I’m 40 Years Old and Still Failing the CPA Exam, What can I do?


From the mailbag:

Hi, Andrew:

My 40 year old daughter took the REG test this morning. She has been passing and failing the CPA exam so many times.  If she passed this time she will have a year to complete the next two.  I don’t know what to say to her anymore if he failed.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thank you,


The CPA exam is the capstone of ritual hazing activities in the accounting profession. All the partners and CFO’s I talked to today readily admit they couldn’t pass it today if they tried. Succeeding in the CPA exam has very little to do with career growth and success. Last year I spoke with the Chief Accounting Officer of a publicly traded company who had been failing the CPA exam 5 times before he passed! Now he is a huge success in the profession!

Many of you have failed even more times than that.

What do you do to change the game?

What is it that is really holding you back?

Are you having trouble learning the materials?

Or is it the stress and pressure of passing the exam?

From what I have seen, it’s almost always the stress and pressure. All the CPA exam review courses out there cover the basic materials. They have questions given directly from the AICPA. They basically give you the answers before you pass.

You need to be brutally realistic when you answer this question:

“Where am I right now?”

In Good to Great, Jim Collins tells a story about  US military officer who was held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War and tortured regularly. Collins asked Stockdale which soldiers didn’t make it out. Stockdale answered:

“Oh, that’s easy. The optimists. They were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.” And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. They’d say, “We’re going to be out by Easter.” And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

As Collins noted, this is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

I’m just a blogger on the internet. Some random guy. I can only help you as much as you are willing to honestly and with integrity, confront yourself and your shortcomings.

After you have assessed what the problem actual is, then you need to actually act!

CPA Review Courses

This is so basic I debated even putting in here. Do you have a CPA review provider like Roger CPA Review? Did you pay thousands of dollars for it? Okay, move onto step 3. If you think you can make it on your bachelors/masters classes and free resources, you are dead wrong.

Failing the CPA exam because of peer pressure?

One of the most challenging parts of taking the exam is living up to the expectations from friends, co-workers, and family. It is amazing how many people are so curious and inquisitive about you when you’re failing, and then disappear when you passed without even a congratulations. I remember this the most with my girlfriend at the time and now wife. Her uncle was reminding her, well you know, “Sara at the company has already passed two sections. She’s moving right along.”

Meanwhile my wife failed three sections in a row.

However, in the next 4 months she passed all four sections of the exam beating Sara and most of her friends that passed the first and second section before she did.

What changed?

She stopped:

  • Studying with friends
  • Giving family and friends updates on exam day
  • Telling people what day she even took the exam

She went into hiding. That relieved most of what was holding her back: pressure from family and peers and the fear of letting them down.

Are you really committed?

I talk regularly about how I was working full-time and enrolled in 12 hours of Masters classes when I passed the CPA exam. But don’t mistake me, I put my time in.

Monday – Friday 

I studied every night at least 4 hours even on nights where I had class. I usually sat in the back and worked on multiple choice questions.

Saturday & Sunday

I studied from 10am to 9-11pm both days.

That’s putting in about 40 hours of studying a week. I only needed a few weeks before I was ready for each section. Are you studying that much? Not trolling Facebook or reading the Huffington Post but seriously studying? Did you watch all of the video lectures, read the entire book, and do EVERY SINGLE multiple choice question?

If you didn’t, come back to me when you do. It’s time to GET TO WORK!

  • BEL

    I love the point you make about studying alone. I’m still in Intermediate Accounting at College, but the same principle applies. Everyone learns the material in such different ways that when you try to make it a social event where everyone learns at different paces and work at different rhythms it ends up being a detriment in my opinion.

  • simone zhang

    Hi I’m from Aus and taking AUS CPA.
    Today I just got my CPA exam results, I took 3 exams in this semester with full time job, but only 1 passed.
    For one of subjects, I have failed 8 times. 8 times, 8 times!!! Can you guys imagine it! I never took any exam that much. I have a master degree with everage Distictions. I passed the most difficult subject of CPA. I never doubt my IQ, and put lots of effor on the studying. however, I just don’t know why I can’t pass that subject.
    Does anyone has the same situation with me? Please let me know I’m not the only one.