Passing the CPA Exam: It Takes a Village

By Dr. Barry Palatnik, CPA, and John Boyle, CPA, Stockton University  – June 21, 2021
Passing the CPA Exam: It Takes a Village

There’s no debating it: the CPA Exam is hard. Fortunately, there are resources available and programs that can be implemented to improve CPA candidates’ success in passing the Exam.


The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) offers Exam candidates an online resource called the Uniform CPA Examination Candidate Bulletin, which outlines a five-step process that begins with preparing for the CPA Exam and ends with how to retrieve Exam scores.

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) provides the following recommendations for CPA candidates to effectively prepare for the Exam:

  • Understand the three Es (education, experience and exam). The website is a robust resource to help with this.
  • Understand the Exam content and how the material will be tested. The CPA Exam Blueprints help accounting students to understand Exam content and how the content is tested.
  • Practice time management with studying and managing the 18-month window.
  • Create a support network for encouragement to include mentors, colleagues, family and friends.
  • Explore CPA Exam partners such as AICPA, NASBA and Prometric.

College Curriculum Options

Colleges have also stepped in to implement new strategies for increasing CPA Exam pass rates. In a 2020 report in the Journal of Accounting Education titled “Schools’ CPA review course affiliations and success on the uniform CPA examination,” the authors provided the following three strategies for how college accounting programs can integrate CPA Exam review courses:

  • The accounting program can offer the CPA Exam review course for credit either as a required or elective course.
  • The CPA Exam review courses can be offered as a non-credit course and students can be encouraged to take the course.
  • The CPA Exam review courses can be delivered through continuing education.

Overall, the study found that when CPA Exam review courses were offered as a non-credit course, a higher CPA Exam pass rate was achieved than when students enrolled in a CPA Exam review course on their own.

An alternative strategy is to integrate a CPA Exam review course within a traditional accounting course, which can help motivate students to take the Exam upon graduation.

Internships Matter

table 1

Internships have been shown to be a good strategy to help aspiring candidates pass the CPA Exam. These opportunities offer practical application of accounting concepts to support classroom learning and provide emotional intelligence such as leadership, problem solving, communication and interpersonal skills, team building and a strong work ethic. Audit and tax positions can provide students with experience applying audit procedures, con­ducting research and preparing tax returns. According to “Bridging the CPA Exam Gap: Do Internships Matter?” in the first quarter 2020 issue of the American Journal of Business Education, students completing internships scored higher on all parts of the CPA Exam on average, as shown in Table 1. The sample size of their findings was small but has practical significance.

The overall conclusion is that students who participate in internships are better prepared for taking the CPA Exam. Experiential learning infused with academic theory offers a more holistic and well-rounded perspective.

Employer Efforts

Employers can also step in to help increase CPA Exam pass rates. While offering salary increases and bonuses provides the motivation to start the journey towards the CPA Exam, it does not provide any strategies to be successful in passing. Firms can go the extra mile by offering CPA Exam coaches to provide study assistance, answer questions and mentor new recruits. Stockton University is currently working with the NJCPA Atlantic/Cape May Chapter to offer a similar strategy where accounting students will connect with a CPA mentor.


Barry R. Palatnik

Barry R. Palatnik

Dr. Barry R. Palatnik,Ed.D, CPA, MBA, is an associate professor of accounting at Stockton University. He is a member of the NJCPA and serves as treasurer for the Atlantic/Cape May Chapter.

More content by Barry R. Palatnik:

John F. Boyle

John F. Boyle

John Boyle, CPA, PA, is assistant professor of business studies at Stockton University.

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.