As I’m sure you can imagine, facing a failed EA exam part is frustrating.
No one wants so many hours of preparation to prove unsuccessful. And the situation is even worse when you’re unsure why you failed in the first place.
But if you’re committed to becoming an enrolled agent, you must learn what happens if you fail the EA exam and how to move forward from there.
Using my own experience and the experience of my readers, I’ll help you see why you failed so you can bounce back and pass next time.
What Happens If You Fail the EA Exam?
When you sit for the EA exam, officially called the Special Enrollment Exam (SEE), you get your results back immediately. So, you can start contemplating your next steps as soon as possible.
Unlike several other professional accounting certification exams, you can register to retake a failed EA exam part in just 24 hours. Therefore, a retake doesn’t have to set you back too far on your EA exam schedule.
And if you already passed another part of the exam, you have 2 years until your credit for that section expires. Two years is plenty of time to pass the part you failed and your remaining part as well.
However, if you fail this same exam part 3 more times in the same testing window, you must wait until the next testing window to try for the fifth time. So, failing a few more times will eventually hinder your exam progress.
How Should You Handle a Failed EA Exam Part?
If you fail part of the EA exam, you have 2 options for your next move. You can either take the failed part again, or you can halt your pursuit of the EA. It really is that simple.
The second option may be tempting, especially if that failed part has you feeling like all your time and effort was for nothing. But I can assure you, this is not the case. Even with an EA exam failure on your record, you still have so much going for you in the EA designation process, such as:
- A submitted application and approval to take the EA exam
- Paid exam fees
- An EA review course
- An EA study plan
- Experience with the exam
- Increased tax knowledge
- The opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the EA
To me, it’s clear that you should keep trying to earn the EA, even in the wake of a failed exam part. Once you know what went wrong and how to fix it, moving forward can be quite easy.
Why Did You Fail the Enrolled Agent Exam?
It may not be fair for me to generalize the reasons why people fail. However, my correspondence with EA exam candidates has indicated to me that people usually fail for one of these 3 reasons:
- Insufficient study time
- Poor study effort
- Inadequate study materials
As I further explain these reasons and suggest steps toward improvement, reflect on your own EA review experience. Then, resolve to make the necessary changes to you can achieve EA exam success as soon as possible.
Insufficient Study Time
I believe that the most common reason for failing the EA exam is not studying long enough. If you know you failed the EA exam because you didn’t give yourself sufficient time to study, that is actually good news. You can easily correct this bad habit and do better on the exam next time.
Just because the EA exam has a relatively high pass rate doesn’t mean you don’t need to study for it extensively.
Even if you’re a very seasoned tax expert, you probably still need at least a few weeks to study for each exam part. But what if you’re an accountant who wants to specialize in tax? Or a personal tax specialist who doesn’t know as much about corporate tax? In these cases, you should allot a few months to study for the exam or as long as it takes to master your weak areas.
Fast Forward Academy recommends 40-70 study hours per exam part, while Gleim EA Review suggests 80-100 study hours each for Part 1 and Part 2 and 60-80 hours for Part 3.
Poor Study Effort
Think back on each individual study session you completed and ask yourself: How well did you focus on studying during these times?
In order to improve, you must be honest with yourself. How often were you completely productive during those study sessions? How many of your study hours really counted? For example, when you were supposed to be reading the book, were you really reading emails or social media posts? Or, when you planned to take some practice quizzes in your course, did you really take some silly personality quizzes on the internet?
I know that you know that wasting time on mindless entertainment is not the way to effectively review for the EA exam.
When you don’t keep your concentration in check, you have to study that same material again. You also have to work even harder to improve your comprehension.
Until you’re actively engaging in your studies, you can’t take credit for “studying” 10-15 hours a week. Until you’re analyzing the answer explanations for every quiz question you get wrong, you can’t strengthen your weak areas. You can only study successfully when you actually pay attention to your studies completely.
Inadequate Study Materials
Many readers jump to the conclusion that their failed EA exam part is all their review course’s fault. I don’t recommend being so hasty.
Carefully evaluate your own study habits first. If there’s a study behavior that you can fix, you should fix it no matter what.
Only consider getting another review course or supplement if you’re convinced you
- Studied long and hard enough and still couldn’t grasp the concepts,
- Found the actual exam questions to be too difficult, or
- Had poor time management during the actual exam.
If you’re sure your EA review course caused you to fail, then your next step is to find and address the flaw in your exam prep.
How Can You Get More Out of Your EA Review?
To make the most of your current study materials or determine what you need in a new review course, follow these steps.
Satisfy your learning style
The Enrolled Agent exam is a fairly straightforward test that assesses your knowledge of the tax code. Therefore, your study materials should adequately prepare you for the exam content as long as they cover all of the exam syllabi and use a good teaching approach.
Most courses cover all of the exam syllabi, so that second point is key.
Do you know your preferred learning style?
Some people learn better by reading textbooks, while others prefer to watch videos. You may even get a lot out of audio reviews. If your exam prep doesn’t include the resources you need to learn best, consider switching to a more integrated course.
Get comfortable with the exam questions
If your encounter with real EA exam questions left you quaking with fear and uncertainty, you probably didn’t study with accurate practice questions. Sometimes, the majority of questions in an EA review course test bank are just too easy. I note this problem among EA exam prep in my enrolled agent course comparison.
To build unshakable confidence in your ability to answer actual exam questions, you must prepare with the toughest practice questions on the market. You’ll find these questions in Gleim EA Review. I believe Gleim has the best EA test bank around for several reasons:
- The Gleim EA test bank is the biggest on the market.
- Gleim is one of the oldest EA review providers.
- The Gleim course is the only one endorsed by the National Associate of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).
- Gleim EA Review is the most widely used EA exam prep.
However, if you used Gleim and still failed the Enrolled Agent exam then I recommend Surgent EA Review. Powered by adaptive technology, Surgent’s EA course is the champion of EA exam re-takers. With it, you can target your troublesome topics and minimize surprises with exam questions.
Hone your EA exam time management
If you couldn’t finish the entire Enrolled Agent exam last time, then you probably have an issue with time management. The best way to solve this problem is to take some practice exams.
Did your course include them? If not, that’s a glaring issue with your exam prep that you can resolve by moving on to a different course. But perhaps your course does contain some practice exams, but it didn’t direct you to take them. In this instance, take it upon yourself to complete a few practice exams a week or 2 before your exam date. Use my time management strategies during these practice exams and during your practice quizzes as well.
Focus on your weak areas
One of the best ways to bump up your EA exam score is to improve your weak areas. I’m such a fan of this strategy, I talk about it all the time on this site.
You can discover your weak areas by recalling your experience with exam questions about particular topics and by analyzing the diagnostic report Prometric provides when you fail an EA exam part.
But if you suspect you have more weaknesses than you can remember or you want to pinpoint every topical struggle with laser-like accuracy, you should study with Surgent EA Review. As I mentioned, their adaptive technology is essential for refining each and every rough spot in your understanding of the exam content.
Where Can You Get More Help with a Failed EA Exam Part?
If you have more questions about the EA exam, you can find answers in my enrolled agent blog. For more specific feedback on overcoming your failed EA exam part, you can leave a comment or email me. And remember to sign up for my EA newsletter!
If you failed the Enrolled Agent exam: Stay strong. You can do it!