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The CPA Exam. You’ve heard the horror stories: It’s derailed the careers of promising professionals. It’s definitely harder than the BAR exam and maybe even some medical board exams. And it’s nearly impossible to pass once you’re a working professional.
But, are any of these anecdotes true? In this article, we’re going to sort fact from fiction and provide you with an honest look at the CPA Exam so you can be better prepared for it.
Keep reading to learn about the exam components, discover how it’s scored, better understand the time commitment it takes and find out how many people actually passed it in 2021. And perhaps most importantly, throughout this article, you’ll find reputable and actionable advice from Sawyer Smith, CPA and senior associate, Assurance at KPMG–one of the Big Four accounting organizations.
Need-to-Know Facts About the CPA Exam
What exactly is the CPA Exam?
Officially called the Uniform CPA Examination (CPA Exam), the CPA Exam is a 16-hour, four-section assessment that professionals must pass to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Each section focuses on a specific area of knowledge or skills that directly aligns with the work newly licensed CPAs will perform. Each exam section is further broken down into small segments called testlets and includes up to three different types of questions. Here’s a breakdown of the exam:
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How are the CPA Exam sections scored?
According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)–the world’s largest accounting profession association and the entity responsible for the development and scoring of the CPA Exam–scores are reported on a scale of 0-99.
To pass each section of the exam, you must score a minimum of 75. It’s important to understand that 75 doesn’t represent a percentage of the total questions you must answer correctly because questions are not weighted equally. The diagram below explains how the exam sections and different types of questions are weighted.
For MCQs, the CPA Exam uses a multi-stage adaptive test delivery model that enables test questions to be matched to each candidate’s proficiency levels.
How much time does the exam require?
The CPA Exam is a rigorous test and requires a serious commitment. However, like all tests, the amount of time you dedicate to studying for each section of the exam will depend upon your own knowledge, experience and test-taking abilities.
“Some people study four hours a week and some will study 25 hours,” says Sawyer Smith
senior associate, Assurance (KPMG), CPA. “It truly is the type of test where you get out what you put in. Your exam score will reflect the time and energy you spent preparing for it.”
Well-known preparation companies, such as Becker CPA Review and UWorld Roger CPA Review, recommend candidates spend between 300-500 total hours studying for the full exam. Luckily, you won’t have to cram all those hours of studying into a single month.
“You have 18 months to take all four sections of the exam and even though that seems like a lot of time, you will probably need all of it to be successful,” says Smith. “You need to approach the exam with a strategic plan so that if you don’t pass a section the first time, you have enough time left in that 18th-month testing window to retake it.”
What are the pass rates for each section of the CPA Exam?
Now let’s discuss what’s top of mind for all CPA Exam candidates–passing it. About half of the individuals who take the CPA Exam don’t pass on their first attempt. According to the AICPA, the national average pass rate is 45-55%.
Cumulative pass rates reported by the AICPA for the calendar year 2021 show that FAR had the lowest pass rate at 44.54% and BEC had the highest pass rate at 61.94%.
|Exam Section||Cumulative Pass Rate for 2021|
“BEC and AUD are generally regarded as the ‘easier’ sections of the exam,” says Smith. “FAR and REG are very difficult. They require a lot of memorization and cover so much information. People usually take these two sections first during their 18-month window in case they have to retake them. And it’s important to remember that it’s not uncommon for people to need to retake them–just look at the pass rates.”
3 Tips for Passing the CPA Exam
The facts in this article have laid out the truth about the CPA Exam: passing is no easy feat but it can be done! In fact, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), 23,407 candidates passed the CPA Exam in 2019. With a solid foundation in accountancy, hard work and dedication, you can join the group of candidates who pass each year.
Here are three tips for those who are starting their journey to become a licensed CPA from Sawyer Smith, Senior Associate, Assurance (KPMG), CPA:
- Study and take the exam before entering the workforce.
“I cannot emphasize this tip enough,” says Smith. “Working a full-time job makes studying for and taking the CPA Exam immensely more difficult. After working 40+ hours each week and then trying to carve another 15-25 hours to study can be nearly impossible for professionals with families or other commitments.”
“Some employers have programs in place to support and incentivize employees to earn their CPA license but not all do. Many recent college grads will take the summer after graduation off to prepare for the exam, and if that’s something you can work out, I highly recommend it,” adds Smith.
- Do not study and prepare for this exam on your own.
“There are several test prep companies out there and you should take advantage of them,” says Smith. “They provide serious practice tests that will familiarize you with the exam content and format and can also help you get an idea of how to manage your time for the actual exam. They can be pricey, but your investment is worth it when you receive a passing score for all four sections of the exam.”
- Be strategic about studying for and taking the exam.
“In addition to knowing the content and understanding the exam format and scoring, you need to make a strategic plan for scheduling each section,” says Smith. “Once you have chosen a testing center and you know the dates they will offer testing for each section you can begin creating your study schedule.”
