Funny CPA Exam stories—and other memories of the test

Whether they’re laugh-out-loud funny or more serious, these tales are likely to remind all CPAs what it was like when they took the test themselves.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the CPA Exam's use for licensure. To celebrate, earlier this year the Journal of Accountancy published some of our favorite stories about the exam from members. That story prompted even more people to send their stories. While we couldn't publish all of them, here are a few of our new favorites.

Don't be late!

As a soon-to-be graduating senior at the College of William & Mary, I took the CPA Exam in May 1978, along with my classmates, at the Norfolk Scope Arena. It was a two-and-a-half-day, four-part exam back then, if I recall correctly. There were about 500 test-takers, all diligently working away. The first day of the exam, about a half hour in, one of the doors opening down onto the convention center floor suddenly crashed open with a huge noise. Someone, who had obviously overslept, almost fell down the stairs in his rush to get onto the floor to be seated and started. It was a great icebreaker. The test takers on the floor roared with laughter. I, along with my friends, managed to pass the exam.

David B. Tatge, Esq.
Epstein Becker & Green, P.C.
Washington, D.C.

Tough crowd

I took and passed the exam in 1981, and the memories of that day remain fresh in my mind. As someone who holds numerous certifications, I found that by far the CPA Exam was the hardest and most intimidating exam I have ever attempted.

I took the exam in the Fort Worth Convention Center with thousands of prospective CPAs. Roughly one to two hours into the exam, with the center as quiet as a church mouse, I recall someone scooting their chair back, standing up and screaming, "son of a b****," and walking out!

I don't recall any laughing. Tough crowd.

Michael Farris
Retired CPA/PFS (inactive)
Platte City, Mo.

Identity crisis

I took the exam in the Lausche Building—named after a former Ohio governor—at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus.

I stayed with a future brother-in-law who was an Ohio State student. By uncanny chance, the night before testing began, his apartment was robbed. They were surprised to find me on the sofa, and stole my wallet, watch, and shoes. The shoes weren't nice; the thieves took them because they did not want me to run after them, which I would not have done anyway.

I had to borrow shoes to drive to the Lausche Building, and the only ones I could muster were at least two sizes too large. I drove up to the parking lot and could not pay to park. Luckily I had my checkbook, so I asked how much it cost to park for the next three days and wrote one check for the rest of the week.

Of course, taking the exam requires a picture ID. Since my wallet was stolen, I no longer had one. I arrived early enough to plead my case with the accountancy board administrators. At first they did not believe I was so unfortunate and suggested I would not be allowed sit for the exam without the picture ID. I took off one oversized shoe to show them some sort of proof my story was true. This captured the attention of a director, who was watching from afar and remembered that the application for sitting for the exam required a picture be attached. The director went to the file and found my application with picture attached, looked at it, and said, "Looks like you. You can take the test."

The exam started with frustration, but the rest, as they say, is history.

Dennis P. Benvie, CPA

Blood, sweat, and tears

I sat for the exam in 1974 at the Long Beach, Calif., Municipal Arena. There were hundreds of individuals sitting for the exam, all seated at long tables with seating spaced so no one could look over someone's shoulder. As part of the introductory instructions, we were told we could not leave our seat during the last 45 minutes to an hour of the exam, so if we needed to use the restroom we had to do so before that last hour. We were reminded of this requirement more than once with an emphatic reminder close to the beginning of the last hour. Due in part, I suppose, to the large number of persons taking the exam and with seating in every nook and cranny of the arena, there were volunteer monitors keeping a close eye on all exam-takers, and if I remember correctly, I believe monitors were stationed near restrooms and closely watched those who left their seats during the exam.

After a long day, we finally entered the dreaded last hour and were told the time had come when we could not leave our seats for any reason. When I was in college, I broke my nose in a sports activity. For a few years after that injury, I would often develop a significant nosebleed. You guessed it: Just as we entered the last hour, completely out of the blue, my nose began bleeding like someone turned on a faucet. I had a handkerchief in my back pocket and applied pressure attempting to quell the bleeding. I signaled to one of the monitors that I had a real problem. When the monitor came to my seat, the "blood evidence" did not require me to say much other than I needed to get to the restroom quickly. The monitor hesitated and said no one can leave their seat. I protested so vigorously the monitor consulted with another monitor and accompanied me to the restroom. I was finally able to stop the bleeding, clean up, and return to my seat. By now the time to complete the exam had almost expired.

