CPA Exam Pass Rates [Updated for Shocking Q2 2018 Results!]

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cpa exam pass rate

The CPA Exam pass rates, which average about 50%, are one of the most intriguing aspects of the CPA certification process. The AICPA releases the pass rate for each exam section once a quarter. These percentages reveal how well candidates who sat for the CPA Exam during the previous exam testing window performed. Historically, the average CPA Exam pass rate for each section ranges between 45-55%. But the pass rates shouldn’t discourage you, because they don’t mean you can’t pass.

Candidates, review providers, and other individuals invested in the CPA industry try to read the pass rates like tea leaves. They look to these four-digit percentages to divine the future of their success with the exam. However, the numbers never really say as much as we would like them to. I myself find the pass rates fascinating, so I’ll tell you about the most recent pass rates, possible explanations for them, and the historical data. Most importantly, I’ll let you know what CPA Exam pass rates really mean for you so you don’t get obsessed with them.

Contents:

CPA Exam Pass Rates Release

As you may recall, CPA candidates can only sit for the CPA Exam during the 4 annual testing windows. The testing windows are open during the first 2 months and the first 10 days of the third month of every quarter. Usually, the AICPA gives the CPA Exam scores for a testing window to the state boards and NASBA on several score release dates each quarter. But the AICPA only publishes the pass rates for that testing window in the following quarter. Pass rates from 2006 to the present used to accompany the latest pass rates. But now, the AICPA’s pass rates web page only features the current year’s pass rates.

2018 CPA Exam Pass Rates

SectionFirst QuarterSecond QuarterThird QuarterFourth QuarterCumulative
AUD49.27%54.70%52.14%
BEC56.43%60.31%58.45%
FAR41.59%49.17%45.47%
REG49.99%55.75%53.09%

2017 CPA Exam Pass Rates

SectionFirst QuarterSecond QuarterThird QuarterFourth QuarterCumulative
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%

2018 CPA Exam Pass Rate Facts

When we compare the 2018 CPA Exam pass rates to those of the past, we learn the following:

Q2 AUD CPA Exam Pass Rate

  • ALERT: Pass rate record broken! Yes, it’s true. The Q2 AUD pass rate is the highest AUD pass for ANY quarter in the last 12 years.
  • This pass rate is 5.43% higher than the Q1 2018 pass rate and 2.7% higher than the Q2 2017 pass rate.
  • This is the 10th time the AUD pass rate for any quarter has breached 50%.
  • The second highest AUD pass rate was the 53.09% seen all the way back in Q2 of 2008. Exactly 10 years ago! The most recent AUD pass rate is 1.61% higher than the highest AUD pass rate of yesteryear.

Q2 BEC CPA Exam Pass Rate

  • ALERT: Another pass rate record broken! What??? The Q2 BEC pass rate is also the highest BEC pass rate for ANY quarter in the last 12 years. This is incredible!
  • This pass rate is 3.88% higher than the Q1 2018 pass rate and a whopping 5.22% higher than the Q2 2017 pass rate.
  • The BEC pass rates have been in the clouds for some time now. In the last 12 years, BEC has boasted of a pass rate above 50% 28 times. In fact, the BEC pass rate has been above 50% every quarter for the last 6 years.
  • Though this BEC pass rate broke the record, it did so by a small margin. The next highest BEC pass rate was 59.22% from Q3 2015. That’s only 1.09% lower than this new all-time high.

 Q2 FAR CPA Exam Pass Rate

  • While FAR didn’t break any records this quarter, it still made a good showing. This is the 13th highest FAR pass rate since 2006.
  • This is the fourth highest Q2 pass rate FAR has ever had. It’s a massive 7.58% higher than the Q1 2018 pass rate and 5.41% higher than the Q2 2017 pass rate.
  • Throughout the last 12 years, the FAR pass rates have struggled to get into the 50% range. This is only the ninth time that more than half the FAR candidates from a given testing window passed.
  • The Q2 2018 FAR pass rate is just .22% lower than the next highest FAR pass rate, which was a 49.39% that appeared in Q2 2013. The first FAR pass rate to push past 50% was 50.35% debuting in Q3 2015, and this latest FAR pass rate is 1.18% lower than that.

Q2 REG CPA Exam Pass Rate

  • ALERT: A THIRD pass rate record broken! That’s right; in just 1 quarter, we’re 3 for 4 with new pass rate records. I can’t handle the excitement! This is the highest REG pass rate ever (in the last 12 years).
  • The Q2 2018 pass rate is a sizable 5.76% higher than the Q1 2018 pass rate and a huge 7.43% higher than the Q2 2017 pass rate.
  • The REG pass rate has risen above 50% a total of 13 times since 2006. Therefore, it comes in second to BEC’s above-50% streak, but REG has only accomplished this feat half as often.
  • The Q2 2018 REG pass rate is 1.72% higher than the next highest REG pass rate, which was a 54.03% from Q3 2010.

