With Or Without You? Psyching Out The CPA Exam

Jeff is the author of a blog called Another71. I asked him to tell you about his blog, the CPA exam and his story.

Education: BS in Accounting, some grad school
Work Experience: 7 years in the accounting profession including work in public accounting and in the Finance department of a Fortune 500 company.
Employer: Currently a Senior Analyst with a publicly-held utility.
Life: 30 years old, married with 3 children (and #4 on the way)

“I started the CPA Exam journey three years ago with limited enthusiasm – which led to little to no success. One of the things that many aspiring CPAs don’t realize early on in the exam process is that passing the CPA exam isn’t as much “inspiration as it is perspiration.”

Maybe Thomas Edison was on to something.

CPA candidates with a 4.0 undergraduate GPA walk into their testing center, but stumble out limping, dejected, wondering what just happened to them. Just the same, candidates with less-than-impressive scholastic achievements walk into that same testing center and score a 90. Why? One candidate studied their tail off, while the other…well…didn’t.

In the past, I tended to be the candidate who somehow thought I could walk in and “give it the old college try” and somehow leave with a 75. My lack of motivation to make the sacrifice and study hard was partly due to my reason for taking on the exam in the first place. I didn’t have a real pressing reason to pass the exam other than proving to myself that I could.

I was a marginal student in college and escaped with an accounting degree. I watched my peers land Big 4 (back then it was Big 5) jobs while I worked for a small tax firm in a bad part of town. After working through two tax seasons I went to work for a small privately-owned company as a staff accountant. They didn’t really care if I was a CPA or not. It might have affected getting promoted one day, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker if I didn’t pass the exam.

My sole motivation for wanting to be a CPA was to avoid regret. What good reason did I have for not taking the hard path and passing the exam as I was capable of doing? It was hard enough hanging my head in job interviews when the fact that I wasn’t a CPA was raised.

Even so, this still wasn’t enough to get me to buckle down and do it right. I didn’t want it bad enough…not yet anyway.

I hit the breaking point in March 2008 when I received notice I had failed Business Environment and Concepts for the third time with my third straight score of 71. I woke my wife up that morning with the “sorry honey, I didn’t pass” speech that she had heard many times before. She was growing just as tired of the whole exam process as I was.

I had become a career CPA candidate. I was a guy who was perpetually “studying for the exam”, which soon lost its novelty to my friends and family members. I was just going through the motions.

Finding myself at a crossroads and very much ashamed of my failures, I could either get mad and quit or get mad and make passing the exam my obsession.

No more lazy excuses, blame, pity, or looking for a quick fix. The only way to pass the CPA Exam is to work really, really hard at it. I knew this all along, but I hadn’t acknowledged this fact up to that point. I had gone through ten sittings of the CPA Exam and had passed two parts. Oh, and by the way – my Financial Accounting and Reporting credit was expiring in a month.

Enough was enough.

I started getting up early. I stayed late at work. I studied over lunch. I lived at a coffee shop on Saturdays. I passed the CPA exam six months later.

Even though I resolved to never fail another Exam section again, it didn’t exactly work out that way. I finally passed BEC, but I scored my second-straight 74 on Regulation and lost my Financial Accounting and Reporting credit in the process. One more point and I would have been a CPA. Instead, I was back to where I was in March with two sections passed.

I studied with a vengeance and scored a 92 on Regulation two months later and then re-passed Financial. Having to study FAR again after passing it was also a test of my resolve. FAR is widely regarded as the toughest exam and I didn’t really want to go through it again (who wants to study Governmental Accounting again? Bleh…). I told myself to “shut up and study”…and I did.

I needed a vehicle to vent my frustration and track my progress (and it ended up being a great means of accountability for studying also), so I created a blog and bought the URL for another71.com. After three straight 71s on BEC, I couldn’t think of anything more fitting.

What began as an obscure little blog has become a small beacon of hope for those that find themselves in the same situation that I was in. I can tell you that taking 14 sections of the CPA Exam does not do a lot to boost one’s ego. You only hear about your co-worker or classmate who passed the exam on the first try and aced each section, scoring in the 90s. No one wants to admit that they studied their heart out and scored a 60 (or worse).

