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CPA Exam Pass Rates Key Takeaways

  • The average CPA exam pass rate is around 50%.
  • Pass rates for the four sections of the CPA exam range between 45-63%.
  • BEC has the highest pass rate and FAR has the lowest pass rate.

2021 CPA Exam Pass Rates

The most recent 2021 pass rates are available for Q1 and Q2.

CPA Pass Rates 2021:

Source: AICPA
SectionQ1Q2Q3Q4Cumulative
AUD48.56%50.49%NANA49.70%
BEC62.16%63.31%NANA62.84%
FAR46.64%42.63%NANA44.70%
REG59.29%58.81%NANA59.03%

CPA Exam Pass Rates for 2019 and 2020

It takes a lot of study and practice to pass the CPA exam, but it’s achievable. Below we breakdown pass rates by section, year, and quarter so you can get an idea of how you might fare.

Overall, nearly 50% of candidates passed the exam in all sections in 2019 and 2020, with some sections having much higher pass rates closer to 60%.

In 2019 and 2020, the CPA rates show that more candidates passed the BEC section than any other, with FAR having the lowest CPA exam pass rates across the board.

Thus, you may conclude that FAR is the hardest section to pass and BEC is the easiest, but it is to be noted that the AICPA highlights one reason BEC is higher is that it is the section most commonly taken last.

This means students are better at studying and test taking after completing other sections. Keep that in mind as you schedule your exam and decide whether to tackle the hardest or easiest CPA exam section first, and consider building a personal schedule that takes into account that the FAR section has the most study content.

When you’re ready, check the 2022 CPA Exam Schedule to help you choose when to schedule your CPA exam.

2020 Pass Rates:

Source: AICPA CPA Exam Pass Rates
SectionQ1Q2Q3Q4Cumulative
AUD47.97%65.29%56.89%47.50%52.84%
BEC61.76%76.92%69.89%60.77%65.56%
FAR46.37%62.86%55.67%43.53%49.98%
REG55.42%74.97%66.12%58.00%62.29%

2019 Pass Rates

Source: AICPA CPA Exam Pass Rates
2019 CPA Exam Pass Rates
SectionQ1Q2Q3Q4Cumulative
AUD48.56%55.11%51.94%47.88%51.01%
BEC58.00%59.74%63.04%58.61%59.98%
FAR44.43%49.37%50.29%40.57%46.31%
REG50.23%58.66%58.41%55.89%56.34%

CPA Exam Rates – Breaking Down Each Section

In 2021, cumulative pass rates for the CPA exam ranged between 45-63% for the four different sections of the exam.

The CPA exam sections by highest pass rate in order:

  1. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  2. Regulation (REG)
  3. Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  4. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

We can look at specific pass rates of each section of the exam to understand how they relate to different sections and the exam overall.

AUD CPA Exam Pass Rates

In 2021, 49.7% is the average cumulative pass rate for the AUD CPA exam section.

The overall 2021 CPA exam pass rate is 54%, so AUD falls slightly below that and has the second lowest pass rate of all four sections of the exam in 2021.

BEC CPA Exam Pass Rates

The BEC CPA exam section has a 62.84% average cumulative pass rate in 2021.

BEC is typically considered the most straight-forward section of the CPA exam with the least amount of material covered.

It also varies from other sections of the exam because it includes written communication tasks and fewer task-based simulations. This could be why it is known to be the least difficult section of the exam and consistently has the highest pass rate.

FAR CPA Exam Pass Rates

The average cumulative pass rate for the FAR CPA Exam section in 2021 is 44.7%.

That gives FAR the lowest pass rate out of all four sections of the CPA exam. This follows typical trends as FAR has consistently had the lowest pass rate over the years and is considered to be the hardest section of the exam because of how comprehensive it is.

REG CPA Exam Pass Rates

The REG CPA exam section has a 59.03% average cumulative pass rate in 2021.

