How to Follow Up after Your CPA Exam Tests

By Kenneth W. Boyd

When you pass the CPA exam, celebrate! It’s a huge accomplishment. Add that credential to your resume and any other type of social media that might be appropriate. If you’re working, let your employer know. If you’re interviewing, include your new designation in any cover letters, in job applications, and in your interview discussions.

Unfortunately, not every candidate passes each test on the first try. The CPA exam is a difficult exam. If you take a test and don’t pass it, don’t despair. Consider these steps to get back on your horse and pass the test on your next try.

First, take a break. When you hear about a test that you didn’t pass, consider taking some time off before you start studying again. A break from study will allow you to look at your test results objectively, with a clear head. If you can review your test score details without getting too emotionally involved in the poor outcome, you’ll be able to create a better study plan.

Consider your CPA exam’s results

The AICPA’s website provides a document that you can download: “How Is the CPA Exam Scored?” That document explains the feedback you receive with your exam scores.

The Board will send a Candidate Performance Report with your test scores. The report compares your performance with “just passed” candidates (those candidates who passed with a score between 75 and 80 percent). You’ll see data separated by content area and by question type (multiple-choice, simulation, or written communication).

The report will provide a category of performance. This category is a “general indicator” of your performance, in comparison with the other candidates who took the test when you did. The comparisons provided are weaker, comparable, and stronger. A stronger score in economics concepts and analysis (a BEC content area) means that your performance on those topics was better, on average, than that of other candidates who took the test.

The Candidate Performance Report can help you identify areas of weakness so you can create a study plan to retake the test. If you missed several multiple-choice questions on bond accounting, for example, you can spend time on that content area before you retake the test. You can also improve your ability to understand and respond to multiple-choice questions.

After reviewing your scores, pull out the study plan you originally used for the test you didn’t pass. Bear in mind that you’ve already put in quite a few hours when you studied the first time. As you study to retake the exam, you’ll need to make a judgment on how much time you need to spend on each content area.

Take a look at the percentage of practice questions you’re answering correctly as you review. If you’re getting scores of 80 percent correct or higher, you’re probably ready for that portion of your test.

If you don’t pass your test, your grades will come with instructions on how to retake the test. You’ll have to schedule a time to retake the test in a new testing window.

Appealing your CPA exam’s score

Candidates can appeal a test result with a failing score. Keep in mind, however, that the appeals process requires an application and a fee. You should consider an appeal only if there are specific answers choices you want to challenge as incorrect. The exam questions go through an extensive quality control process to ensure accuracy. As a result, the number of questions with incorrect answers is very small.

When you receive notice that you failed a test, contact your Board quickly to appeal. The appeal process is available only for a short time after your exam is graded. Check with your State Board to find out how much time you have to appeal.

During your appeal, a Board representative (or their designated agent) sits with you in a secure location. You’ll be able to review your multiple-choice and simulation questions and have the opportunity to challenge a correct answer choice as incorrect. Written communication questions aren’t included in an appeal.