Here are some questions Smith recommends you ask yourself when thinking about your exam schedule:
- “What section will be easiest for me? What topics do I have the most knowledge about?”
- “What is happening in my personal life over the next 18 months that will hurt or hinder my ability to prepare?”
- “Do I have any buffer time built into my schedule to account for unexpected situations in life and work?”
- “In what order should I take each exam section?”
- “Do I want to take the harder sections or the easier sections first?”
The answers to these questions will help you create a strategic exam schedule that will better set you up for success.
Build a Solid Foundation for Your CPA Licensure Journey
Pursuing your CPA licensure begins by acquiring a solid accountancy foundation through a bachelor’s degree. While it’s not required for your degree to be in accounting, it is highly recommended.
Franklin University provides a flexible B.S. in Accounting program built for working professionals. Courses are taught by faculty members who have deep accounting expertise. Many are licensed CPAs and have years of experience in the field.
Adding a graduate degree to your educational foundation may also be a smart move for CPA candidates–as some studies have shown it may boost your chances of passing the CPA exam. The CPA Journal reports that first-time test takers with master’s degrees have higher pass rates than candidates with a bachelor’s degree. The data reveals that the average pass rate for test-takers with a graduate degree is 58.3%. For those with only a bachelor’s degree, the rate is 48.8%
Getting a graduate degree may be a good choice for your CPA career. Franklin University’s online M.S. in Accounting degree program can help develop your leadership and career skills while you master the technician and non-technical aspects of accounting.
Kick-starting and Advancing Your Accounting Career
Get tips for success from 10 in-field experts to help you climb the career ladder and increase your earning potential.
The CompTIA Security+ certification exam in cybersecurity can be daunting. While there are no official figures, it's estimated that the failure rate is above 50% for first-time candidates. Due to this fearsome reputation, many prospective students wonder if they can retake the exam.What is the scoring system for Step 3? ›
The USMLE Step 3 is scored on a 3-digit scale ranging from 1 to 300, with most residents scoring between 196-256.What are 5 testing strategies? ›
- Listen to the Instructions. ...
- Read the Entire Test. ...
- Do a “Brain Dump” ...
- Answer the Questions You Know First. ...
- Answer the Questions You Skipped. ...
- Be Sure the Test is Complete.
The aggregate pass rate is calculated by the number of graduates taking the exam divided by the number of graduates who pass the exam.Is CompTIA A+ enough? ›
CompTIA is widely accepted as the industry standard qualification to begin a career in IT. Getting certification is also a way for those already established in the IT industry to level up their skills.How many questions can you miss on CompTIA A+? ›
The CompTIA A+ certification exam consists of 90 multiple choice questions. You are allowed to miss a maximum of 25 questions. If you miss more than 25 questions, you will not pass the exam. The passing score for the CompTIA A+ certification exam is 675 out of 900 points.How many questions do you need to get right on Step 3 to pass? ›
However, examinees typically must answer approximately 60 percent of items correctly to achieve a passing score. For Step 3, your performance on the case simulations will affect your Step 3 score and could affect whether you pass or fail.How many attempts to pass Step 3? ›
You must pass USMLE Step 3 within four attempts pursuant to Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 2177(c)(1).How hard is Step 3 to pass? ›
Is the USMLE Step 3 Hard? Yes, Step 3 of the USMLE is longer than both previous exams (two days in length) and consists of 412 multiple choice questions as well as 13 case simulation questions. However, you shouldn't have a hard time with the exam if you are well-prepared. The test has an overall pass-rate of 97%.What are the four 4 basic testing methods? ›
It is important that everybody understands this. There are generally four recognized levels of testing: unit/component testing, integration testing, system testing, and acceptance testing.
- Answer all questions in order. ...
- Read questions carefully. ...
- Words like always, never, completely, and only are absolutes. ...
- Watch for words like not, least, and except. ...
- Anticipate the answer. ...
- Eliminate answers. ...
- Go with your first choice.
In software testing, there are four levels of testing: Unit testing, Integration testing, System testing, and Acceptance testing. These four levels of testing must be completed before the software is released, as these testing levels add value to the software development life cycle (SDLC).What is a good passing score? ›
In fact, a “D” is considered passing in both high school and college, as it's above 60%. While a passing grade may be as low as 60%, you will want to aim higher for many reasons.What is a passing test score? ›
If a passing score is defined as 60% (or a D-), then 27 out of 40 would correspond to a 67.5% (or a D+), which would be a passing grade. However, depending on your teacher's scale, the passing score could be higher or lower.How do you rate grades? ›
Count the number of questions answered correctly. Take the number of correct answers and divide by the total number of questions. (Example: 15 correct answers divided by 20 total questions equals 0.75) Multiply this number by 100 to turn it into a percentage.
