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MANILA, Philippines – Becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) is tough. During the pair of pandemic-era CPA licensure examinations, only about one out of five takers made it – these are passing rates of 21.87% in December 2021 and 22.29% in May 2022.
So one can only imagine the happiness of Joyce Callo and Duane Cabasal when, after numerous attempts, they finally got their licenses when they passed the May 2023 CPA Licensure Examination.
Callo took seven tries, while Cabasal had five attempts.
Seventh’s the charm
Just moments before the release of the results, Callo could feel her heart pounding as she tightly held a rosary in her hands.
Having gone through this experience on six previous occasions, she was no stranger to the pressure that accompanied it. Throughout her journey in taking the exam, there was this one monologue that kept echoing in her mind: “What if it’s my time now?”
Callo obtained her degree in accountancy from Divine Word College of Laoag in Ilocos Norte, in 2018. She was also a full-time reviewee until her third take.
“Yung parents ko po, kuya, titas and titos, [financially supported me] during my fulltime review. Hindi po biro yung pang-review during those times kasi face-to-face pa ‘yung review pre-pandemic. Tuition fee, boarding house, food and other expenses [sila po sa lahat ‘yun],” Callo shared in an interview with Rappler.
(My parents, brother, aunts and uncles, financially supported me during my fulltime review. Reviewing during those times was no joke, as it was done face-to-face before the pandemic. They shouldered my tuition fee, boarding house, food, and other expenses.)
After flunking her third attempt, Callo admitted that she felt embarrassed in front of her family because they have already spent a lot of money for her. She decided to become a financial analyst while reviewing for the CPA exams, as well as pursue a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). These allowed her to not only gain practical experience, but also maintain the financial stability to continue her pursuing her ultimate dream of passing the CPA exam.
Five times strong
Meanwhile, right after last month’s board exam, 25-year-old Cabasal visited by different churches on the way to a family reunion. Lighting a candle at each stop, he asked God to help him and his friends pass the board exam in a petition letter — with “CPA” penned as extensions to their names — something he recalled as an act of manifesting their dreams to reality.
Faith is important in Cabasal’s life, especially in his CPA journey that is fraught with challenges.
During college, he remembers having self-doubts as he struggled academically. “Feeling ko parang napag-iiwanan ako…. End na ba ito para sa course ko? (I felt like I was falling behind. Is this the end for my course?)” Cabasal told Rappler.
He spent his first year studying accountancy at the University of Saint Louis – Tuguegarao, and subsequently transferred to Saint Ferdinand College in Ilagan, Isabela province after he didn’t make the grade cut-off.
The journey of trying
Both Callo and Cabasal invested significant time and effort to claim their CPA titles.
For Callo, there were a lot of things that became part of her daily routine while preparing for the exam.
She would wake up early in the morning to review before heading to work, as well as devote time after work to do the same. During weekends, she managed to balance her MBA classes and her online review courses.
Essentially, reviewing became a focal point of her life.
Cabasal reviewed with friends frequently and developed a disciplined schedule for studying. When he first flunked the board exam, his friends were there to share the experience with him. Eventually, they traveled from Ilagan to Manila to enroll at a review center.
But in 2019 and 2021, he again failed his second and third attempts.
“Tapos nag-take po kami, lumabas po ‘yung result. Wala. Wala. Wala po ‘yung pangalan ko. Naiyak talaga ako nun. Kasi ‘yung feeling ko talaga na, binalik ko ‘yung momentum ko, nag-aral po ako talaga. Tapos parang… Malayo pa rin talaga. Iniisip ko po if para sa akin pa ba itong course, itong profession na ito.” Cabasal shared.
(Then we took the exam again, the results were released. None. None. My name was not there. I really cried at that time. Because I felt like I regained my momentum, I studied hard. Then it was as if… It’s still really far. I was thinking if this course is still for me, this profession).
A strong support system
The two new CPAs constantly emphasized the importance of their loved ones’ support in their exam preparations.
Callo never forgot to acknowledge the crucial role that her loved ones played as her support system. Whether it was her family, friends, or housemates, she recognized them as the backbone that sustained her.
“Sobrang lucky ko lang talaga and sobrang thankful na binigyan ako ni Lord ng very supportive family and friends…. ’Yung mga friends ko always cheered me up na ‘wag sumuko kasi most of them nakapasa na…. ‘Yung workplace ko rin ay sa Bulacan kaya nag-dorm ako. Nakakilala ako ng mga supportive housemates. Hindi na nga ako nagluluto sila nalang kasi mag-aral na lang daw ako,” she recounted.
(I am extremely lucky and thankful that the Lord gave me supportive family and friends. My friends always cheered me on, encouraging me to not give up because most of them have already passed the exam. My workplace was located in Bulacan, so I stayed in a dormitory. I was able to meet supportive housemates who even insisted on cooking for me so I could focus on studying.)
Cabasal’s family was his inspiration. He shared, “Supportive po sila [parents and sister]. Nag-retire po ‘yung mom ko para i-tight ‘yung budget. ‘Try natin, baka ito na ‘yung time na maging CPA ka.’” (My parents and sister were supportive. My mother retired to help tighten our budget. “Let’s try, maybe this is the time you’ll become a CPA.”)
Since graduating in 2018 from Saint Ferdinand College, he became a full-time reviewee. It was a decision supported by his family – his mother, Angelina, a former bank employee; his father, Dwayne, an auditor at the Commission on Audit; and his younger sister, Dayne, a pharmacy student. His father’s being an auditor, also inspired him to continue working towards becoming a CPA.
The right time
Now that Callo is a CPA, she first wants to finish her MBA course. She intends to put her attention on that new goal, getting ample time to rest before embarking on a new job in auditing.
The path to becoming a CPA is always accompanied by challenges.
Callo always thought that if she failed in her seventh attempt, she would have to restart the entire process and retake the whole exam. However, she didn’t let this get to her in the end.
Callo hoped aspiring CPA exam takers would use her story as a real-life example that it is never too late to reach for their dreams and aspirations. “For those who didn’t make it, do not be discouraged. Hold on to that dream like I did, it will come to you in God’s perfect timing. Magpapahinga pero ‘wag susuko,” she shared.
(For those who didn’t make it, do not be discouraged. Hold on to that dream like I did, it will come to you in God’s perfect timing. You can take a break, but never give up.)
Cabasal felt hope after seeing the incremental rise in his rating when he flunked for the fourth time. He shared: “Parang nabuhayan ako, kasi nung dati, doon sa unang three takes ko, 62, 67, ganun lang po ‘yung average. Tapos nakita ko, 72. Parang ang lapit na sa 75. 75 po kasi ‘yung passing rate.” (It was like my faith was renewed because before, during my first three takes, 62, 67 were my average. But when I saw 72, it’s close to 75, which is the passing rate).
When he was about to take his fifth CPA exam, Cabasal firmly told himself, “Babawiin ko ‘yung 3% na rating sa board (I will redeem the 3% in the board),” and he did.
When the results were released and he saw his name, Cabasal reached a fever pitch telling the news to his family.
He Cabasal shared to those who failed their board exams: don’t give up on your dreams. “May time talaga si God sa atin… Hindi lang natin alam kung kailan” (God really has the right time for us… We just don’t know when.) – Mia Seleccion and Seth Fernandez/Rappler.com
Mia Seleccion is a third-year Communication Arts student at the University of Santo Tomas and an intern for Rappler’s Digital Communications team.
Seth Fernandez is a Digital Communications Volunteer at Rappler. She is pursuing a degree in Communication at Ateneo de Manila University.