What is the CPA pass rate and how to prepare yourself for the CPA exam?

If you are trying to be a certified accountant, then you probably heard of the CPA exam. Not only is it one of the most difficult professional credentialing exams out there, but the CPA exam is also one of the four requirements to get your certificate and license. So, let’s be honest here, the CPA exam is one you can’t take lightly. We are here to help. We already wrote a helpful article about everything you need to know about the CPA exam. For now, let’s dive into how others are scoring on the CPA test and how you can prepare yourself for this exam. After all, we all want to be part of that pass rate too, right?

What is de CPA pass rate?

We all want to know how much people actually pass the CPA exam. This number will either soothe you or give you a small kick in the butt. Anyway, we are here to provide some insights in the CPA pass rate.

First things first, the CPA pass rate variates every year. So, let’s take a look at some of the most recent cumulative rates. In 2020, the CPA exam pass rates were 52.84% for AUD, 65.56% for BEC, 49.98% for FAR and 62.29% for REG.

An interesting fact is that the pass rates differ in every quarter of the year. The CPA exam can be taken during designated windows of time eight months of the year. Testing is unavailable in March, June, September and December. But the interesting part is that test-takers pass the CPA exam the most in Q2 of 2020. It even is the highest pass rate in 10 years. Experts thinks this is due to the worldwide pandemic, which gave candidates more time to prepare themselves. If we look at the pass rates of 2019, we see that Q2 and Q3 are the quarters where most candidates pass the CPA exam. This trend is seen in 2018 and 2017 too. So, choose wisely ;-).

When is my best chance of passing the CPA exam?

As we stated in the last paragraph, results show that in Q2 and Q3 of every year the passing rates where the highest. This doesn’t mean that the exam in Q1 and Q4 is harder than the exam in Q2 or Q3. The pass rates are almost entirely affected by outside influences, such as holidays and school semesters. Besides that, there are other influences that can affect the results. Let’s take a look at every quarter.

Q1 (January and February)
This is the start of the busy season for tax accountants. Accountants who work full-time probably won’t find enough time to keep up with studying. Besides that, this quarter comes right after the holiday season. And we all know that studying in between Christmas dinners and New Year’s parties is not one of our favorite things to do.

Q2 (April and May)
This is the first chance most college graduates have to take a CPA exam section. Most of the time, first-tryers are well prepared. This can explain the higher passing rate.

Q3 (July and August)
This is the perfect time for college graduates to take a section of the CPA exam. Students who graduate in May have all summer to study for the next section. There are very few holidays during that time and many students probably don’t want to study during the holidays later that year. This sets them up to do very well when they sit in Q3.

Q4 (October and November)
The pass rates are not too high in this quarter due to the holiday season. Nobody like to study when there is food on the table, right?

What test sections should you take first?

Now that we know that the CPA exam is not a piece of cake, you want to make sure you are part of that passing rate. This all comes down to good preparation. In another blog we told you something about which section you should take first and which section is the hardest. To be honest, there is no correct order. Consider how much content you will need to learn for each section, base your order on that information and don’t leave the hardest section to the end. Most people choose to do FAR of AUD first and second. FAR is the hardest section (the passing rate is the lowest for this section) and BEC is the easiest section. That is why many candidates choose to do BEC last.

How to prepare yourself for the CPA test?

The CPA exam evaluates an accountant’s understanding of complex issues their clients face. Success on the exam is not about answering the answer right, but about deploying an applicable skill set for the situation. After all, that is what demonstrates your ability to protect the public interest in your work. To do so, your preparation should focus on ideas and skills, not simple facts and figures.

There are thousands of online courses, traditional classes, podcasts, audio books, normal books and video material that can help you with your study. Here on Stuvia you can find book summaries, documents and flash cards about the CPA exam too! This content is written by CPA tutors or students who already took the CPA exam. Just find the study method that suits you best and search for the right content. If you are a visual learner, try textbooks, summaries or videos. Auditory learners can benefit from podcasts or audiobooks that explain complex ideas. And if you are more like the ‘traditional learner’, try a class or study with a tutor or other students.

CPA exam sample tests

Yes, they’re out there! AICPA (American Institute of CPAs) is the mother of CPA. They will provide you with the exams and they calculate your scores. So, it is a no-brainer to take a look at their content too. The AICPA has sample tests for each test section. While these are not the complete, four-hour exam sections, each sample test gives you a selection of multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations and writing communication tasks as they would appear on the real exam. Completing each sample test may take you up to two hours.

However, these sample tests won’t give you any scores and it will not determine your readiness to take the CPA exam. It does give you the correct answers or model responses along with explanations for each. Use this sample tests wisely: use it as a preparation tool before your test day and to get familiar with the questions you will face during your exam. Be smart, and take a look at these CPA sample tests and beat that CPA.

CPA exam tips and tricks

  • We hope you all know this, but we will say it anyway: you can’t successfully cram for the CPA. The complexity of the issues requires a deep understanding of multiple variables, and problem-solving skills are not something one can memorize.
  • Complete all test review work one week prior to test day. Schedule only practice tests in that last week leading up to the exam.
  • Choose the section you believe will benefit you the most to take first. Choose to take one of the harder sections first and finish with an easier section.
  • Use the 18-months NTS expiration period as a guideline. Most of the candidates successfully complete the exam within 18 months. Develop a 12-month plan to completion and use the extra 6 months as a buffer.
  • Break up study materials into weekly chunks. For example, tackle one chapter and one set of sample questions each week.

Are you ready to tackle the CPA exam? We surely hope you are! If you are looking for any book summaries, flash cards or notes that can help you with your preparation, don’t hesitate to look at the content on our CPA summaries page.

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