My site exists to remind people that quitting the CPA exam is never an option.

Are you coming up short on the Exam because you’re not putting in the time? Work harder.

Do you know the material but are a bad test taker? Practice being a better test taker.

Is studying seemingly impossible due to family constraints? Get up an hour early, study over lunch, study two hours after the kids go to bed and throw away your TV.
If passing the CPA exam was an ordinary accomplishment, it wouldn’t mean anything. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment that requires an extraordinary sacrifice.

If you’re struggling, keep moving forward – no matter what. Three years from now when you have the letters ‘CPA’ after your name, these momentary setbacks will be a distant memory. If you quit – it could very well haunt you the rest of your professional life.

As the father of three young boys, I could not look them in the eye and tell them to never quit if I myself had thrown in the towel and walked away from the CPA exam. For me, it wasn’t just a test of my accounting knowledge…it was a test of my character. If you know of someone who is struggling with the CPA Exam and at their wit’s end, then maybe they can benefit from my site or identify with my story. I know that I’m not alone because I routinely get e-mails from people who are having a tough time with the exam as well as balancing work and family life while trying to study.

As the great philosopher Bono once said, “There is no failure here sweetheart…just when you quit.”

Keep Moving Forward,

Contact: another71cpa@gmail.com

35 replies
  1. Edith Orenstein
    Edith Orenstein says:

    Great story, I sat for the CPA exam in Ohio a total of 3 times before I passed all four parts (then it was a 4 part exam), and I agree with the writer you really have to focus on studying for the exam to pass, it may not be rocket science, but it takes concerted studying effort, which can be challenging (to study for any professional licensing exam, I assume)if you’re working full time, even moreso if, like Jeff another71.com, you have other family reponsibilties.

    Jeff’s story is inspiring to those of us thinking about taking any licensing exam (I’ve been thinking about taking the Certified Fraud Examiner exam for a while now); I’m thinking making a commitment to attending a live review course maybe would help (kind of like Becker CPA review did).

  2. Chicago Accountant
    Chicago Accountant says:

    Edith, it’s still four parts. You’re not old!

    As a CPA and a CIA, I have some advice.

    First, like Jeff said, you need to study. I passed all four parts in one window right after school. I studied for about two weeks for each section give or take a few days. In those two weeks I studied for a majority of the day. I woke up early; I went to bed late. I balanced this off with some part-time work. While I studied, I never shaved and I didn’t get a haircut. I looked like a mess, but I passed.

    Second, the longer you wait, the harder it gets. I had the benefit of only having a part-time job at the time. My full-time job didn’t start until a few months later. I can’t imagine passing with a full-time job and a family.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Chicago Accountant…Edith is referring to a few years ago when you had to take the complete 4 section exam in one sitting…not one section at a time like it is now. Try and keep up.

  4. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    I took the exam the way Edith did, four at a time, McCormick Place, McCormick Inn Hotel overnight, lots of #2 pencils and nothing else. Passed two and then remaining two second time. Certificate in 1987. Seems like a lifetime ago. Wait, it is for some of you. LOL

  5. Bart
    Bart says:

    Excellent post. I’m planning to take the exam this summer, and it’s good to be scared (so to speak) into taking it seriously and studying my tail off.

    Many thanks to Jeff and Francine!

  6. John R. Hu
    John R. Hu says:

    Glad I caught this story right after 7 straight hours of studying for Regulations. It really makes those 7 hours seen very minute compare to what Jeff’s been through. Thanks for sharing this very motivational story.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:


    Totally unrelated to this post, but I saw this post on Dealbreaker.com. They are looking for an accounting writer, and thought you might be interested. I think your styles are different, but who knows, you could add a lot of value to their website. See below-

    Mark K- San Diego

    Dealbreaker Seeks A New Writer (or Writers)
    Posted by David Lat, Jan 30, 2009, 6:21pm

    Greetings, DealBreaker readers. My name is David Lat, and I’m the managing editor of Breaking Media, parent company of this fine site (as well as Above the Law and Fashionista).