Possible Explanations for CPA Exam Pass Rate Changes

So, what causes the pass rates to rise and fall? Well, we can never know for certain which factors had the greatest effect on the pass rates from a particular quarter. But we can offer possible explanations that can probably account for most of the changes.

Right above the pass rates on their website, the AICPA reminds us that “candidates are evaluated against an established standard of competence, and the Exam is scored and scaled so that scores are comparable across test forms and over time.” To summarize this concept, the AICPA simply states, “The Exam is not harder or easier to pass at different times”. The AICPA then offers their own theory about the pass rates flux: “An increase in pass rates simply means that candidates are better prepared.”

I agree that this is always a solid reason for a pass rate spike. However, I also have a few other speculations as to why we’re seeing record-breaking pass rates recently. One of these simply elaborates on the AICPA’s statement.

The Q2 2018 CPA Exam changes made the testing experience easier (as intended).

At the end of 2017, we learned that the CPA Exam would be changing on April 1, 2018, once again (just like it did on April 1, 2017). These changes arrived right on time, and they seem to have positively affected the Q2 pass rates.

Unlike the 2017 exam changes that altered the content, question counts, skill levels tested, and overall difficulty of the exam, the 2018 revisions modernized the exam design and functionality. The purpose of the 2018 changes was to make the testing experience easier for candidates. The AICPA even integrated the desktop version of Microsoft Excel into the exam so candidates could use a spreadsheet they were more familiar with.

Knowing these changes should help alleviate the challenges of the exam, many candidates seem to have waited to take the exam until those changes launched. I say this because, on February 5, 2018, NASBA announced that they had processed a total of 11,517 scores for Q1. While this figure doesn’t directly represent the number of unique Q1 candidates, it does suggest that not a lot of people came out to Prometric during the first testing window of 2018.

In contrast, NASBA processed 49,479 scores on June 27 and 28. The number of candidates sitting for the exam each quarter has actually been decreasing in the last few years. Yet, that enormous digit hearkens back to the golden age of exam candidate populations from 5 years ago. With the jaw-dropping Q2 pass rates these candidates achieved, that decision was totally worth it.

The CPA review courses available have sufficiently readied candidates to face the latest CPA Exam changes.

This is just another way of saying the candidates were better prepared, but it includes a reason why. In the last 2 years, several CPA review providers released courses with major technological upgrades. At this point, almost all current candidates will be using one of these courses. Therefore, this enhanced exam prep seems to be just what candidates need to manage the more challenging exam version that arrived in 2017.

Predictions for Future CPA Exam Pass Rates

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering, “So, what will happen next with the pass rates?” Well, based on the historical data, we can make the following predictions about the future of the pass rates:

Pass rates will probably go up again in Q3.

Historically, both the number of candidates and the pass rates are higher in Q3 than any other time of year. For both students and accountants alike, Q3 is a less hectic time. Classes have ended for the summer, and busy season has concluded for the year. Consequently, candidates have more time to study and sit for the exam. Their sufficient preparation then serves to push the pass rates up.

Q2 also sees a swell of candidate numbers and pass rates, potentially for similar reasons as those of Q3. But Q2 doesn’t have as much of a reputation for high pass rates as Q3. So, I think we’re in for even more pass rate thrills later this year. Last year’s pass rates help illustrate this point. In 2017, all of the pass rates were higher in Q3 than in Q2. However, no pass rate other than that of BEC went above 50% until Q2 (AUD), and no exam section other than BEC could maintain such a high pass rate past Q3. As the pass rates for Q2 2018 have already outpaced those of 2017, I’m hopeful Q3 2018 can continue this trend.

Pass rates will probably go down again in Q4 and beyond.

As we all know, what goes up must come down. When it comes to pass rates, the going down usually starts again in Q4. The last quarter of the year seems to be the busiest for candidates. School is back in session, and the holidays overwhelm the calendar. While the number of candidates sitting for the exam often decreases between Q3 and Q4, the pass rates do too. It seems that candidates just can’t prepare as well when the year is coming to a close.

Pass rates may also go down again as new candidates come to the CPA certification process underestimating the difficulty of the exam. This is apt to happen because when pass rates are low, the majority of the candidate populace consists of only the most committed individuals. These candidates often match their preparation to their dedication and consequently pull the pass rates up again with their high scores.