The result was I passed three of four parts at the first sitting. I had failed the last part due to heavy bleeding. I passed the fourth part at the next sitting. I always thought the person grading my exam workpapers probably thought this person put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the exam.

Leo Anderson, CPA
Steinbruner Hill Certified Public Accountants
Carmel, Calif.

Medical emergency

A few weeks prior to graduating from the University of Cincinnati, I sat for the May 1981 Ohio CPA Exam on an unusually warm day. The exam took place on the Ohio State Fairgrounds. It was the first day of testing, and the sun was bright. We sat down, were given the signal to start, and began scribbling furiously. After about an hour we heard a loud scream, a crash, and a tumble. I was afraid to look to see what had happened, and motivated by fear, got back to the task at hand. Then an ambulance came down the street and into the parking lot of the building. An EMS crew came in with a gurney and removed a body. The state of the body was unknown. I thought to myself, "Passing this exam is not worth losing one's life." However, I kept focused. The proctors gave us an extra half hour to compensate for the disruption. We finished and conjectured what had happened. The best theory we could come up with was someone had a seizure. It was rumored the following day that the person who had collapsed was back to continue the exam. When the results came in the mail a few months later I discovered I had passed three out of four parts, including the part interrupted.

Glenn Mears, CPA
President, The Parkway Auto Group
Dover and New Philadelphia, Ohio

Locked out

In 1984, I took the CPA exam in Los Angeles. I had never driven the freeway before, so I was very nervous.

When I got downtown to the test site at the convention center, I was flustered and I ran into the building to sign in. After the exam was over, I walked to my car and realized I had locked my keys inside. Thank goodness for AAA.

The second day, I left a bit earlier in case there were any issues. I got there, incident-free, and sat in the car doing some last-minute studying while listening to the radio. After the exam was over, I realized, lo and behold, I had locked my keys in the car again.

I know the AAA guy was wondering what was wrong with me!

Nancy Ngou, CPA (inactive)
EY Advisory & Consulting Co., Ltd.

Call the cops!

Back in the fall of 1987 when I was taking the last part of the CPA Exam in Trenton, N.J., I was staying overnight in a small motel just south of the Trenton firehouse where the exam was being held. It was a small motel off the main road, not very expensive, and I started to hear noises outside the sliding glass door in the rear of the building. I turned off the lights, slid the curtains, and saw someone a couple of units down trying to get into the rooms.

In my bravest fashion, I grabbed the phone and called the front desk and informed them of the potential intruder. This was just what I needed the day before the exam. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I lay down on the bed in the dark trying to relax, listening in the dark, wishing upon wish that no one would try to get into my room.

After about 15 minutes or so, my bravery came back enough to go back to the sliding glass door to look out again. My lights were still out. As soon as I looked out, someone shouted, "Freeze, hands up!" It was a local policeman responding to the call, thinking that I might be the intruder. As calmly as I could, I stated that I was the person who placed the call about the intruder, and could I please put my hands down, and change my underwear?

Michael Lefkoe, CPA (inactive)
Cherry Hill, N.J.

The good and the ugly

I'll just mention the good and the ugly places I took the exam. I graduated in 1982, and knowing I needed two years of audit experience to be certified, I used that two-year period as my goal. I'm happy to say I passed within the two years and scored a 75 on each exam, which made me a member of the 300 Club. Using two years meant I took the exam in two different locations.

The good place was at Yonkers Raceway, a harness race park in Yonkers, N.Y.  I sat right in front of the betting window for good luck and remember watching the horses practice on the track while taking the exam. It actually helped me concentrate better.

Then there was the ugly place, the Bronx Armory, a huge, dark building. I sat in front of a row of tanks.  It was so noisy I was sure I wouldn't pass the part I was sitting for that day. I'm happy to say I did pass, but glad I only had to sit once at that location.

Scott D. Abrams, CPA, CGMA
New York City

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