CPA Exam Pass Rate 2013: What You Can Learn From Others’ Experience

The overall CPA exam pass rate in 2013 was 49.4%. We have seen a continuing upward trend, which is great news.

CPA Exam Pass Rate 2013 vs Previous Performance

cpa exam pass rate 2013

Source: AICPA website

3 of the 4 exam sections enjoyed increased pass rates this year, with BEC running way ahead of the pack. AUD pass rate dropped slightly, but this is likely due to the new syllabus introduced in July 2013.

Let’s look at the longer historical trend by exam sections.

FAR CPA exam pass rate 2013

FAR pass rate has stabilized at around 48% with the similar seasonal trend (to discuss 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 CPA exam pass rate 2013

AUD pass rate remains somewhat disappointed with the lowest among the 4 parts, at 45.9% in 2013. 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.

AUD Clarity Project

As shown in the charts on this page, candidates often perform the best in 3rd quarter. FAR, REG and BEC followed the trend this year, but AUD’s 3rd quarter pass rate dropped. I believe the AUD Clarity Project introduced in the second half of the year had an impact on the pass rate this year.

REG CPA exam pass rate 2013

After a big drop in REG pass rate in 2011, it has steadily climbed back to the historical level at 48%. 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 CPA exam pass rate 2013

BEC continues to enjoy the highest pass rate and reached an all-time high of 55% in 2013 (58.5% in 3Q 2013). 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 NASBA report below shows other interesting data e.g. pass rate of first-timer vs retakers, top 3 jurisdictions in terms of number of candidates and pass rates, and candidate breakdown by gender and educational level.

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).

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.

If you find this article helpful, please consider signing up to my mini-course which is completely free. I have two versions designed for candidates with different background:

For US candidates (US citizens/residents with US degrees, living or working in the US) who want to learn about how to study for the CPA exam, please click on this US flag.
For other candidates who wants to learn about how to pick the right state and how to apply, please click on the United Nations flag. Action is the key to success. Join us now and see you there!

Comments

  1. Nasra says

    Dear Stephanie,
    THanks for the great work… it really makes a difference to many people. I had a few queries and hoped if you could help:

    Firstly, I had purchased a couple of year back Yaeger home study along with the Wiley 2008 books to attempt the CPA exam but due to some personal issues I had to put that off and have never attempted the exams. I have decided to take FAR, AUD & BEC exams this fall – Are those materials any good? if not do you know how much an update will cost me on Yaeger.

    Secondly, I will be shifting soon to Virginia and I was hoping to attempt the exams there. Since graduating from university with a Bachelor’s in Accounting/Finance I had worked for 6 years as a full-time accountant – does any of this experience count? Although I am not planning to work in an audit firm, I am hoping to take the exams and get licensed. Currently I have 120 hours but once I am done with the exams I will work on getting a Master’s degree – in VA will I be able to be licensed after the 150-hr requirement is fulfilled or do I need to work under a CPA to be licensed. Is taking the exam in VA a good idea or should I choose another state?

    I would really appreciate your help with this.
    Many thanks,
    Nasra

    • Stephanie says

      Hi Nasra,
      Thanks very much for your kind words. I will continue to work hard on this site!

      In terms of whether the old Yaeger/Wiley books are still good… there’s always some changes here and there every year. I would think that if you do the practice exam and get a very good score (like 85+) then the extra points *should* be able to cover any new materials that weren’t covered in the old version. Otherwise, you might want to get a new version just in case.

      I think if it is a couple of years back (vs last year) you will not get a discount for an update of the books (but please double check to make sure).

      One alternative for you is to get the CRAM course from Yaeger, which is a nice summary for you to cover any gaps.

      On which state to sit for the exam, if you are going for a Master’s degree, then there can pretty much sit for the exam anywhere.

      For Virginia, you can take the exam now with the 120 credit hours but you’ll need the 150 hours to get the license. The state requires 1 year of working experience — and this experience does NOT need to be supervised by a CPA (although it needs to be verified by an active CPA). So looks like you should be able to fulfill this requirement as well.

      So I guess you don’t need to worry about the licensing issue and let’s focus on passing the CPA exam. Best of luck to you!
      Stephanie

  2. manny says

    what about annual passing rates for all 4 sections, meaning finishing the exam in total? I cant find those stats anywhere…

  3. kiran says

    Hi Stephanie,
    Your information on different cpa review material really helped a lot to choose the right study material for me .
    This year i am going for my first attempt. Would you please recommend me some tactics for passing the BEC,FAR,REG,AUD.??
    What are the best ways and technique to be followed to prepare each section ??
    thanks .

  4. Katherine White says

    I am writing a report for my Business Communications class about different trends in accounting. I was wondering if I could use your chart as a visual in my report.

    Thanks

    Katherine White

  5. Sonia says

    Dear Stephanie,
    I am doing research of how to start studying for CPA exam after 12 yrs. I am scared and what material do I need? Should I borrow text books from school or buy review material for the exam. My experience in accounting was with pricewaterhousecoopers, doing taxes for ony tax season- does that count. Rest in health care field. I am in michigan. Any suggestions please….

  6. Rebecca says

    Hello Stephanie,

    I am so glad I have subscribed your email. Your information is absolutely helpful.

    I am a student who is currently studying MSA in one of the universities in Michigan. I wish I could pass my CPA exams before I graduate. However, the requirements to sit for the exam in Michigan are too many, which will delay my exam time.

    I am looking for an “easy” state to register for the exam, and transfer the licence issued from that state to Michigan in the future. If I choose to work in Michigan in the future, will my working experience in Michigan fulfill the working requirements of that state and get the licence?

    Thank you in advance for your response!

    Sincerely,

    Rebecca

  7. Stephanie says

    Hi Sonia,

    Sorry to reply late as I am still sorting out the best way to reply to the comments.

    I would say that you first check whether you are qualified to sit for the exam — because the rules have changed drastically (become stricter) in the last 5-10 years.
    You can first start from here:
    http://ipassthecpaexam.com/how-to-become-a-cpa/

    Then, if you are qualified (for Michigan or other states), then you can check out this page on top 10 CPA exam review courses — I try to objectively list out the pros and cons. If you have absolutely no clue, I do have a recommendation but generally the candidates themselves should the one to know the best study style for yourself.

  8. Stephanie says

    Hi Rebecca,

    Yes you can certainly apply for other states first and see. As long as the state you registered for is a substantially equivalent state, Michigan will recognize your CPA qualification from that state.

    But the catch is, the “easy” states are generally not considered “substantially equivalent” (for obvious reason) so your strategy might not work :)

    In any case, these are the “easy” states I identified — this page is written mostly for international students who don’t care to get the CPA title in any state, but I think it is also helpful for you.

    Hope it helps! Stephanie

  9. Stephanie says

    Dear all,
    I am implementing a new commenting system so hopefully I won’t keep checking the hundreds of pages for new comments.

    **Note** If you would like to use any charts in this page, you are most welcome to do that but I would appreciate if you can either send a backlink to this page (for online publications) or state the source (i.e. IPassTheCPAExam.com) for offline publication. Thanks.

    For other questions please scroll back up to the end of the article where you will see a Facebook-powered commenting box. Feel free to drop a note there. Cheers, Stephanie
    Stephanie