How to make sure you don’t fail a CPA Exam section twice.

Failing an exam sucks, especially the CPA Exam. When you fail an attempt, you’re losing significant time, effort and money. The cost of each section, not including the application fee ranges from $173 to $193. The firms don’t reimburse for failed attempts, so it’s your financial loss on top of everything else.

Once you’ve fallen short of the required 75 score, and have to retake a section, you can go down one of two routes:

  1. Study again like it’s your first time.
  2. Pick and choose which areas to focus on, i.e., weak areas.

It’s hard to say which strategy is best. If executed right, either approach would suffice.


Regardless of what option you choose, here are the things I did to make sure I didn’t fail anymore on my last attempt:

Get the nuance down.

If you’re a frequent reader of my posts, then you know “nuance” is one of my favorite words. No, I don’t receive a check every time I use the word, it just happens to be a symbolic concept for the exam.

Here are some examples for you:

  • We know revenue isn’t recognized till it’s earned right? Okay. What if Company X receives $10,000 non-refundable payment on Jan 1st for service that doesn’t start until Jan 30th? Do you recognize revenue on Jan 1st? I mean, it’s “non-refundable” right? Meaning you’re never giving it back, it’s yours to keep. The answer is absolutely not! You recognize that non-refundable payment as it is earned, over the life of the service. The fact that it is non-refundable doesn’t change the rule – nuance.
  • We know if you send goods out on consignment, it’s not a sale. What if you make an actual sale on Jan 1st, but the buyer can return the goods at any time before Dec 31st if they don’t like it? Do you recognize revenue Jan 1st?  If you say, “Yes, you recognize revenue.” You’d be somewhat wrong. You’ll only recognize the sale if the amount of future returns can be reasonably estimated. If not, you defer the revenue recognition until the return privilege has expired – nuance.
  • You might also know about Income Statement Presentation, but if you forget the tiny little fact that Discontinued Operations are recorded net of tax, then that little nuance can cost you too.

So, pay attention!


Don’t factor in luck.

I’m that guy that does just about enough to get through and no more. For example, I didn’t study the recommended 150 hours for FAR. I maxed out at roughly 110 hours. This was because, as is the case with most things in life, I factor in every variable. This worked for BEC REG & FAR but backfired on AUD. It took me three attempts to pass AUD, and on that 3rd attempt, I threw out luck. It probably found a way to creep back in, to my benefit, but I went into the Prometric Center locked and loaded with as much ammo as I could gather, and I triumphed.

Those topics that you didn’t see on the test the first time, be sure to master those.

It makes sense that the AICPA would have like a dozen tests, with different combinations of questions in the system. So if you didn’t see an Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) problem during your failed REG attempt, doesn’t it make sense that there’s a more-likely-than-not chance that it’ll appear on your next attempt?

Therefore, make sure you master topics that didn’t appear during your first failed attempt.

That one topic that you couldn’t grasp and hoped it wouldn’t appear on the exam, master that one too!

During AUD, I hoped Audit Sampling wouldn’t appear. In FAR, it was Pensions that frustrated me the most. REG and BEC didn’t exactly have anything I wasn’t willing to grasp.

Whatever your topic is, you’ve gotta master it the second time around. You can’t be cutting corners this time.

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