Historically, the average CPA exam passing rates for each section have been around 50 percent. According to the AICPA, at least half of the candidates who take the exam each quarter fail their exam part. This isn’t an encouraging statistic by any means if you are looking to take the exam, but don’t give up. There’s hope. Let’s look at the pass rate for each CPA exam section and shed some light on the trends.
Overview Latest CPA Exam Pass Rate 2016 / 2017 Pass Rates by Exam Section Section Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 AUD 45% 49% 45% 44% BEC 55% 56% 58% 53% FAR 45% 46% 48% 43% REG 48% 50% 46% 48% Here’s an overview of all the sections’ scoring for the last seven years. You can see that there have been some ups and downs, but the overall it has been pretty consistent. With the new 2017 exam changes and the updates to the Exam Blueprint, there’s bound to be a slight decrease in scores over the next few quarters until candidates get the hang of the new testing layout.
Let’s look at each individual exam section. AUD Passing Rates Here’s a graph of the Audit exam passing rates for the last 7 years. As you can see, there is a slight downward trend in AUD scores over the past several years. Surprisingly, AUD is the lowest scoring exam section out of the four. This might have to with the theoretical and vague nature of most auditing and attestation questions compared with other subjects.
Auditing tends to be more judgement based instead of clear cut like other exams. For instance, there is only one correct tax deduction amount of REG. It’s not debatable. Whereas, AUD answers can be misinterpreted and misunderstood. BEC Passing Rates Here’s a graph of the Business Environment and Concepts exam passing rates for the last 7 years. In the past seven years, candidates have performed better on BEC than any other exam.
This is somewhat surprising in that many candidates tend to struggle with the written communication simulations on BEC. This CPA exam section is the least technical, however. This increasing trend is a great moral booster for candidates getting ready to sit for BEC. It has the highest pass rates since 2010! FAR Passing Rates Here’s a graph of the Financial Accounting and Regulation exam passing rates for the last 7 years.
There’s a slight downward trend, but nothing that is too serious. FAR is the longest and most technical of all the exams, so you would expect it to have somewhat of a negative scoring trend. The high score in 2016 was only 48%. This is the lowest high in the past seven years. The 2017 FAR exam will probably show some changes, however. Since the AICPA is moving away from multiple-choice questions, candidates will have to practice the simulations more.
Unfortunately, this is bad news for a lot of candidates who are good at MCQs. REG Passing Rates Here’s a graph of the Regulation exam passing rates for the last 7 years. Regulation scores have been pretty stable over the past several years. This trend might be explained by the lack of information changes in the exam. Unlike FAR where additional IFRS information keeps creeping into the exam, REG consistently focuses on federal taxation.
Conversely, the tax code is always changing. Thus, the material covered on the Regulation section is always changing as well. Many candidates also find this section difficult because it involves a lot of memorization with very little logical connections. For example, there is not reason why the standard deduction is its current amount. You just have to know it. Why is There a Seasonal Trend? I’m sure you have noticed that all of these graphs look similar with a huge drop in the fourth quarter scores.
No, the AICPA doesn’t make the exam really hard in the 4th quarter and easier in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The exam is the same all year. I think the difference in scoring is simply because people are busier during the holiday season in the 4th quarter and don’t put in enough time to study, so they perform poorly. I passed FAR and BEC in the 4th quarter. My passing score letter was the best Christmas present I could have asked for that year.
🙂 Exam Schedule and Pass Rate Trends Should I schedule my exam based on the pass rate trends? The obvious answer to that is, no. The exam is the same all year. You should schedule exams based on your own personal schedule and ability to put in the study time. For instance, if you work in public accounting, the first quarter might not be a good quarter to take a section. You’ll be too busy during tax season to study.
It would be a better idea to wait until the summer down months to knock out a few sections. Trends don’t matter. You need to focus on yourself and what you are able to do. How to Increase Your CPA Exam Score and Pass Rate The best piece of advice I can give you to increase your score and pass rate is to get a proper CPA review course and stick with it. The easiest and fastest way to pass the exam is the get a CPA study guide that matches your learning style and simply go through it.
