Failing the CPA Exam can be devastating. And while the exam is notoriously difficult with a pass rate often below 50%, there’s really only one way to look at why you failed: you didn’t properly prepare for the exam. That’s a hard truth to accept in the face of failure, especially if it just recently happened, but it’s absolutely necessary that you own the truth of why you failed. This way you won’t make the same mistake the next time. Let’s break it down further to better understand what happened and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

How Did You Fail?

Acceptance is difficult, especially if you feel like you came close. Plenty of people who come up short with a score of 74 think they were close. Again, the hard truth is that they weren’t. Remember, this isn’t a percentage-based score; it’s a sliding scale, and a score of 74 means that there was a sizeable hole in knowledge or the ability to successfully demonstrate the appropriate skillset.

”Acceptance is difficult, especially if you feel like you came close with a score of 74 on the CPA Exam”

So if you feel like you were “close”, realize you weren’t and move on to determine where you fell short. Look back on your time spent studying and examine that process. Here are few things that people often do that can be part of why they failed.

Cramming Instead of Studying

You’re busy. You work super full-time. You nurture your relationship with your significant other by spending lots of quality time with them. You make sure you have enough time so your kids don’t forget your name. You walk your dog twice a day and play with it each night. You make an effort to read a book a week. You grocery shop and cook your meals at home instead of eating out. You work out every day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You watch a couple of TV shows throughout the week. You see a movie every couple of weeks. You play golf or tennis with your friends. You knit sweater socks for your family for the holidays. You do a ton of stuff. Your life is full and it is hard to find the time to properly study. So you have intense cram sessions once or twice a week.

Failed CPA Exam - 5 Steps to Rebound and Pass

Cramming isn’t studying. You need to do more than just try to stuff as many facts as you can into your brain. And, you can’t try to do all this in long but few and far between sessions. You have to study each day—okay, maybe you can take a day off per week. And unfortunately, you’re probably going to have to make some sacrifices. It sucks, but just remember that it’s temporary.

Nothing can replace properly allotted daily study time. So don’t try to do it. Plan out the entire study period for each section of the CPA Exam. Figure out what your schedule is going to be for the entire duration of your study period. Be sure to place extra emphasis and devote more study time to all of your failed sections. Doing this early on will make it so much easier to form a routine and stick to it. Routine becomes easier the more you stick to it. If you need help planning your strategy, check out our post on creating a CPA study plan.

Non-Specific Plan

Plenty of people who fail the CPA Exam are fully aware of just how much time is needed to set aside for studying. Many are excellent at setting up a good schedule and commit to it and form that necessary routine. So why did they fail? For some, they didn’t utilize the time properly. You can study poorly for four hours a day and not accomplish much. Make sure your study time is quality study time.

”Defy the myth that accountants don’t have imaginations!”

Don’t be like that dad who “spends” time with their kid by reading the book reports while their kids are eating cat poop out of the kitty litter. Break down what you need to cover in your study plan and make sure you stick to it and be thorough. Don’t skim or skip the boring parts. Bond amortization is never fun to study, except to a few weirdos out there and we all know who they are. But as boring as some of this stuff is, you have to learn it, so find a way to make it interesting. Defy the myth that accountants don’t have imaginations!

You Didn’t Use a Review Course

It’s never surprising to learn someone failed the CPA Exam and didn’t have a proper review course. You need to have one, so pony up and get one that’ll help you pass. Determine your learning style, and find the one that best suits your needs and how you learn. There’s really no way to do it without one. And if someone has, they didn’t fail the first time around and thus wouldn’t be reading this.

I Failed the CPA Exam [Now What?]

Utilize some supplemental materials. We have some amazingly valuable supplemental materials to help you pass the CPA Exam. It’s worth spending a little bit extra now, especially if it helps you avoid having to keep paying to retake sections of the exam. This is especially true if you fail to the point where a section you’ve already passed expires. Then you’ll have to retake that as well, and besides paying for it again, it’s a terrible feeling.

Test Day Anxiety

For a few unfortunate souls who studied properly and did everything they needed to do to be fully prepared for the CPA Exam, they froze up on the day of the exam and bombed. If this is you, don’t feel too bad because you already know what you need to do to properly prepare. You just need to get rid of that test day anxiety.

The best way to do this is by setting up as similar as you can “exam sessions” for your practice exams. Almost all review courses come with practice exams, and if you bought one that doesn’t then you definitely need to buy one that does. Doing the practice exams and trying to simulate test day conditions will help ease your nerves on the actual exam day.

Practice Exams

Bundled with review course or bought separately


Go to the library & imagine taking the actual exam


You’ve done the preparation, you can do it

Start by taking your exam day questions in a place that isn’t where you do your normal studying. Go to the library and sit around people who are also quietly doing whatever it is they might be doing quietly in the library. If you typically study in the library, go to a different one. Wake up that day and tell yourself you’re going to take the CPA Exam. Convince yourself of it.

When the actual day comes, wake up and do everything you did for your mock exam days. The routine of it will help calm the nerves. And remember, you’ve studied, you know the material, and you’ve destroyed the hell out of those practice exams! You can do it.

What If I’ve Failed The CPA Multiple Times?

If you keep trying and keep failing, don’t give up. Own your failures and keep finding your weaknesses and crushing them. Remember that you aren’t alone. Plenty of people have been in the exact same spot as you. And just because you haven’t passed yet, that doesn’t make you a failure. And when you do pass, you look back on this time of struggle and realize it has helped to shape you into a more formidable and capable person.

Not sure how to get there?

Surgent Accounting & Financial Education has announced the launch of CPArescue and CMArescue. These are custom-tailored exam preparation coaching programs designed to support students who have struggled to pass their accounting certification exams.

These programs offer a three-step coaching success formula, including an initial assessment, a tailored study plan, and ongoing support from Surgent’s coach to help students pass the exam.

The CPArescue program includes six one-on-one coaching sessions with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam Study Strategist, as well as access to Surgent’s adaptive learning software, practice exams, e-books, and lecture study notes, among other resources.

The CMArescue program includes four coaching sessions with a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Exam Study Strategist, as well as access to Surgent’s adaptive learning software, practice exams, and study materials. These programs are part of Surgent’s commitment to delivering a superior educational experience that takes real-time learner feedback into consideration.

Trust us, we’ve heard of people taking the FAR section for the fourth time. Failure is a part of the CPA exam journey. Just remember, it’s all worth it in the end!

Bryce Welker is a regular public speaker and contributor to several online publications, including Forbes,, and Bryce is the mastermind behind over twenty different websites devoted to providing people like you with the resources necessary to successfully pass certification examinations.