CPA Exam Difficulty and Pass Rates

Updated:December 8, 2018
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It isn’t uncommon for an aspirant CPA hopeful to re-take certain sections of the exam. It is lauded as the “black-belt” of accounting and isn’t simple by any means. Students take large sacrifices time-wise due to studying and the education prerequisites, and financially due to the cost of re-registration, re-application, and the charge of the exam itself.

Pass rates for the past 2 years

In 2014, test pass percentages were released and each section consistently settled at about 50%. For the AUD or Audit and Attestations section, 46.35% of testers passed. For the BEC or Business Environment and Concepts, 55.46% passed. The BEC section had the highest pass percentage out of the four sections. FAR or Financial Accounting and Reporting had 47.6% pass. Regulation or REG settled at 49.41% passing. This indicates that about 50% of all exam takers must retake at least one of the sections.

Why are pass rates so low?

Some students may attempt to take the exam without purchasing any type of study help, classes, or materials to base their studies around. It is not recommended and it is even considered necessary by most test-takers. The expense can be significant around $1000 to $3000 but it may be worth it to avoid consistent failure. Many also make the mistake of studying only the multiple-choice questions but for most of the sections is only makes up 60% meaning that even if an applicant answered all questions correctly, they would still fail.

The task-based questions or the written questions have value and should be concentrated on as well. The test bank is enormous and the probability that you will find questions identical to what you studied is very low. Instead it is better to learn the concepts and to be able to accurately complete simulations. Some people may not know when the best time to take a test is for them, their prime time may be in a different season or at a different time of day than they chose.

This may be due to the fact that not many other times or spaces were available or they just didn’t know what time works best for them. Don’t overwhelm yourself with studying, take breaks and give rewards.

Why is the CPA exam so difficult?

The exam is difficult because the topics can cover a large wealth of information and the task-based simulations require the use of many skills and the knowledge of various principles to complete successfully. Each testlet will have different amount of medium and difficult questions, it is important to try to answer more of the difficult questions than the medium because they weighted greater.

Students must realize it isn’t how many questions they got correct that counts, but which questions they answered correctly. The non-multiple choice questions must be considered important as well.


In conclusion, exam pass rates are around 50% for all sections. Students must take all parts of the exam into account, not just the multiple-choice. Emphasis on tasks, simulations, written parts, and conceptually knowledge over multiple-choice question memorization will help pass the exam. Also take careful note of the 18 month time frame in which all exam sections must be passed.

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