How Failing the CPA Exam Might Actually Help You Succeed

You may have heard but NASBA managed to release scores a day early despite day long website issues and lots of candidate bitching. Lots and lots of candidate bitching. Granted, the scores came out just before the stroke of midnight but hey, at least they came out.

The news was undoubtedly good for many of you but for some, you probably wished the scores had never come out at all. It happens.

Here's the good news: failing might not actually be so bad. At least if you stop and think about your wrong answers.

The concept here is "pretesting," just like those many hours you spend picking away at practice exams ahead of your real exam. What does every single CPA review course tell you to do with incorrect multiple choice questions? Stop and figure out why you got the question wrong.

The New York Times magazine explains:

Across a variety of experiments, psychologists have found that, in some circumstances, wrong answers on a pretest aren’t merely useless guesses. Rather, the attempts themselves change how we think about and store the information contained in the questions. On some kinds of tests, particularly multiple-choice, we benefit from answering incorrectly by, in effect, priming our brain for what’s coming later.

That is: The (bombed) pretest drives home the information in a way that studying as usual does not. We fail, but we fail forward.

In other words, you're going to find concepts a lot easier to remember on your exam day if you dedicated a good chunk of study time to failing your way through practice questions. This is why if you have the choice between reading chapters and doing MCQ in the day leading up to your exam, you are going to want to do as many practice MCQ as possible.

Not only that, but all that highlighting in the book can actually work against you. You read and understood the chapter already 5 weeks ago when you first started studying for FAR, why go back and read it again when you're almost to the end of the book? The article explains:

The problem is that we have misjudged the depth of what we know. We are duped by a misperception of “fluency,” believing that because facts or formulas or arguments are easy to remember right now, they will remain that way tomorrow or the next day. This fluency illusion is so strong that, once we feel we have some topic or assignment down, we assume that further study won’t strengthen our memory of the material. We move on, forgetting that we forget.

Often our study “aids” simply create fluency illusions — including, yes, highlighting — as do chapter outlines provided by a teacher or a textbook. Such fluency misperceptions are automatic; they form subconsciously and render us extremely poor judges of what we need to restudy or practice again. “We know that if you study something twice, in spaced sessions, it’s harder to process the material the second time, and so people think it’s counterproductive,” Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College, said. “But the opposite is true: You learn more, even though it feels harder. Fluency is playing a trick on judgment.”

So, for those of you who swore up and down last night that you give up and will just go be a nail tech instead, remember, failing might be good for you. Unless, of course, you fail 5 times in a row, then you're just not cut out for this.

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