REG has the second highest pass rate out of the four sections of the CPA exam in 2021, coming in second to BEC (which has a 62.84% pass rate).

What Percentage Pass All Four Parts of The CPA Exam the First Time?

The overall pass rate for each section of the CPA exam hovers around 50%, but how many people manage to pass all four sections on the first try? About 20%. Around 1 in 2 people will pass a specific section of the exam, and about 1 in 5 people will pass each section on their first try.

Learn more about how hard is the CPA exam.

CPA Exam Pass Rates by Age

CPA exam pass rates vary by age, with younger people (recent graduates) faring better than older candidates—sometimes by as much as 20%.

This is likely because older candidates have been out of school longer and have not been in the mindset to study and take tests in quite some time. But, if you have been out of school for a while, fear not! Older candidates who study with Wiley CPA do just fine on the exams, it may just take a little extra studying and practice time.

Here’s a breakdown of three years of pass rates based on the age of the candidates so you can see where you might fit in.

CPA Exam Pass Rates by Age

Source: NASBA candidate performance report

How Is the CPA Exam Scored?

It’s important to understand how the exam is scored so you can plan your CPA exam prep for each section and learn how to pass the CPA exam.

For each section of the exam, your score will be between 0 to 99. To pass a section, you need a minimum score of 75.

Note that your CPA exam score is not a percentage, and it should not be interpreted as such. CPA scores are also not curved.

Additionally, your scores for the AUD, FAR, and REG sections are a weighted combination of scores from the multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and task-based simulations (TBSs), while your BEC section score is a weighted combination of scores from the MCQs, TBSs, and written communication tasks.

Source: AICPA
Item typeAUDBECFARREG
Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)50%50%50%50%
Task-based simulations (TBSs)50%35%50%50%
Written communication tasksn/a15%n/an/a

Some key takeaways on how the CPA exam is scored:

  • Scaled scores on the MCQ and TBS portions of the exam are calculated using formulas that take into account factors such as whether the question was answered correctly and the relative difficulty of each question.
  • Scoring is fully automated for all exam components except the written communication tasks. Most written communication responses are scored by a computer grading program, which is calibrated using human scorers.
  • Pretest questions are included in every exam (they may be multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks) only for the purpose of collecting data.
  • Multiple-Choice (MC) Testlets are classified as either medium or difficult based on the average difficulty of the pre-selected panel of questions within that testlet. The first MC testlet is of medium difficulty, and the second testlet may be the same or more difficult depending on the performance in the first testlet. Only the first testlet is adaptive, and all testlets have questions ranging in difficulty.
  • According to the AICPA, the CPA exam passing score is determined by their Board of Examiners (BOE), who consider many factors and input from others like, NASBA, consultant psychometricians, the academic community, and licensed CPAs, when making decisions.

For more information read the CPA Exam Frequently Asked Questions.

Past CPA Exam Pass Rates and Trends for 2018 and 2017

For more insights into how candidates have done historically on the CPA exam, check out the charts below for data from 2018 and 2017.

2018 CPA Exam Pass Rates

For 2018, BEC is consistently again the section with the highest pass rate, with the second quarter also performing well overall. It should be noted that for all sections, the second and third quarter had higher pass rates than their first and fourth counterparts.

Source: AICPA
SectionQ1Q2Q3Q4Cumulative
AUD49.27%54.70%51.07%48.54%50.97%
BEC56.43%60.31%60.17%60.13%59.35%
FAR41.59%49.17%48.85%44.57%46.22%
REG49.99%55.75%56.55%50.22%53.16%

2017 CPA Exam Pass Rates

Source: AICPA
SectionQ1Q2Q3Q4Cumulative
AUD43.47%52.00%52.15%47.69%48.59%
BEC50.39%55.09%55.35%55.33%52.99%
FAR43.14%43.76%47.58%42.50%44.42%
REG46.10%48.32%49.31%45.89%47.24%

CPA Exam Pass Rates Past Trends

While scores can vary from year to year and quarter to quarter, it can be helpful to see the overall picture of CPA exam pass rates by looking at trends. This can give you a more accurate view of what your chances are of passing.

