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What if I Fail the CPA Exam?

Failing the CPA Exam is disheartening, but it isn’t the end of your journey. If you’ve failed your exam or want to ensure it doesn’t happen to you, keep reading to see what you can do to guarantee a passing score.

What if I Fail the CPA Exam?

Failing the CPA Exam is disheartening, but it isn’t the end of your journey. If you’ve failed your exam or want to ensure it doesn’t happen to you, keep reading to see what you can do to guarantee a CPA passing score.

Take a deep breath

Before you can get back up and start working toward passing a failed section, you need to give yourself a moment to breathe. You’ve invested time and money in the CPA Exam, so it’s natural to feel down after failing a section.

Take a few days off to process everything, and try not to spend time dwelling on the exam.

You Can Still Pass

Just know that you’re not alone—the CPA Exam is hard. The CPA Exam has a pass rate of around 50%. So, though millions of candidates have passed the CPA Exam, many first faced failure along the way.

Remember, not passing the CPA Exam doesn’t mean you can’t do this. The CPA Exam is a test of endurance, not intelligence. Failure doesn’t define you—perseverance does.

Find the problem!

If you’ve already failed a CPA Exam section, you could be in a better position than first-time test takers; you know what the exam interface is like, how tough the real questions are, and you have a better understanding of what topics you’ve truly mastered.

After you’ve set aside a bit of time to recover from the shock of a failed section, take a good look at your CPA score report and evaluate your weak areas.

Remember, the CPA Exam is weighted but not curved; each type of question (MCQs, testlets, etc.) is only a portion of your final score and you aren’t graded against other candidates.

How to interpret a failed score

When you receive a failing score on the CPA Exam, you’ll be provided with a CPA score report. This report will show your strengths and weaknesses by question type and content area. Pay special attention to your performance by item type (Multiple Choice, Simulation, and Written Communication). Knowing that a certain question type is tripping you up can help when you’re building your new study plan.

The CPA score report is fairly general so, although it’s a useful guide, you shouldn’t base your new study plan solely on this report.

Evaluate your preparation

Pass or fail, take some time to look over your study plan and try to spot weaknesses. Our 47+ years of CPA Exam prep experience has taught us a lot about the value of a personalized study plan. Even if your plan seems objectively good enough to pass, you should make changes if it doesn’t fit your learning style.

The best study plans cover every bit of material

It isn’t enough to just know a topic; you need to practice answering questions on that topic. Preparing for the CPA Exam is different from learning a topic because practical knowledge doesn’t translate well to a standardized test. Additionally, many questions are designed to be misleading.

Did you try to guess what would be on the exam?

If you try to guess what topics the CPA Exam will test, your score will suffer if you guessed wrong. One way to ensure you pass is to prepare for all of the topics the CPA Exam blueprints cover.

Did you put enough time in?

Studying for the CPA Exam takes a lot of time. Nobody can tell you how to pass the CPA in 20 days. But if you are willing to put in the work and just want that extra guarantee that you will succeed, Finish Line saves you time by guiding you to exactly what you need to know and telling you when you’ve mastered tough CPA Exam concepts.

Were you facing unexpected stress?

Sometimes life delivers unexpected news at the worst possible time. If you found yourself distracted during your studies because of outside stress, that could have resulted in a lower score on the CPA Exam.

Be sure to reconcile your actual score with the amount of unexpected stress you were under. For instance, if you failed the CPA Exam miserably after recently receiving significantly stressful news, that could be the cause.

However, if you failed by more than a few points or were just under everyday stress, you might need to look at other factors. Check out our CPA Exam study tips if you are looking for a way to eliminate everyday distractions.

Identify the solution

Once you know what the problems were with your previous attempt, it’s time to come up with solutions. You could forge your own path, or you can use a CPA refresher course to guide your studies, grab those final points, and guarantee you pass with confidence. However, when it comes to recovering from a setback, most CPA candidates have the same questions.

How much time should I spend studying for a failed section?

This is a complex question, and it depends on how many points away from passing you were and what your CPA score report looks like. If you barely failed a section (70-74), you can probably spend a couple of weeks taking practice exams and focusing on weak areas. If, on the other hand, you failed by more than 5 points, you’re likely looking at closer to a month with a CPA refresher course or even longer if studying on your own because you will want to work through most of the exam content again.