As the pass rates go up, the more apprehensive candidates chill out a bit. They soon convince themselves the exam isn’t so hard after all and start sitting for it. As less-prepared candidates infiltrate the exam process again, the pass rates slip down once more. At this point, the cycle refreshes.

CPA Exam Pass Rates History

Now that we have learned so much about the present and have speculated so much about the future of the pass rates, let’s travel back in time to relive the pass rates of the past.

12 Years of Pass Rates

cpa exam pass rates

As we look at these lines representing more than a decade of pass rates, we see that pass rates for most exam sections have congregated together in the same areas at the same time. BEC broke away from the pack at one point and pushed the limits of what’s possible in pass rates. Yet, the pass rates for the remaining exam sections rested right around 45-49% for a while there.

That is until we entered 2018. Then we witnessed the amazing happen as 3 pass rates crested the 50% mark in 1 quarter, which was unheard of for the last 12 years. We can get a better idea of how exceptional this year’s pass rates have been by looking at the pass rates for each section separately.

AUD CPA Exam Pass Rates

aud cpa exam section pass rates

AUD hasn’t had quite as impressive pass rates as BEC in the last decade. Nevertheless, AUD has made a notable effort to compete for first place. From 2006-2010, the AUD pass rate was content to settle for second, but in 2011, it almost gave up the fight. AUD had the lowest pass rate for several years. Yet, especially in the last few quarters, it’s made quite the resurgence. AUD is now neck-and-neck with REG, and they’re both creeping up on BEC.

AUD’s pass rate history is understandable. This exam section has had a stint putting up the lowest pass rates. This may be due to the fact that AUD looks relatively straightforward, but then the vagueness of the questions often catches people off-guard. There are often multiple correct answers, but you must pick the best one.

This deception has made the exam a lot more difficult. Still, candidates have apparently been able to fortify themselves against AUD’s schemes in the last several quarters. The fact that AUD is making a run for the top spot is actually surprising. AUD is the only section to test at the Evaluation level of skill, which is the most difficult in the context of the CPA Exam.

BEC CPA Exam Pass Rates

bec cpa exam section pass rates

BEC’s pass rate story is the opposite of AUD’s. BEC seems to have been the hardest exam section from 2006-2011. Then, the exam change of 2011 positioned candidates for better BEC success. Ever since BEC has stolen the show by sporting the top pass rate for 7 years straight. It doesn’t look like things will change in 2018 either, as BEC continues to reach new heights.

How has BEC managed to become the reigning king of pass rates? BEC is the least technical part of the exam. Additionally, more than half of BEC only tests for Application, the second lowest skill level. Furthermore, BEC has only had task-based simulations (TBSs) for a year now, having received them in 2017. But with only 4 total TBSs compared to the other exam section’s 8, BEC remains half as hard in the realm of simulations.

BEC also has the fewest multiple-choice questions (MCQs) with 62. And finally, BEC has 3 written communications (WCs). The BEC WCs account for 15% of your score and are basically there to ensure that you can write an organized, well-developed document of clearly expressed correct information.

FAR CPA Exam Pass Rates

far cpa exam section pass rates

As you can see, FAR’s pass rates have been a bit of a roller coaster. They have only been the highest for 2 of the past 12 years. After that, they firmly positioned FAR as one of the hardest, if not the hardest, exam section for the past 5 years. When the exam experienced big changes, the FAR pass rate responded with big falls. While FAR’s pass rates have had their quarterly moments in the 50s, even jumps above 49% have been uncommon.

As we’ve seen, some of the other pass rates have already skyrocketed beyond 50% this year. Yet FAR’s passing percentages are still stuck in the 40s as they have been for some time. With an overall average of just 46.67% and the most candidate-centric exam changes of late already in place, the FAR pass rate seems destined to dwell below 50% indefinitely. (But I really hope it reaches 50% in Q3 with the others!)

Most everyone finds FAR to be the toughest exam section. This is not because its questions are the most difficult, but because its scope is the broadest. Basically, FAR covers a lot of content, and you need more time to study for FAR than other exam sections. Candidates who don’t take FAR first but try to squeeze such an extensive amount of studying into their 18-month window may just run out of time and contribute to FAR’s low pass rates.

Furthermore, FAR features some tricky concepts, like bond, pension, and stockholder equity or governmental accounting. Candidates who don’t commit to mastering their weak areas but instead simply hope they won’t see that material on exam day are very likely to be disappointed. And, based on the pass rates, they are almost as likely to fail.