Yes! CompTIA A+ is an open-book examination.What is the hardest part of the CompTIA A+ exam? ›
In the above topics, the basic networking and installing, configuration and upgrading are the most difficult topics in the A+ certification exam when compared to the other topics. Upgrading, configuration and installation: For most of the candidates, this will be considered as the most difficult topic.What is the hardest part of A+ certification? ›
Originally Answered: What was the hardest part of the Comptia A+ certification exam for you? The hardest part of the exam is memorizing pin layouts and other trivial items such as voltage and clock speeds.How many times can you fail a CompTIA exam? ›
No matter how many attempts to pass the CompTIA Security Plus exam you need, you can take the test as many times as necessary. That said, you will need to pay to take the exam each time and may have to wait up to fourteen days to retake it if you've tried more than twice.Do you have to pay again if you fail CompTIA A+? ›
Candidates must pay the exam price each time they attempt the exam. CompTIA does not offer any free re-tests or discounts on retakes.
This exam is 90 minutes long, and you could get a maximum of 90 questions on this exam. These exams are graded on a scale between 100 and 900, and to earn your 220-1001, you'll need to get a score of 675. The other exam that you'll need to pass is the CompTIA A+ 220-1002 or the Core 2 exam.Do most people pass Step 3? ›
Note that the table does not include examinees outside the US and Canada. Overall, the passing rate of Step 3 examinees falls at 97%, which is relatively high.How many questions do you have to get right to pass Step 1? ›
Remember, there are 200 scored items on Step 1. But you have to answer 60% of them correctly to pass. That's 120/200. That leaves only 80 questions left to assign scores across the rest of the passing range.How many questions do you need to get right to pass Step 2? ›
In other words, to pass USMLE Step 2 CK, you only need to answer around 57% of items correctly.What is the 7 year rule for Step 3? ›
Time Limit for Completing Licensing Examination Sequence. Must pass all Steps of the USMLE within 7 years from the date of first passing any Step of the exam. Must pass Step 3 within 4 years of the first attempt at Step 3 or must complete 1 year of post-graduate training before making additional attempts at Step 3.How long does it take to study for Step 3? ›
In that case, most students spend between 4-8 weeks preparing, with the goal to complete the UWorld question bank and familiarize themselves with the clinical cases. If possible, using an elective block to study the two weeks leading into the exam is recommended.What happens if you fail Step 1 4 times? ›
The total number of attempts allowed per Step is four (4). Examinees who have attempted any USMLE Step (including Step 2 CS) four or more times and have not passed are ineligible to apply for USMLE Steps.Does anyone care about Step 3 score? ›
Does the Step 3 Score Matter? Your Step 3 grading will not impact your medical licensing unless you fail because you likely have a residency before you take this Step. If you plan to apply for a fellowship, your Step 3 score matters a bit more because it can bolster your application to help you achieve a better spot.Which step exam is the hardest? ›
Traditionally, Step 1 has been thought of as both the most difficult and most important USMLE Step exam. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, this exam is the first in the series, and students taking it will have had less experience with the types of questions that the USMLE asks.Can you retake Step 3 if you fail? ›
You are allowed only a single Step 3 attempt within your chosen eligibility period. If you need to retake or reapply for Step 3 for any reason, you submit a new application and a new fee.
The test strategy describes the test level to be performed. There are primarily three levels of testing: unit testing, integration testing, and system testing.Which test must be performed first? ›
Static testing is performed first - Manual testing.What is the best study strategy? ›
One of the most impactful learning strategies is “distributed practice”—spacing out your studying over several short periods of time over several days and weeks (Newport, 2007). The most effective practice is to work a short time on each class every day.How can I pass a test every time? ›
- Get informed. Don't walk into your test unprepared for what you will face. ...
- Think like your teacher. ...
- Make your own study aids. ...
- Practice for the inevitable. ...
- Study every day. ...
- Cut out the distractions. ...
- Divide big concepts from smaller details. ...
- Don't neglect the “easy” stuff.
Answer the easy questions first, then the harder ones. Don't get nervous if some questions look unfamiliar. Skip them and return to them later.What are the 3 A's of testing? ›
A unit test typically features three different phases: Arrange, Act, and Assert (sometimes referred to as AAA). For a unit test to be successful, the resulting behavior in all three phases must be in line with expectations.What are the three main areas of testing? ›
- Unit Testing. The first type of testing is called a unit test. ...
- Integration Testing. After you've tested out all of your functions, the next step is to put the functions together and test to make sure that they work. ...
- Automation/Acceptance Testing.
- Testing Stage 1 – Test Plan.
- Testing Stage 2 – Analysis.
- Testing Stage 3 – Design.
- Testing Stage 4 – Development.
- Testing Stage 5 – Execution.
