. Powered by our innovative SmartAdaptTM technology, Gleim CPA Review finds and focuses on your weak areas, then generates a study path tailored specifically to you so you can study effectively and pass efficiently. Our adaptive course also presents detailed performance analytics that reveal your mistakes and tried-and-true answer explanations that help you learn from them. Discover how Gleim CPA Review prepares you for the CPA Exam better than any other course by accessing our free CPA demo today.