REG CPA Exam Pass Rates

reg cpa exam section pass rates

Last but not least, we have REG. This section has also undergone some major pass rate shifts in the last 12 years. REG rose and fell rapidly from 2006 to 2011, then popped up above 45% and leveled off from 2012-2017. The REG CPA Exam section had its time at the top but comes in at second or third more often. It actually kept AUD at bay from the second-place position from 2012-2016 but had a minor mishap with third place in 2017. Now it seems that REG won’t stay down, as it has come back from behind to best AUD for both quarters in 2018 and doesn’t show signs of stopping.

REG has reason to be a hard exam section. It has the greatest number of MCQs (76) and ties with FAR for testing the most at Analysis, the second highest skill level on the exam. But considering its pass rates, REG also has the potential to be less difficult for select candidates.

REG’s content mainly revolves around taxation, though it also covers business law and ethics. Candidates who love taxation have a good chance of performing well on this section and helping preserve its high pass rate. You just can’t underestimate the business law and ethics section, or they may get the better of you. Candidates who don’t really love taxation seem motivated to avoid sitting for REG ever again. So, they’ve prepared well enough to one-and-done this section, especially in Q2 2018, from the looks of it.

The Meaning of CPA Exam Pass Rates

As accountants, we may find all of these numbers interesting. But in the end, you need to know: What do the pass rates really mean for you?

Well, pass rate changes, especially those occurring from one quarter to the next, shouldn’t affect your CPA Exam preparations. Even with pass rates on the rise, the CPA Exam is still a sizable challenge requiring a lot of time and effort to overcome. The BEC pass rate has been quite high for some time, but you still have to review all of the content and study effectively, or you won’t pass it. The same goes for the other exam sections.

In truth, with pass rates ranging around 50%, you still have almost a 50% chance of failing. Clearly, now is not the time to slack off in your studies. There are no shortcuts to CPA Exam success, even if the passing percentages seem to be trending in your favor.

What’s more, we may have come to an unprecedented moment in exam history, but additional changes are on the horizon. The REG CPA Exam section will update for the new 2018 tax law changes on January 1, 2019. The other content changes revealed in the recently released Blueprints will go into effect at that time as well. There are no guarantees that the pass rates will ever be so high again. In fact, as I said, it’s extremely likely that they will go back down. Therefore, the key to passing hasn’t really changed. You still have to practice, practice, practice, and practice some more. If you don’t, you may not succeed, no matter what the pass rates are.

Your Hope for a High Personal CPA Exam Pass Rate

The AICPA is continuing to credit candidate preparation levels to pass rate variations. What’s the best way to prepare for the exam? Use a CPA review course. With a realistic study schedule and the right CPA review course for you, you can understand all of the exam content and be completely comfortable with the exam questions by test day.

To find the best course for you, check out my analysis of the top CPA Exam review courses on the market. You should also visit this page if you didn’t pass in Q2 and feel your failure had more to do with your review materials than your study habits. Complete this self-evaluation and use these additional tools as well if you failed to pass the CPA Exam.

You may be thinking, “I know I should study hard no matter what, but should I schedule my exam during a quarter with a higher pass rate?” My answer to that question is, No, I don’t think so. While the differences between the highest and lowest quarters are statistically significant (~5%), you can’t take the exam only in the summer. The 18-month window makes this impossible. But the quarterly discrepancy between pass rates further proves that when people have more time to study, the pass rate is higher.

Help for Passing the CPA Exam

Whether the pass rates are high or low, thousands of candidates pass the CPA Exam every year, and you can be one of them. Passing the CPA Exam is absolutely doable, and I am more than happy to help you along the way. Get the answers you need to the CPA candidate’s frequently asked questions, or sign up for my free mini-course today!

us-courseintl-mini-course
For U.S. candidates
(Those with U.S. degrees or who
graduated/live/work in the U.S.)
For Intl Candidates
(Those who study abroad or
graduated/live/work outside of the U.S.)

Other CPA Exam Pass Rate Statistics

In the past, NASBA has provided a report with pass rate data for several major countries. Click the buttons to learn about the pass rates by part, age, and performance for each country.

CMA in IndiaCMA-in-UAECMA-in-Saudi-Arabia-2CMA-in-Egypt-2US CPA exam for candidates from CanadaUS CPA exam for JapaneseUS CPA exam for chinese
IndiaUAEKSAEgyptCanadaJapanChina

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites

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  • 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

  • Nasra says:

    Thanks a million for your great advice 🙂

  • manny says:

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

  • 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 .

  • 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

  • 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….

  • 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

  • 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:
    https://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.

  • 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

  • Carlos says:

    Hi Stephanie!

    I recently subscribed your email and it is priceless!
    Do you know where can I find data for CPA exam pass rates in Brazil?

    Thanks in advance.
    Carlos

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  • Angela says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    This is great! Thanks for all your hard work. Your awesome.

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