What If I Can’t Pass The CPA Exam?

Not passing the CPA exam. It haunts our dreams, invades our thoughts, beats us down mentally and physically. All I’m saying is, if you want a truly horrifying Halloween costume this year, dress up as a score report reading “74”.

Can't Pass CPA Exam

Okay, it’s not really that bad, but none of us can help but wonder: what if I can’t pass the CPA exam?

If you’re in this boat, you likely fall into one of three categories: you haven’t taken the exam yet, you’ve failed one round of exams, or you’ve been doing it for years and still haven’t passed. Luckily, we’ve got advice for whatever boat you’re in.

You Haven’t Taken It Yet

If you’re already feeling upset about not passing the exam and you haven’t even taken it, my best advice is to just stop. I spent so much time wondering if I couldn’t pass when I was studying, time that was a sunk cost (HAHAHAHA ACCOUNTING JOKES). Anytime that feeling creeps up into your head, you need to swish it away with more positive thoughts.

Remember, as with most things in life, you are the captain of the ship. You choose which direction it goes and how it gets to a destination. If passing the exam is on your radar, do everything you can to put yourself in a good position to get that 75. And that includes staying positive.

You’re Feeling Down After One Round

Failing an exam is not fun. Maybe you’ve just failed one or you’ve failed a few. Either way, it isn’t a great time. What it is a great time for is negative thoughts. They’ll gladly drown out the rational side of your mind. But, as I mentioned above, you can whip them into shape with positive thoughts and forward minded actions.

The first thing I always say is to take some time to analyze why you didn’t pass. Typically, that falls into three categories: you didn’t put in enough time, you didn’t put in enough effort, or you didn’t really understand the materials. Don’t take these as negatives; it’s very easy to not do any one of these when you’re first starting out.

Once you decide which category (or categories) you were lacking in, do what you can to remedy that category. Add more study time to your schedule and make sure you really understand the material before you try again.

You’re Over It

Sometimes you just get to a point where you can’t do it anymore. I’ve seen several people with up to ten scores behind their name on forums before they finally get a 75 and I’m always absolutely stunned by their persistence. If you’re one of those people who can keep going, by all means, push yourself to a pass. I imagine it’s just over the horizon.

If, however, you just can’t stand to study financial accounting anymore, there are definitely options for you. Think about what being a CPA means for your career. And then think about potentially different career paths.

If you’re dead set on working in public accounting or owning your own private CPA firm, then yes, you’re going to need to pass the exam.

If you’re not, think about what else interests you. What about financial analysis, portfolio management, personal financial planning? What about cost accounting or internal audit? These career paths don’t require you to become a CPA. They may require higher education (such as an MBA) or a different certification (such as CIA or CMA), but maybe that’s material you would be more interested in.

You should never box yourself in; if the CPA just isn’t happening for you, broaden your horizons and see what else is out there. You may find a completely different career that leaves you more satisfied than you could have imagined being a CPA. The world is your oyster!

And seriously, let me know if you dress up as a 74 score report.

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3 Responses to What If I Can’t Pass The CPA Exam?

  1. Megan October 26, 2016 at 7:25 am #

    Thanks for making the CPA exam seem a little less frightening! I’m about to go take AUD for the 3rd time after getting 69 first and 73 the second time 🙁

    I’m going to push myself until I get that passing score, hopefully it happens within the next 18 months – cuz I really don’t want to have to take a test over that I’ve already passed! Anyone else a little nervous about the upcoming changes to the exam?

    Great Halloween costume idea! Think I’m going to do it!

    • Megan
      Megan November 12, 2016 at 8:18 am #


      I definitely think you can pass, it’s just a matter of putting the time in! AUD is definitely a difficult exam; I was lucky enough to be an auditor while I was studying, so everything seemed to make more sense. But I think with some more work studying, you’ll pass with flying colors. Good luck!

      • Megan November 23, 2016 at 6:34 am #

        Thanks for the encouragement! I persevered and passed with an 82! It is true, for me at least, that one day the information just clicks, which gave me the confidence to pass this time 🙂

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