Don’t let a few points keep you from achieving a passing score. Our CPA supplemental course, Finish Line, will help you get back on track, even if you have failed the CPA Exam multiple times. Finish Line diagnoses your weak areas, helps you pick up extra points, and tells you exactly when you are ready to pass.

NOTE: If you didn’t complete your review course previously, this is the time to finish and start your final review/practice exams. If you were strong in the areas you did complete, start where you left off and circle back to the other areas during your CPA final review.

Need more than a CPA refresher course? Our Premium CPA Review offers a 91% pass rate and our Access Until You Pass® guarantee.

Which topics should I review?

All of them.

That is, unless you are using a personalized CPA refresher course to identify areas that need improvement. If you are like most candidates, even if you only struggled with one content area, you should review all of the content areas. This will prevent you from forgetting topics you’ve already mastered.

Additionally, just because your Performance Report indicated a strong performance in a content area doesn’t mean you received a perfect score in that content area. In the end, every point you claim can be the difference between a passed and failed section.

Should I change review courses if I failed a section?

Not necessarily.

If you used a review course to prepare for a section of the CPA Exam and you failed that section, you might want to consider trying a CPA refresher course before you switch!

If you feel that you need more than a CPA final review, evaluate a few things about your current exam prep:

Does the CPA review course match your learning style?

Are you struggling to fit a square peg in a round hole? Everyone has their own personal learning style, so be sure you’re not making your exam prep harder than it needs to be. For instance, if you’re a visual or auditory learner, you should pick the review provider with the most video lectures.

Did you complete the review course?

If you just finished studying with a full review course, or are only a few points from passing, a CPA refresher course may be all you need to guarantee a passing score.

However, if you did all you could to prepare and are still unsatisfied with your current course, take advantage of our switch and save program to maximize your savings, build your confidence, and join the 91% of candidates that have passed with Gleim.

Have you memorized most of your provider’s questions?

If you’ve memorized your review provider’s questions, it is time to change something. You can’t prepare for the CPA Exam by memorizing questions; you have to learn the topics, and you can’t learn topics if you’re answering questions from memory. Not only does Gleim have the largest bank of exam-quality CPA questions (we have 10,000+ unique CPA Exam questions), our final review is designed to test you on questions you have never seen before. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the real CPA Exam.

Should I take a different section of the CPA Exam?

Generally, no.

If you’ve already scheduled another section of the CPA Exam, consider rescheduling it to make time for your retake instead. Usually, retaking is ideal because it can help you focus on one set of topics at a time and maintain the mastery you’ve earned.

Because of Continuous Testing, candidates are able to retake a failed section quickly. You should be able to buckle down, retake your section, and get back to your original plan.

While everyone’s circumstances are different, it’s usually best to finish a section while the content is still fresh in your head. But if you are feeling frustrated with a section because you weren’t close to a passing score, it may be better to rebuild your confidence with a CPA refresher course that identifies weak areas and tells you when you are ready to pass.

Make a new study plan

You’ve evaluated your old study plan’s problems, considered your options, and now it’s time to prepare a new plan.

Create a new study schedule based on the problems you identified

Start with your weakest areas or question types (simulation or multiple choice) and give yourself time to digest the tougher topics, but consider including a review all of the topics, not just those you did poorly on.

A CPA refresher course, like Finish Line, can be completed in less than 4 weeks and can help you identify the topics you’ve mastered and where you still need work. Plus, Finish Line’s CPA final review is as close as you can get to taking the real CPA Exam, so you will know when you’re ready to pass.

Keep moving forward

Failing a CPA Exam section can be disheartening, but if you apply what you’ve learned from the experience moving forward, you’ll have a greater chance of success!

Schedule your CPA Exam section retake once you have completed at least 80% of your revised study plan

Scheduling your exam at least a month out means you have ample time to finish a CPA refresher course. Remember, nobody can prepare for the CPA Exam in 30 days, but you can be more prepared than anyone else.

Having a deadline is useful for motivating yourself, so set a date to schedule your exam. That way, you’ll have a target date you can adjust if needed. It can be tempting to schedule the next section of your CPA Exam right away, but you don’t want to be under-prepared. As soon as you create your new study plan, get started right away. Getting back into studying will help you put the failed section behind you.