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I Failed the CPA Exam and Survived

Posted by Dr. Phil Yaeger on Aug 17, 2017 11:55:06 AM

Today we are interviewing a successful CPA about her experience failing the CPA exam. Her story is fairly personal, so she wishes to remain anonymous (we'll refer to her as Patricia).

Earning a CPA license is not easy, but not everyone is willing to be candid about their experience. This often makes you feel very alone if (when) you experience failure on the exam. Patricia talked to us about every step of the process:


Patricia took the CPA exam in 2011. She registered and took the exam immediately after completing 150 credit hours in graduate school. That summer, she also experienced a longer score hold. She participated in a live CPA review course, in addition to watching video lectures when she was unable to attend a live, in-person review session. She took, and ultimately passed, the CPA exam over a 6-month period (from May to November of that year). She failed AUD twice, passing the third time, and REG once.

We'll let Patricia take it from here:

Q: What were your initial thoughts and feelings when you decided to start pursuing your CPA License and learned how difficult it is to pass the exam?

A: I had very unrealistic expectations about the CPA exam. I honestly didn't anticipate it would be so hard. I was an excellent student and had scored well on all of the standardized exams I had taken in the past. I studied for the GMAT for about a month and was happy with my score. I thought that my accounting education would have prepared me 100% for what I was about to experience. I realized, quickly, that I was not ready and that this exam is like nothing I had ever experienced. The sheer breadth of knowledge. I couldn't boil it down to a few key topics. Everything was a key topic -- and I had to know them all to pass. It was very overwhelming.

Q: How did you feel right before taking your first section of the exam?

To be honest, I almost didn't show up. I wasn't at all ready and, I ended up in the ER the night before due to an unrelated medical issue which was compounded by stress. The morning of my exam, I realized it after it was too late to reschedule (even with a doctor's note). I figured that if I at least went and did what I could do, I wouldn't completely waste my payment and I would have some experience with the exam process for the next section. Honestly, I felt defeated before I even went to take the exam and that day was a blur. But, I attempted AUD in late May. I found out in June that I failed.

Q: What were your results and how did it make you feel when it came to taking the next section or re-taking if you didn't pass?

I scored below a 60 on that first section. It was humbling, to say the very least. I felt even more nervous to go into my next exam, REG, that I had already scheduled for July 2. I decided to put off "re-studying" for AUD and focus on REG. I had planned to take REG, FAR, and BEC during Q3. And, now I decided to throw AUD in the mix again at the end of Q3. In hindsight, attempting all four parts in one window is a recipe for failure. But, I had signed my offer letter from a firm and planned to start work in September. I wanted to be finished before I started. So, what choice did I have... I had to make it work.

Q: We know you're a CPA now, so you passed all four sections, but what did the journey look like in terms of how many times you tried, your scores, and the length of time it took?

Yes, I ended up passing, but it was a challenging experience which got more difficult after failing a couple of times. Here's what it looked like:

  • AUD -- 57 (May), 74 (August), 90 (October)
  • FAR -- 89 (July)
  • REG -- 71 (July), 85 (November)
  • BEC -- 83 (August)

Q: What was the lowest moment?

I remember being at training with all of the other new hires at my firm on the day of the score release. We were all anxiously checking our scores. That's the day I scored a 74. It's the worst possible score. You start to second guess everything. If you could have just changed one answer, maybe you would have passed and not have to endure the whole exam process over again. I remember feeling defeated. If I had not passed when studying was my "job" -- how on earth am I going to pass now that I am working 50 hours a week?!

Q: What was the best moment along the way?

I remember the exact moment I passed the last part. It was AUD and I was feverishly refreshing my browser on my phone. I must have hit refresh over 1,000 times. I was sitting outside a coffee shop. I was shocked. Not only had I finally passed, but I passed with a 90! What a relief!

Q: Did you see any students give up entirely on passing the exam? If so, why do you think they did?

I have met so many people who have tried to pass the exam, and when their first sections passed start to drop off, they gave up. I think the idea of trying to pass a section you ALREADY passed once is miserable. It's hard to get that out of your head. Then, I think the failure starts to weigh on you and the anxiety about the importance of exam day can be debilitating when you actually sit for the exam. It's so much easier to give up and move on.

Q: What advice would you give to students just starting and to those who have already passed a couple of sections?

First, take your time. It's easier to pass if you don't try to squeeze everything in over one or two testing windows and you will not have the failure to bounce back from that results from overextending yourself.

Thanks for your time! Any last remarks?!

Don't give up or let your life challenges get in the way. I had surgery two weeks before my FAR exam. Studying accounting was not the best way to recover from surgery... but I did and passed. Just remember, if at first you don't succeed, try again. It's worth it to push through -- I promise.


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Tags: AICPA, CPA Exam Scores

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