    Back in October, we mentioned we were looking for an additional writer (or writers). In case you were wondering, we’ve not yet filled the position. Because Bess and Equity Private have been doing such an excellent job — January will be a record month for DealBreaker in terms of traffic — we haven’t felt much pressure on this front. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    But we are once again thinking of hiring more talent, given how the site is thriving (and how many Wall Streeters might be looking for new jobs right now). Would you be interested (or would you know anyone who might be)?

    This is a full-time position, with standard benefits — health insurance, a 401(k), abuse from anonymous commenters. If you’re looking to transition from Wall Street to writing, this is an excellent opportunity.

    If you’d like to apply for this position, please email us at jobs at dealbreaker dot com (subject line: “DealBreaker Writer Application”). Please describe yourself and your background, what you have to offer DealBreaker, and your vision for the site. Feel free to include a résumé, a writing sample, a link to your own blog (if you have one), or any other information relevant to evaluation of your application.

    Separately, we’re thinking about hiring a part-time writer or writers to cover the world of accounting, with a focus on the Big Four. If this opportunity interests you, please email us also at jobs at dealbreaker dot com (but with this subject line: “Accounting Writer Application”).

    Thanks for your interest. We look forward to hearing from you.

  8. Hoi Lau
    Hoi Lau says:

    Indeed inspiring, beside, the story shares a similar experience to those working their ways to be qualified in China as a CPA as well.

  9. another71.com
    another71.com says:

    “Cut a [sic]paste from another blog.”

    I wrote this for Francine’s site…this wasn’t a cut and paste.

    Thanks for reading.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This guy should quit with the melodrama and the terrible advice.

    “My site exists to remind people that quitting the CPA exam is never an option.” Failing is always an option. Maybe it means less to other people than to you. No need to project your values onto the world.

    “Do you know the material but are a bad test taker? Practice being a better test taker.” Great advice, as if it were that easy. You think bad test-takers first realize that they are bad test-takers when they sit for the CPA exam? Very trite advice.

    “It’s an extraordinary accomplishment that requires an extraordinary sacrifice.” Not really. I studied for a week leading up to both times I took the exam, and passed 2 parts each time. I don’t feel extraordinary, and neither should the tens of thousands of other people who’ve done the same.

    “As the father of three young boys, I could not look them in the eye and tell them to never quit if I myself had thrown in the towel and walked away from the CPA exam.” Seriously? You wouldn’t be able to look them in the eye….

    Frankly, I question this guy’s credentials. Sounds like the slacker type to me. Waited until he was 27 (6 years out of college?) to even start studying for the exam, then thought he would just show up the day of the exam and pass, without studying. My point being, if you talk to someone who took their career more seriously throughout college and into the first few years of being a professional, you’d get a very different view of what the CPA exam is all about. And my guess is that young professionals and college students who care enough about their career to follow your blog fall closer to this category than to Jeff’s category. No need to scare them into thinking the CPA exam is more than it really is.

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Anon 12:26 – why did you even take the time to write that? I would ask you to put up your name, but frankly you should be embarrassed about every word of that unecessarily sarcastic and nasty tone.

    “Another71” wasn’t attempting a philosophical dissertation, but offering sound advice for those struggling with the exam. As he was kind enough to share, you should be kind enough to act your age.

    -Tony Rezko

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    It’s time to post a PSA for this site. Evidently Fran won’t do it, so I guess I have to step up on behalf of the readers.


    Unfortunately, for many people smug superiority is a byproduct of passing a professional certification exam — be it the CPA, the Bar, or other. Such smugness is rarely deserved.

    For my part, I used to respect CPAs more, until I had to explain to one that income was a recorded as a credit and expenses were a debit. Seriously. After that, not as much.

    But back on point, there is no sense giving these folks the attention they so obviously crave. Ignore the bait and respond to the substantive, thought-provoking comments.

    This has been a Public Service Announcement from Tenacious T., who is not a CPA.

  13. Krupo
    Krupo says:

    This idea of a multi-section exam is disturbing. Not new to me, but disturbing. I prefer the 3-day UFE exam for the CA designation, but congrats to the CPAs who successfully soldiered through their sections! 🙂

    One thing the critical commenter was alluding to but missed while indulging with the bashing angle was that there’s one critical thing the main post itself skirted past: the importance of identifying WHAT’S GOING WRONG.

