What to Do if I Fail a CPA Exam Section?

Bouncing Back: Strategies to Overcome a CPA Exam Failure Setback

failed-cpa-exam-sectionFailing the CPA exam can be a demoralizing experience. However, it’s important to remember that this is not an uncommon scenario, and many successful CPAs have faced this hurdle.

There is no easy way around it. The CPA exam is challenging and many candidates end up failing at least one section.

This article aims to provide guidance, strategies, and a dose of encouragement for those who find themselves in this situation.

12 Steps on How to Handle A Failed CPA Exam Attempt

1. Absorb the Initial Impact

First and foremost, give yourself some time to process the disappointment. It’s okay to feel upset or frustrated, but don’t let these emotions linger for too long. Remember, failing an exam does not define you as a person or predict your future success in the accounting profession. Allow yourself a short period to grieve, and then shift your focus towards planning your next steps.

2. Analyze Your Exam Results

The CPA exam score report provides a wealth of information that can help you understand where you went wrong. Analyze your performance in each section of the exam to identify areas where you struggled. Look for patterns or specific topics that may have tripped you up. This analysis will be crucial in formulating a tailored study plan for your next attempt.

3. Revise Your Study Plan

Your previous study plan did not yield the desired results, so it’s time to make some adjustments. Consider changing your study materials if they did not resonate with your learning style. Incorporate more practice questions and simulations, as these are integral to mastering the exam content. Allocate more time to areas where you performed poorly, but make sure not to neglect other sections.

4. Focus on Your Weaknesses

Identifying and addressing your weaknesses is paramount. Use the insights gained from analyzing your exam results to hone in on the topics that need the most attention. Practice, practice, and practice some more until you feel confident in these areas.

5. Seek Support

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Connect with fellow CPA candidates, join study groups, or seek a mentor who has successfully navigated the CPA exam journey. Sometimes, just talking about your experience and hearing words of encouragement can make a world of difference.

6. Maintain a Positive Mindset

Your mindset plays a crucial role in your ability to bounce back from failure. Cultivate a positive and resilient mindset by focusing on your progress and celebrating small victories along the way. Remember that failure is not the opposite of success; it’s a part of it.

7. Take Care of Your Well-being

Preparing for the CPA exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Ensure that you are taking care of your physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, and make time for regular exercise. Additionally, incorporate stress-reducing activities such as meditation or deep-breathing exercises into your routine.

8. Set Realistic Goals

Set achievable goals for your next attempt. Break down your study material into manageable chunks and create a realistic study schedule. Make sure to allocate ample time for review and practice exams.

9. Simulate Exam Conditions

Practice exams are a valuable tool in your CPA exam preparation arsenal. Simulate exam conditions as closely as possible to familiarize yourself with the test-taking experience. This will help reduce anxiety on exam day and improve your time management skills.

10. Don’t Rush Your Next Attempt

Resist the urge to rush into retaking the exam. Ensure that you are fully prepared and confident in your ability to pass before scheduling your next attempt. It’s better to take the time you need to properly prepare than to risk another failure.

11. Reflect on Your Journey

Take some time to reflect on your CPA exam journey. Consider what this process has taught you about yourself, your resilience, and your determination. Use these insights to fuel your motivation and drive towards passing the exam.

12. Move Forward with Determination

Once you have taken the necessary steps to address your weaknesses and adjust your study plan, move forward with determination. Believe in yourself, stay committed to your goals, and remember that success is within reach.


Failing the CPA exam is a setback, but it’s not the end of the road. By analyzing your performance, adjusting your study plan, seeking support, and maintaining a positive mindset, you can overcome this hurdle and come out stronger on the other side.

Remember, resilience is a key trait of successful CPAs, and this experience is an opportunity to build that resilience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should I wait before retaking the CPA exam?

Give yourself enough time to adequately address your weaknesses and adjust your study plan. The ideal waiting period varies for each individual, but make sure you feel confident and fully prepared before scheduling your next attempt.

Should I consider different study materials for my next attempt?

If your previous study materials did not align with your learning style or you feel they were inadequate, it might be beneficial to explore other options and find resources that better suit your needs.

How can I manage exam anxiety after failing once?

Practice mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques, simulate exam conditions during your practice sessions, and maintain a positive mindset to build confidence and reduce anxiety.

Is there a limit to how many times I can retake the CPA exam?

There is no limit to how many times you can retake a section of the CPA exam, but you must pass all four sections within an 18-month window to earn your CPA license. Make sure to plan your retakes accordingly to stay within this timeframe.