• Nikki Winston, CPA

Confidence Boosting Study Tips To Retake The CPA Exam

If you're reading this it must be because another score release has arrived and you failed the CPA exam. When candidates get those 2-page score notifications they feel defeated and discouraged, and start to retrace steps about what went wrong at the testing center.

Passing the CPA exam is about understanding what’s going on. We get caught up and get so deep in the questions that we don’t take that step back and fully understand what’s going on.

While you try and figure out what to do next and how to make sure you get a 1-page passing score next time, here are some study tips you can apply to every section of the exam. I'm also sharing some things for you to think about and the importance of a mindset shift as you get ready to retake your exam.

There are free resources, tutorials, and coaching sessions in the Winston CPA Exam Virtual Classroom. Access it here.


Answering MCQs is an ideal way to study and learn at the same time. You can make notes based on the topics you need to study more. This is a great way to determine what topics you still need to go back and study before exam day.

Read the last sentence first. This is where you will typically see what the "ask" is. The CPA exam is known for wordplay and adding “is or is not” type-of words to easily confuse candidates with distractors that have nothing to do with the ask. When you’re asked to calculate something or pick a definition, for example, that’s in the last sentence after you’ve read through everything else given to you.

Figure out what you know. Before you even look at the answer choices, try to answer the question based on what you've studied so far. This strategy helps you to avoid that overwhelming feeling that comes with knowing that 1 of the answers is correct but you don't know which one.

Make your own notes. If you get a question wrong, make sure you understand the logic behind the 3 wrong answers and the 1 right answer. Make notes or flashcards of this content so you will know it next time. When you write your own notes you’re also engaging other senses - so if you can engage your sight, hearing, AND writing, the more the better when it comes to being successful on the CPA exam.

Flag lengthy questions. Flagging means you can continue with the exam and get to the end of the testlet without getting stuck on a question. Continue with the exam and answer the questions that are 1-line or questions that you definitely know the answer to. Once you get to the end of the testlet, go back and work on your flagged questions.

Remember: you gain points for right answers, you don’t lose points for wrong answers so the worst you can do is get extra points for a correct guess.

I have never in life questioned myself more than when I was practicing MCQs! You are looking at a question, you feel good about the answer and then you say, "Ok it's D, but wait, it could be A too." Trust your gut.

During the exam, you’ll get a standard 15-minute break where the clock stops and you’ll have to leave the testing center. Aside from that, for any other breaks you take the clock keeps running.


  • Take the same approach with simulations. Skim through to see what the topics are and which ones you can answer with ease.

  • Flag the ones where you’ll need to write out or calculate lots of things.

  • As your time winds down, start wrapping up and finalize those made answers. Don’t leave anything blank in simulations!


On the AUD, FAR, and REG exams you will have at least 1 research question so make sure you’re comfortable using the Authoritative Literature.

If you have an active NTS you can get 6-months of free access from the AICPA.

Start to change your mind about how you’re feeling about the exam, especially as your test date approaches.

The CPA exam is preparation for what you’ll see in your career. Embrace it for the challenge that it is, but also appreciate this development - once you see these things in exam mode, it will be much easier to actually DO them in practice.


Access the CPA Exam Virtual Classroom for exam tutorials, courses, and on-demand coaching sessions here.
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

©2020 by Nikki Winston, CPA.