    “Are you a bad test taker” is too simplistic. These exams aren’t so simple. There are many variables that can ruin things for you – identifying what it is exactly is NOT easy but is crucial for ‘repeat writers’ to figure out how to fix their approach to the exams.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    wow- This is pretty amazing. I ended up taking the exam about 10 times before passing…and just like in the bloggers testimony, there reached a point where you decide your either going to do it and be a CPA or your not and your going to do something else. Perseverance is the key!

  15. PassByCMAS
    PassByCMAS says:

    Hey Jeff,

    I’m surprised by all the hate from these anonymous guys. Sure, your story is a little sappy, but who cares? This is real life. I guarantee that everyone thus far that’s made comments about how stupid this post is hasn’t taken the CPA. I got a 1450 on the SAT without studying the least bit for it, I’m perennially a 4.0 student, and yet I still failed (74 on REG) 1 of the CPA’s 4 sections, even though I had studied pretty hardcore using Becker.

    This test is tough. If you think it’s just like any other test, don’t post here. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And I agree with Jeff, the CPA exam is less about how smart you are (although that helps), it’s about how thoroughly you studied.

  16. C College
    C College says:

    I made a few comments about how stupid this post is, and I’ve taken the CPA 3 times. Passed every part I studied for each time. Thanks for sharing your SAT scores and your GPA with us, too. You must be so proud.

  17. PassByCMAS
    PassByCMAS says:

    Thanks for sharing with us how brilliant you are C College. Congrats on passing 3 out of 4 tests on the CPA. That’s almost worth something. I only shared my SAT and GPA to show that it’s not just idiots that fail a section of the CPA. Not everyone can be God’s Gift to 3 sections of the CPA like you.

    Actually, I’m being generous when I say you’ve passed 3 out of 4. If you break your English down, you might not have passed any sections at all. Let’s do so, shall we?

    “I’ve taken the CPA 3 times” – The CPA (exam, I have to assume you meant, unless you literally took The CPA… and I have no idea who The CPA is.) is made up of 4 sections. You “took the CPA (exam) 3 times.” So that’s 12 testlets taken. Bravo.

    “Passed every part I studied for each time (note, I’m not making fun of your redundancy in saying ‘each time’)” – You gave negative assurance, which is somewhat useless in this case. Can we infer from this that you studied for 0 of the 4 sections, so when you failed all of them you just retook them 2 more times to reach your proud achievement of 12 testlets? Sounds reasonable to me.

    If you’re going to go complain about a blog, do it from your own. I’m sure everyone flocks to it to hear when you’re scheduling your 4th round through the (The?) CPA.

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Enough of the Fairytale “I studied for 2 days with my eyes closed and passed”-esque posts (both here and elsewhere). The exam is difficult, and you need to put in a lot of time. Period. Relax people…

  19. C College
    C College says:

    – I’m sorry if my abbreviation of “CPA” for “CPA Exam” confused you. I assumed most readers would understand the abbreviation, but I’ll be more specific in the future so that you are not confused.

    – Taking a 4-part test three times, and passing the parts you study for each time, does not equate to passing 3 parts out of 4.

    – Similarly, it would be incorrect to assume that I took 12 “testlets”, since the state in which I took the CPA EXAM allows you to take as few as 2 parts each time.

    – Since you’re so interested in my CPA status, I’ve been licensed for 8 years. So it would be unreasonable to infer that I was 0 for 12.

    – Sharing my CPA EXAM experience is relevant to a blog about the CPA EXAM, and relevant as a response to your post. You “guaranteed” that all of the people mocking the simplicity of the blog never took the exam, which is untrue. I took it, I studied, and I passed.

    – My point in mocking your SAT scores and GPA is that they have very little to do with passing the CPA EXAM, which is the point of the blog in the first place. Also, your post smacked of bragging. Your score on a test that you took as an 17 year-old high school student has very little correlation to passing a professional licensing exam 5 to 10 years (?) later, so why even mention it? The only reason to mention it, to me, is to brag. You’ll notice I never implied that I was brilliant (never mentioned my SAT scores or GPA or my IQ or how many questions I can get right on Jeopardy), only that I was able to pass the CPA EXAM by studying very hard.

