How to Deal with Ignorance About the CPA Exam


Not everyone you know or frequent with in your life is going to understand the CPA licensing journey. In our past blog, Donna Elish writes about her coworker’s comments about the Exam being easy, and in many forums we’ve come across, there’s always a thread about how some distant cousin at a family gathering or old friend you bumped into at your local Chipotle makes some snide remark about you and the CPA Exam. We all run into some situations that we consider adverse frequently in this life. But here are some ways you can deal with ignorance about the CPA Exam without throwing guacamole at the guy (or gal).

1. Realize they’re just not very well informed

We know it’s difficult to automatically condone something horrific that comes out of someone’s mouth and to not become defensive in a second. And we’re not suggesting you condone it, either. What we are suggesting is for you to always be the bigger person and to take a few seconds to realize that this person just isn’t very well informed about the CPA license or the CPA Exam—or, anything CPA related, for that matter. Their ignorance is ultimately the cause of their comment, question, or remark. Obviously they haven’t done any research about the topic before they spoke with you, or maybe they’ve been watching one too many accounting genre movies. Whatever the case may be, give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping to the conclusion that this person is a total (you fill in the blank). Once you frame the situation to reflect this, you can become empathetic rather than angry, and have a proactive response rather than a reactive one.

2. Use the situation as a time to educate them about the topic

So what better time or place to help this person? Use this situation to educate them about the CPA exam and licensure. Speak to them calmly and in a way that’s sincere and firm, particularly if they’ve said something that they don’t know came off as extremely offensive. Start off the conversation with a simple “I could see why you think that, but…” or “You should probably be a bit more careful with the way you phrase your words, because…” or “Actually, the CPA Exam is considered one of the toughest exams to take. There’s only a 50% pass rate per section…” or something along those lines. Address the topic they commented on and use one of your own personal situations or other facts and figures that you’re aware of to inform and correct them about their perspective. You want to make sure they know that the topic is serious and frame it in such a way that doesn’t belittle them, but makes them aware of your desire to not have them put themselves in these types of situations in the future. Sometimes people can get pretty defensive when you confront them about an issue (even though they’re the ones who started the confrontation—but, you know—they can be quite aloof!), so use your upper hand to make the discussion one that’s positive, informative, and educational.

3. Be kind, have patience, and be open to discussion…even with the purposefully hostile people

These traits can be difficult to have when faced with adversity, but they’re truly one of the best things you can do for yourself and the other person, especially if that person isn’t ignorant at all and just wants to get under your skin. Usually you can differentiate between someone who’s being purposefully hostile versus that person who truly doesn’t know any better. Such shock talkers (as we like to call them) are looking for one thing: to get a reaction out of you. Should you come across one of these beings, keep calm and carry on. Should they want to engage in discussion, make sure you keep it on topic and aren’t divulging in their desire for argumentative confrontation. Chances are, they’ll probably learn a good thing or two from you without you having to lift a finger.

Remember—you’re a CPA candidate studying and taking the Exam. You don’t need to have ignorant people be another thing to deal with on your plate. So even if you try these tactics and that person still gets under your skin, the best advice we have for you, in Elsa’s words, is let it go. They’re not worth your time or your energy. You don’t need to make them understand. Keep your eyes on the prize and remember that there are a dozen other people who support you, love you, and are there for you no matter what!

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

-Winston Churchill
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