Overall, from 2017 to 2021, AUD and REG pass rates increased slightly each year, while the BEC and FAR sections had larger jumps between 2017 and 2018. They leveled off and then increased again in 2020 (likely due to factors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic like less candidates taking the exam).

CPA Exam Pass Rates Past Trends Historic

CPA Continuous Testing Overview

Now that you’ve seen what the pass rates look like, you might be wondering, when is the best time to sit for the exam to get the best CPA exam results? Some quarters have historically performed better than others; however, the game has changed now that the CPA exam testing windows have been replaced with continuous testing (as of July 1, 2020). So, the best time to take the exam will be more of a personal choice–work schedule, life schedule, etc.

CPA Continuous Testing map
Source: AICPA’s Continuous Testing Overview

Some highlights About Continuous Testing:

  • You can now take the CPA exam year-round with no exceptions.
  • You’re able to test more frequently.
    • If you receive a failing score, you can retake a section without restrictions.

Retake sections while content is still top of mind—this may shorten time needed to pass all four parts of the exam.

  • Continuous Testing replaced the CPA exam testing windows, which had only permitted candidates to test during designated time frames each calendar quarter.

 

Overall, passing the exam will come down to your chosen CPA Exam Review Course and how much effort you put into studying and preparing—as those are the best indicators of success. For more on Continuous Testing and scheduling your CPA exam, visit our CPA Exam Schedule Guide.

CPA Exam Score Release

Awaiting your score can be a tense time, but you can find the target release date for scores based on test date by visiting the CPA Exam Score Release Dates page.

CPA Pass Rates by University

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) reports information on the top universities with large accounting programs and the highest CPA pass rates. Those CPA pass rates by school are:

  1. University of Texas at Austin —89.5% pass rate
  2. Brigham Young University —89.4% pass rate
  3. Wake Forest University —88.8% pass rate
  4. Boston College —88.3% pass rate
  5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor —88.2% pass rate
  6. University of Florida — 86.4% pass rate
  7. University of Virginia — 84.8% pass rate
  8. Texas A&M University — 82.9% pass rate
  9. University of Wisconsin-Madison — 82.9% pass rate

9 Out of 10 Candidates Pass With Wiley CPA Review Courses

According to the AICPA CPA Exam Pass Rates, in 2021, only 49.7% of candidates passed the AUD section, 62.84% passed the BEC section, 44.7% passed the FAR section, and 59.03% passed the REG section. However, 9 out of 10 students who used Wiley CPA Exam Review Courses passed all 4 sections of their CPA exam—that’s 90% and way above the average!

Wiley’s CPA Review Courses are taught by expert instructors and come with FocusMe TechnologyTM, an adaptive feature that identifies your problem areas and helps you address them as you move through practice problems.

Plus, with more test questions and task-based simulations than any other course provider, our CPA review mimics the actual exam and provides unique, customized questions to improve your scores.

With Wiley CPA Review Courses, you get:

  • 12,000+ Practice Questions
  • 500+ Task-Based Simulations
  • 4,000+ Digital Flashcards
  • Unlimited Access Until You Pass Guarantee
  • Mobile App Access
  • And More!

Ready to start studying? Compare Wiley CPA Review Courses today.

CPA Exam Pass Rates – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about CPA exam pass rates.

  • The CPA pass rate is around 50%.
  • Around 50,000 people pass the CPA exam each year.
  • If you fail the CPA exam, you can retake it as many times you need until you pass. You just have to pass all four sections of the exam within an 18-month time frame.
  • Around 20% of people pass all four parts of the CPA exam on their first try.
  • YThe CPA exam has a low pass rate because there is a lot of material covered in the exam and much of it is complex.

Start preparing for the CPA exam today.

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