  20. PassByCMAS
    PassByCMAS says:

    Sigh. You didn’t say you studied for any of them, just that you passed every part you studied for. Pay attention.

  21. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    CCollege…you should write a counter-post to this…about how you’re a hardcore accounting rockstar…maybe even a GAAP Gangsta who “makes it rain” with 99’s on the CPA (Exam)…whatever you want your angle to be. I bet it’ll be a big hit, for sure.

    It will be a nice compliment to my “puppy dogs and ice cream” cry-fest.

  22. C College
    C College says:

    That’s the funny thing, I’m not an accounting rockstar, never made it rain anything. I was a decent student, made dean’s list a few times at a pretty good school, was 2-rated throughout my career at a Big 4 firm. But I understood all along that the CPA was a ball-buster and required a ton of studying. I never considered “giving it the old college try” and having any chance at passing. At the same time, I never had to “psych myself up” for it, and I’d never think less of myself if I hadn’t passed. I never considered my successes a “beacon of hope” for others, and I never doled out advice like “become a better test taker”. And I hoped to make the point that NOT passing the CPA is fine, and nothing to be ashamed of.

    Sorry, I can’t be as entertaining as you’d hoped. I was just trying to make a couple points.

  23. PassByCMAS
    PassByCMAS says:

    OK I’ve read and re-read your original 2 posts, C College. At no point in either of them do you say anything which remotely says “Not passing the CPA is fine, and (is) nothing to be ashamed of.” All you said was that you passed it easily, and that you don’t think SAT and GPA have anything to do with passing the CPA (I’d like nothing more than to see a on this, I’m guessing there’s a strong correlation, but that’s beside the point). So if pretending like you were delivering a motivating message for those who don’t have their CPA is what’s going to make you feel good, then that’s fine.

    It takes a big man to stand there in complete anonymity and make fun of someone who sticks his neck out in an effort to possibly motivate a few people. So you weren’t motivated by his article. So what? Why would an 8 year CPA come onto an article about taking the CPA exam and complain it wasn’t the right kind of motivation anyway? Not everything is about you and your special circumstance. But we’re all proud that you passed the CPA, and didn’t seem to care one way or another how it went. You’ve nonchalantly won your way into our hearts. Now go away.

  24. C College
    C College says:

    Post 16:
    “As the father of three young boys, I could not look them in the eye and tell them to never quit if I myself had thrown in the towel and walked away from the CPA exam.” Seriously? You wouldn’t be able to look them in the eye…. I hadn’t signed up my username yet, but that’s my post. You can tell from the scathing sarcasm.

    As for anonymity, I’ve never understood that attack. That’s the whole point of allowing comments on a blog, no? #1 – I’m not interested in people knowing who I am, and I don’t think it matters, frankly. My thoughts are all that matter for this blog. I’ll post them, sometimes they strike a chord with other people and get a response, which sometimes turns into a healthy dialogue, and sometimes not. Obviously something in my comments hit home with you and others, and we had a decent dialogue going for a bit, at least until we got into the personal attacks. #2 – People are more honest when they’re anonymous. And by being more honest, we can facilitate some real discussion (sometimes). I’m honestly not trying to be a “big man” (big leap on assigning me a gender, by the way, but I guess I don’t mind), I’m just writing my opinions in the forum Francine provides to people like us for writing opinions.

    One last point. When you write “But we’re all proud that you passed the CPA” and “made comments about how stupid this post is hasn’t taken the CPA.” – The CPA (exam, I have to assume you meant, unless you literally passed the CPA… which I probably do most mornings during my commute to work.). It’s really annoying and petty when others constantly feel the need to correct minor grammatical inconsistencies in your posts, don’t you think? For example, you also missed a comma after “OK” in post #31, and another one after “says”, and you should have begun your quote with a lower-case “n” in parentheses, since it’s in the middle of a sentence, and of course your comma after “this” really should be a semi-colon (super, super annoying, huh?)……

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