CPA Exam: The Dreaded 74

updated: June 2020

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “living paycheck to paycheck”, and if you’re like me in college, you might be living it right now.  In my role as a coach, I have the pleasure of working with people to help them pass the CPA Exam.  I’m living my own version of paycheck to paycheck…score release to score release.  I count the days to score release right alongside the candidates I’m working with, and I can’t wait to celebrate with them when they pass their exams.

But that isn’t always the outcome.  Sometimes, we come up short.  You may experience this along the way on your journey to CPA, too.  This recent quarter, I had two clients receive what is- in my opinion- one of the hardest pills to swallow…the dreaded 74.  That experience inspired me to write this blog post and share with you how I help my clients bounce back from a 74 and answer the question “Where do I go from here?” 

A part of me wishes that the CPA exam would just do away with the 74.  I think to myself  “Really?  One point away?  If It’s not a 75 it might as well be a 70, at least it would sting less”.  You might be thinking the same thing.  My goal here is not to say something profound and magically make you feel better in an instant.  Nothing I say will take the sting away, believe me…I’ve tried!  

You’re allowed to be angry/ irritated/ annoyed/ pissed off/ sad/ mad or all of the above.  In fact, that’s normal.  One of the first suggestions I make to my clients who get bad news is to find a safe, healthy way to express their feelings.  For many, that means hitting the gym for a good sweat-sesh, some prefer kickboxing or getting out in nature, journaling or a fun night out with friends to get their mind off of it, at least temporarily.    

Believe it or not, there is good news in your 74.  It means you’re extremely close to a passing score and closing the gap between a 74 and a 75 is easier than you may think.  Step 1:  Shift your focus to the positive.  

Here are my recommended next steps if you’re in this boat.  The general approach is to reapply and schedule a retake of that exam as soon as possible.  In some cases, I even recommend dropping the exam you’re currently studying for and picking up where you left off with the failed exam.  Now that the testing window restrictions have been removed, this is easier to do than ever, but you still have choices.

Scenario 1:  Drop what you’re doing, reapply for this same exam, reschedule it as soon as possible or approximately 2 weeks out and start reviewing.    

Scenario 2:  If you’ve already started studying for your next exam and feel you’re too invested to switch gears, you can choose to carry on and come back to your “74” exam immediately afterwards.  I think this is best suited to situations where you’re studying for a shorter exam, i.e. BEC where the time between your “74” exam and your retake isn’t too far removed.  The focus is still to get back to your retake ASAP.

Studying for a retake:

Treat this time between the score release and your retake exam as deep-dive review time, not a cram session over everything. Take practice exams to evaluate where you’re struggling with the material- these areas are also where your biggest opportunity lies.  Dig into those areas to improve your understanding and raise your scores.  

Don’t fall into the trap of only studying specific things that threw you off on your original exam.  From one exam to the next, the content can be wildly different.  If there were particular themes that you struggled with, do invest some time into those areas in case they do show up on your retake, but that shouldn’t be your sole focus.  

Ask yourself “What am I hoping doesn’t show up on this test?” and dig into that- whether it’s particular subjects or challenging simulations.  Lean into your discomfort in an effort to sure-up any areas where you’re less confident. Most importantly, don’t let this failure hold you back or derail your plan completely.  The most important thing is that you keep your head up, and keep going.  You’ve got this!

If you have questions about your CPA Exam plan, let us know! We’d love to help.  

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Good Luck!

Erin Daiber


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