Stay dedicated and work through your materials and you will be prepared on your exam day. If you haven’t picked out a review course yet, look at my reviews. I review all the top-rated courses, so you can find one that will work for you.
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Still waiting for 2016 full year’s results. The overall 2015 CPA exam pass rate was 49.9%, a tad higher than the 49.7% in 2014. It has been hovering around 50% for many years. CPA Exam Pass Rate 2016: Latest Stat FAR AUD REG BEC Q1 (2015) 44.1% 44.6% 48.0% 53.4% Q2 48.9% 49,2% 51.0% 57.6% Q3 50.4% 48.2% 51.3% 59.2% Q4 42.8% 46.7% 47.2% 55.0% Year 46.8% 47.3% 49.4% 56.
5% Q1 (2016) 44.7% 44.9% 47.6% 55.4% Q2 45.6% 48.7% 50.0% 56.3% Q3 48.1% 45.3% 50.2% 57.6% 2015 CPA Exam Pass Rate vs Previous Performance 2 of the 4 exam sections enjoyed increase in pass rates this year, with BEC again running way ahead of the pack. REG stayed pretty much the same, and FAR was off from last year. Source: AICPA website Let’s look at the longer historical trend by exam sections.
FAR pass rate has stabilized at around 48% with repetitive seasonal trend (discussed below). Most candidates find FAR the toughest, not because the questions are the most difficult, but the scope is the widest. Candidates spend more time preparing for FAR, and therefore, the pass rate is usually better than what people would expect. AUD pass rate used o have the lowest among the 4 parts, but this year it has caught up with FAR at 47.
3%. AUD used to have the highest or second highest passing rates back in 2008 to 2010. Performance has dropped since the new 2011 format was introduced. AUD looks relatively straightforward, but people often caught off-guarded by the vagueness of the questions — there is often more than one correct answers, and you have to pick the best answer. This has made the exam a lot more difficult. After a big drop in REG pass rate in 2011, it has steadily climbed back to the historical level at 48%.
2014 and 2015 REG pass rate was a pleasant surprise at 49%, reaching 51% in 2Q and 3Q of 2015. REG has a very similar case to FAR in that many candidates find it difficult and so they spend a lot of time preparing for it. FAR and REG pass rates are strikingly similar in the past few years. BEC continues to enjoy the highest pass rate and achieved 56.5% in 2015, an all-time high. BEC is the least technical part of the exam, and the lack of task-based simulations might help explain the relatively good performance.
Other Statistics The new NASBA report provides data by major countries. Click on the buttons below for CPA exam pass rates by part, by age and performance in sims and written communications: Did You Notice the Seasonal Trend? The passing rate is highest in 3Q, and lowest in the 1Q and 4Q. Why? I can’t imagine that the AICPA is making things easier for 3Q exams. The trend is possibly due to the fact that candidates are generally less busy during the summer days, either it is a summer break for those who are at school, or a slower season for audit, tax and in financial industry.
Similar argument is valid for the January-February testing window when junior auditors are busy for the December fiscal year-end audits and taxation work. Explanation on 4Q performance is less certain… holiday mood? Winter blues? Should I Time My Exam based on these Pass Rate Trends? I don’t think so. While the difference between the highest and lowest quarters are statistically significant (~5%), you simply can’t take the exam only in the summer given the 18-month limitation.
But it does show that when people have more time and commitment to study, the pass rate is higher. How to Increase Your Own CPA Exam Pass Rate In the Upcoming Exam The best way to achieve this goal is to pick a review course that suits your background, schedule and learning style. Did you know that some of these courses boast a CPA exam pass rate of 88%, almost double the national average? You can find a summary of the pros and cons of the major CPA review courses here (our most visited page on this site).
In your Next Attempt If you just got the news of failing the exam, don’t be despair — as you see, pass rates are low. There are actionable steps that you can take to greatly increase the odds of passing. I’ll Help You Plan, Study and Pass! I know the passing rate doesn’t sound encouraging, but every year thousands of candidates continue to pass the exam, some of those in one go. The CPA exam is doable, and I am more than happy to help you along the way.
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