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I Failed a CPA Exam. What Should I Do Next?

By September 14, 2019March 13th, 2022CPA Exam News

If you’re reading this, you failed a CPA Exam. Right now, you probably feel as though all of your hard work was for nothing. Maybe this isn’t your first failure. Maybe you are just sitting there staring at your review material wondering how you can start AGAIN.

It’s not a good feeling, we know. BUT, we’re going to remind you of a couple of things.

  • You are not alone. Only 28% of all candidates pass all four exams on their first attempt. It’s very common for candidates to fail multiple times.
  • You will be better prepared next time. You know what to expect from the exam-taking process and what topics gave you the most trouble, which means you can pinpoint those problem areas in your studies.
  • This was a very expensive practice test. The best available, in fact! When you’re a CPA, no-one will ask how many times you failed an Exam.


As an old running coach used to say, “Focus on what you can control.” You cannot control the score you got last time. You can control your study habits, your time management, and your life choices going forward. Take it one step at a time.

Decide Which Exam Section Is Next.

If you started studying for another section while waiting for your score, keep studying for that next section. If you took a break while waiting for your score, then ask yourself if it would be more productive to circle back and retake the section you just failed, or to step away from that material and focus on the next Exam section.

Set A New Timeline.

You don’t need to plan out the exact day and time you will be taking each of your next Exam sections, but it is a good idea to make a general outline.

For your upcoming Exam, consider how.

  • How many hours will you need to study
  • How much time you can and will commit to studying each week
  • How many weeks it will take to cover the material at the number of hours you just set for yourself
  • How long you should wait before reasonably rescheduling your Exam section.

As you have probably discovered, taking the CPA exams requires a delicate balance between pushing yourself and pacing yourself. If you are a perfectionist, you may have to force yourself to sit for each Exam section before you’ve memorized the entire textbook, or else spend years studying (and no one wants to study for the CPA Exam forever). On the other hand, if you rushed studying last time with too short a timeline, back down a bit, pace yourself, and allow adequate time before testing again.

There’s no bluffing the CPA Exam. You either know the material, or you don’t.

Remember To Study Effectively.

There are so many books and blogs and tips out there about how to maximize your study time, but good habits only work if you actually develop the habits and then maintain AND utilize them.

Are you doing too many of the “wrong” things?

  • Multi-tasking
  • Allowing distractions during study time
  • Not having an allotted study time
  • Studying when you are tired and hungry
  • Being disorganized in your studying
  • Procrastinating (followed by cramming at the last minute)

Are you willing to change those bad habits if it means you will pass the CPA Exam?

Effective studying means studying each topic until you can say with confidence that you understand the concept and could explain it to someone else. You cannot bluff the CPA Exam: if you’ve just memorized a bunch of information about a topic but don’t know the underlying concept, you are only hurting yourself.

As we said above, you need to understand the underlying concepts to be successful (don’t just memorize the MCQs). Here are a few tips:

  • It is worth your time to invest in analyzing what does and doesn’t work for you BEFORE you start studying so that you can focus your time intentionally and utilize your strengths. You know yourself best.
  • Take notes, make lists, and memorize critical formulas and facts to help increase retention
  • Study the material and then test yourself over and over again with practice exams, flashcards, and multiple-choice questions
  • Time yourself. Give yourself less time than you’ll have on Exam day so that when Exam day arrives, the time restriction feels less confining.
  • Consider a CRAM course if you were just a few points away from passing. You may only need the shorter, high-intensity review a CRAM course provides to prepare you for retaking that Exam section.
  • Ask questions! We have people at the ready to answer any question you may have regarding the Exam itself or specific topics on the Exam, and we want to see you succeed! If you aren’t a member of #TeamYaeger, then reach out to your review course provider and utilize their message boards.
  • Reminder: your mental health, food choices, exercise habits, sleep quality, stress management, and even social interactions matter, too. Take care of yourself. Yes, you will have to make sacrifices during this time in your life (let’s face it; life is a game of compromise and sacrifice based on priorities). DO NOT compromise your well-being; being balanced and healthy carries over into how well you retain information and how well you will perform on Exam day and life in general.


Walk into that testing center calm, cool, and collected. You may start to get confused or flustered, but take a breath, calm down, and remember to focus on what you can control – which at that moment is the test question right in front of you. You WILL pass, then you’ll find yourself encouraging someone else when they tell you they’ve failed an Exam section.

Remember to give yourself a little grace. Life happens, and plans change. Maybe you wanted to pass before you started your job or before busy season; maybe you lost one of the sections you had already passed due to not passing the rest of the sections in time; maybe your personal life is throwing you for a loop. It doesn’t matter how minutely you plan; you have to be flexible. Life will force you to modify some of your plans, and just when you think you have it figured out, things will change again. Don’t let those changes discourage you- push through. You have a choice: adapt and overcome, or give up.

P.S. It never hurts to talk to someone who has been through this process before. Getting some advice and perspective can go a long way, and chances are you know someone, especially from work or school, who has been through this process before you.

Are you struggling to get to 75? Want to talk to someone about your diagnostic report? Schedule a FREE 15-minute Score Report Review and Strategy Session with Phil, and let Yaeger help you get from CPA candidate to CPA.