Tips for retaking a section of the CPA exam

There are myriad ways to build your knowledge and confidence as you prepare to retest.
By Samiha Khanna

As anyone who has taken a section of the Uniform CPA Examination knows, the material is rigorous and typically requires many hours of study. CPAs of all ages have shared stories about what it was like to finally earn their certification; for some, the path included failing one or more sections of the exam. It's easy for candidates to be discouraged by a failing score. But one misstep in the short term need not derail long-term aspirations of becoming a licensed CPA.

"The CPA exam can really set you apart," said Joe Maslott, CPA, CGMA, AICPA senior technical manager for content development—Examinations. "Maybe you didn't go to the most highly rated accounting school, but if you pass the exam early in your career, it can really level the playing field. The faster you can pass, the better. So it's absolutely worth trying again, and there are many tools and resources to help you be successful the second time around."

The AICPA and its partner organizations have created myriad resources to help candidates become familiar with the exam content and format and to refine their skills. Maslott and Examinations team members shared some of their best studying tips for candidates who must retake a section of the exam to achieve a passing score.

  • Review the exam blueprints. The AICPA published exam blueprints earlier this year that detailed information on exam sections and content. All of the content topics are aligned with skills to be tested and more than 600 tasks that represent the work required of a newly licensed CPA. The document contains much more detail than previous content outlines and will benefit not only test-takers, but also educators. "I can't state enough the quality and precision that went into the blueprints," Maslott said. "It's a great benefit to all who take the exam."
  • Practice sample tests. The AICPA has published sample tests online to help candidates become familiar with the types of questions on the exam, including the multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations that make up the bulk of the assessments. They aren't full-length tests, so they are a convenient length for practicing and learning the format of questions for each section of the exam. A tutorial and sample test published by the AICPA suggests a practice time of 30–60 minutes, making it easy to fit into a study routine.
  • Consider a review course. A number of organizations and companies offer products to help candidates prepare for the exam, from materials candidates use independently, such as books, DVDs, or online courses, to in-person courses with coaching. The AICPA does not publish exam review materials or endorse any specific review method or course. But the website for ThisWayToCPA, an AICPA initiative that helps students prepare for careers in accounting, offers a searchable, sortable information hub for test-takers to share information and review the prep materials and courses they have tried. Among its catalog of student-targeted tools, ThisWayToCPA also offers the CPA Exam Aid, a tool for planning a testing timeline so candidates can visualize their long-term goals coming together.
  • Connect with other candidates studying for the exam. There is power in numbers, and candidates should know they're not alone, especially if they are struggling to master a section of the exam. The AICPA and ThisWayToCPA have made it easy for test-takers to find each other online. The CPA Exam Candidate group on LinkedIn has nearly 10,000 participants, including AICPA members, past and current exam candidates, and review course providers who are eager to help answer test-takers' questions. ThisWayToCPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy also have Facebook pages where candidates can find peers and get expert help.

Prospective CPAs have different goals and aspirations that drive them to take the exam. The path may be more challenging or time-consuming for some, such as candidates who must retake a section of the exam. But those who persevere know that earning a CPA license is perhaps the best indicator for employers that they have the accounting knowledge and critical thinking skills to excel at their work.

Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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