Can You Pass the CPA Exam If You Did Bad in College?

By Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D. & Former KPMG Manager

The short answer is, ABSOLUTELY!

The CPA exam will cover many topics you had in class, and if i’m being brutally honest, you will definitely be at a disadvantage if you didn’t try or fully understand the material during your classes.  HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can’t tackle the CPA exam.

Invest in a CPA Review Course That Fits Your Needs

What will be absolutely critical for you is that you get a high quality CPA review course that fits your learning needs.  CPA prep courses are important for everybody, but even more so for you if you struggled to graduate.  Make sure you purchase one that has instructors who will hold your attention, because you will likely need to watch every lecture to see them explain the concepts and work examples.  With that said, know how you learn best and select a prep course that is consistent with your learning needs.

There are some CPA prep course companies that do an excellent job explaining topics in a way that is easy for you to understand.  Your lack of quality grades could possibly have been attributed to the quality of professors you had.  If that is the case, then there is a very good chance you will be able to easily learn the concepts through the great instruction of a prep course.

Devote Extra Time

If you know you are somebody who struggles with accounting concepts, then don’t fool yourself into thinking you can study the same amount as your friends who did great.  Make sure you adjust your study schedule to accommodate for the extra time you need.  It’s perfectly fine if it takes you longer to understand concepts.  There are many many people out there that need additional time to fully understand difficult accounting concepts.  Just make sure you recognize that you are one of those people and that you need more time.

Get Expert Insights

If you are reading this article, then it means you are trying to gain insights to better help you.  Whether you seek out an official mentor or not, just make sure you get connected with people who can offer you advice and guide you through the entire process. I will tell you too that you want to be extremely careful when evaluating the credentials of the person you want to be your mentor. There are true mentors out there and then there are people who just want to get in your pocket book. Be very very careful. Know that there are many different options available to you.

Use Flashcards to Your Advantage

Flashcards will be super important to your ability to pass the CPA exam.  Flashcards serve many purposes, but two primary ones are to hammer home recently learned concepts and keep old concepts fresh in your memory so you don’t forget them during the official CPA exam.  If learning accounting concepts were difficult in college, then make sure you put extra time into reviewing flashcards.  My general rule of thumb is to devote 70% of flashcard time to newly learned concepts and 30% to old concepts that you’re trying to keep fresh in your memory.  I do 30%, because as time goes by you will see the same cards over and over and you should become extremely proficient at remembering not only the correct answer, but why the answer is correct and why all the incorrect options are incorrect.  This will be huge for you, but make sure to adjust that percentage according to what fits you best.

Have Confidence

You may have done poorly in college based on your standards and expectations, but just graduating with an accounting degree says something.  It is a difficult degree that takes commitment and a pretty high level of accounting knowledge.  My guess is that you know more than you think, and that you will be surprised at how much you do know as you move through a CPA exam review course.  Be confident, because you have a lot to be proud of for graduating with an accounting degree.

Ready to Dominate Your CPA Exam?

Let’s get you on the right track so you pass all parts on your next try!