- Testing Stage 6 – Bug fixing.
- Testing Stage 7 – Software is implemented.
At most schools, a D is the lowest passing grade. That means students who earn a D or higher receive credit for the course. However, some schools set special policies around D grades.What is the passing average score? ›
C - this is a grade that rests right in the middle. C is anywhere between 70% and 79% D - this is still a passing grade, and it's between 59% and 69% F - this is a failing grade.
California uses the 145 AND 580 scoring standard2 (which means that no subtest score less than 145 is allowed, and a total score of at least 580 is required.) The 580 total score is based on the test taker scoring at least 145 in all four subtests (4 * 145 = 580).What test score is a fail? ›
Grades A–F in the United States
However, there are some schools that consider a C the lowest passing grade, so the general standard is that anything below a 60% or 70% is failing, depending on the grading scale. In college and universities, a D is considered to be an unsatisfactory passing grade.
Standard Score – Standard scores have an average (mean) of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Scaled Score – Scaled scores have an average (mean) of 10 and a standard deviation of 3. T-Score – T-scores have an average (mean) of 50 and a standard deviation of 10.What is the grade scale? ›
Common examples of grade conversion are: A+ (97–100), A (93–96), A- (90–92), B+ (87–89), B (83–86), B- (80–82), C+ (77–79), C (73–76), C- (70–72), D+ (67–69), D (65–66), D- (below 65).What is the 5 point grading scale? ›
At most schools, colleges and universities in the United States, letter grades follow a five-point system, using the letters A, B, C, D and E/F, with A indicating excellent, C indicating average and F indicating failing.What is the 7 point grading scale? ›
The 7-point grading scale has been developed in part to simplify the compatibility between Danish and foreign grading scales. The 7-point grading scale consists of five marks designating a passing level (12, 10, 7, 4 and 02) as well as two marks designating a non-passing level (00 and -3).Is the CompTIA exam hard? ›
Is the CompTIA A+ Exam Hard? This is a subjective question. If you come from virtually zero IT experience, then yes, you may find preparing for the CompTIA A+ exam harder than some. But that's the great thing about CompTIA exam preparation: You pick your starting point and you pick your learning style.What is the passing percentage for CompTIA A+ Core 1? ›
The passing score for the 220-1001 exam is 675 (on a scale of 100-900). The passing score for the 220-1002 exam is 700 (on a scale of 100-900). This equates roughly to a required passing score of 72% and 75% respectively, though it is difficult to compute the exact worth of each question.How hard is IT to pass the CompTIA Network+ exam? ›
The exam covers a range of topics, including networking concepts, infrastructure, protocols and services, network security, and network troubleshooting. While the difficulty level of the exam may vary for each individual, it's generally considered to be challenging.How hard is IT to get CompTIA certification? ›
You'll also have the ability to hear other students ask questions and hear the instructor's replies so you won't have to worry about asking all the right questions. The CompTIA Security+ certification is the world's most sought-after cybersecurity certification, and it's also one of the most difficult.
In the above topics, the basic networking and installing, configuration and upgrading are the most difficult topics in the A+ certification exam when compared to the other topics. Upgrading, configuration and installation: For most of the candidates, this will be considered as the most difficult topic.Can you cheat on the CompTIA A+? ›
Each and every CompTIA exam is proctored to prevent cheating. It doesn't matter if you take the exam in person or online through Pearson VUE – a proctor is present at all times. Additionally, anybody who takes a CompTIA certification exam must sign the CompTIA candidate agreement at the beginning of every exam.What is a perfect score on the CompTIA test? ›
The grading scale is a little unusual since you are graded on a scale of 100 to 900 points. The CompTIA A+ 1001 test has a passing score of 675, whereas the CompTIA A+ 220-1001 exam has a passing score of 700.What score do you need to pass A+ Core 2? ›
The CompTIA A+ (220-1002) exam passing score is 700 on a scale of 100-900. You can schedule for the exam at Pearson VUE. You must have the CompTIA A+ 220-1001 (core 1) Exam credential before you sit for the exam.
An Overview of the A+ Exam. Both CompTIA's Network+ and Security+ exams are harder than the A+ exam. But the overlap between these exams can change how we relate to them.How long should I study for CompTIA Network+? ›
This Network+ training covers all N10-008 networking basics exam objectives and should get you test-ready in about 8 weeks.Can I pass Network+ without a+? ›
Of the core CompTIA certifications, the A+ certification is the first exam that you will need to pass, as it is a prerequisite to the Network+ and Security+ certification exams. . Once you pass the A+ certification exam, you are ready to take one or both core CompTIA certification exams.How long should you study for a CompTIA exam? ›
We recommend setting aside 30 minutes per day for 3 months to study for CompTIA A+, but increasing the number of hours you're able to study daily can mean you're ready for exam day in less than 3 months.