prepare to retake the cpa exam

Let’s face it, becoming a Certified Public Accountant isn’t easy. Pass rates indicate that nearly half of all CPA candidates fail at least one section of the CPA Exam on the first try; but that’s no reason to get discouraged. The good news is, if you don’t pass part of the exam, you can always retake it. And with a little more knowledge and a few strategic steps, you can go into your retake feeling confident and ready to pass. Let’s talk about what you can do to prepare for your CPA Exam retake.


Your Action Plan for a CPA Exam Retake: 6 Steps to Help You Prepare

1. Adjust Your Mental and Emotional State

Finding out you failed an exam section is never fun, whether it’s your first time sitting for the exam or your fourth. It’s a mental blow after a very emotional build up, and it can take some adjusting before you’re ready to jump back into studying. Take a day off from studying and spend some time doing something fun to clear your head. Then, before you start studying again, remember that each section of the exam is difficult, but not impossible, and there’s a better chance you’ll pass the second time around since you’ll be re-studying the same material. Then use the next steps to prepare yourself for round two.

2. Learn from Your Mistakes

Write down how you felt on exam day the first time and where you felt you struggled. Even if you felt like you did well, still write down as much as you remember about the exam. Then review your notes and see where you can learn and improve. For some people, certain areas of the exam give them more trouble than others, like the multiple choice questions or the simulations, while for others the time constraint is the limiting factor. Figure out your limits and decide how you’re going to conquer them. You should also review your score report to identify some of your weaker areas of comprehension.

3. Only Jump Back in if it Fits Your Schedule

If you just found out you failed AUD, but you’re 1/3 the way through FAR study materials, you don’t want to drop all your FAR knowledge to focus on AUD again. However, if you haven’t started studying for another CPA Exam section, use the momentum and knowledge you have from studying to jump back into the exam you failed. Find what fits your schedule and keep pushing through each exam section, navigating through each of the four parts at the best pace for you.

4. Find a Little Extra Support

If there are areas of the exam you really struggled with (see number 2 above), consider finding someone to help you navigate those areas. You can hire a tutor or find a local CPA Review study group. Getting a little extra support will help you make the most of your study time and prepare you for exam day number two.

5. Consider Your Exam Materials

You should consider the pros and cons of the materials you do have. Does your CPA Review course provide the right materials for your learning style? For example, if you learn the best by reading through the material on your own, your materials should provide you with either hard copies or digital copies of the actual content you can read through. Consider how you learn and what has worked for you in the past, and see if you can modify your current materials to meet your needs. If you fail a few exams with your current materials, you may consider switching providers.

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6. Prepare for the Physical Attributes of the Exam

The good news is, as you prepare to retake the CPA Exam, you know what it’s going to be like on test day. You know what you need to bring to the exam, what the room will look like, how the computer works, how the exam is formatted and where all your resources are within the exam.

Think about all of these attributes in your previous exam; did you struggle with the time? Did you forget anything the first time? Did you leave yourself enough time for the exam? Any of these can throw a first-time test-taker off, so consider measures you can take to alleviate any issues related to the physical attributes of the exam. How can you manage your time better? How can you be more prepared? Do you need to take more practice tests? While it may seem like a small part of the entire exam, not being prepared for the physical attributes of the exam can be the difference between passing and failing.


The Logistics of CPA Exam Retakes

Now that you’re ready for your CPA Exam retake, there are a few logistical hoops you have to jump through to schedule your exam. Follow these steps to reschedule your retake:

  • 1. Your Notice to Schedule (NTS) is only valid for one testing appointment, so you’ll have to reapply for a new NTS.
  • 2. Wait 24 hours after your score release from NASBA to apply for a new NTS.
  • 3. Keep in mind, you can’t take the same exam within one testing window, so ensure the expiration date on your NTS will put you in the next testing window.
  • 4. Once you have your NTS, you can go online to Prometric and reschedule your exam.


There’s no reason to get discouraged if you have to retake an exam section, and by following these tips and tricks, you can go into your retake confident that you’ll receive a passing score. You’ve got this!


Liz Kolar, CPA, CGMA, has been teaching CPA Review for more than 25 years in the United States, has personally taught more than 2,500 live sessions, and has helped thousands of candidates pass the CPA Exam. She founded Pinnacle CPA Review and co-founded Surgent Kolar CPA Review.