Have you ever thought, “Should I appeal my CPA grade?” If you ever get a 74 or face losing a section credit as your 18-month window comes to a close, you might be very tempted to take this step. But the truth is that requesting a CPA Exam score appeal or score review is rarely a good idea. It is expensive and highly unlikely to succeed.
Firstly, you need to understand how the AICPA scores CPA Exams. Secondly, be aware that score reviews and score appeals are two different processes. I’ll explain the process, fees, and success rates of both so you can see why you should skip these steps and move on to trying again.
The AICPA scores the CPA Exam on a scale of 0 to 99. As you probably already know, you must achieve a 75 or higher to pass. However, this score does not correspond to a percentage. In other words, scoring an 81 does not mean you answered 81% of the questions correctly. The AICPA weights the exam questions differently depending on how difficult they are.
Moreover, the multiple-choice sections use an adaptive delivery model. That is to say, the first part of the section will be a set of questions of moderate difficulty. If you perform well on that set, you will receive a set of even more difficult questions. On the other hand, if you do poorly, you’ll receive another set of medium difficulty questions. The more difficult the questions, the more they contribute to your final score.
The AICPA scores all questions automatically by a computer program. There’s even a program to score the written communication responses. However, human graders also sometimes check the written responses. Additionally, if your score is very close to passing, human graders will review your written responses. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) goes to great lengths to ensure that tests are created and graded fairly and accurately.
Yes, there is a process in place for formally requesting a score review. First, you must contact your state’s Board of Accountancy. You can also contact the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) about the score review process. Also, if you have a NASBA Candidate Account, you can find more information by signing in through the online candidate portal.
However, keep in mind that the review process only checks that the AICPA’s answer key was applied to your test correctly. The reviewer will not consider alternative answers for potential correctness. Therefore, you are not appealing the CPA questions‘ content, only the scoring process. Additionally, the AICPA’s scoring process goes through many quality checks before NASBA or your state board releases the scores tothe candidates in the first place. All this means it is very rare for a review to result in a change in score.
A CPA score appeal is different than a score review. This process involves viewing the multiple-choice questions and simulations that you got wrong along with the correct answers. If you think there’s a problem with the question that means your answer is actually right, and you will submit a comment on the question. However, the CPA score appeal process doesn’t include written communication responses.
Here is what the AICPA website has to say about appealing individual questions:
When you review the questions or simulation problems that you have answered incorrectly, you may decide to challenge the validity of one or more items. If you decide to do so, you must be prepared to present a cogent, vigorous, and compelling defense of your incorrect responses.
In other words, you’ll need to defend your answer with faultless logic. Many accountancy and testing experts have worked together to create these questions and ensure that the answers are clear and correct. The AICPA checks the questions re-checks them many times before they appear on the exam. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you’ll find some fault in the question that no one has seen before.
Because the process involves looking at confidential exam material, you must complete your appeal in an authorized location under secure conditions. As a result, not all states allow you to request a score appeal on the CPA Exam.
You cannot appeal your score at all if you take the exam in one of the following jurisdictions:
However, if you’re in a state that allows appeals and you want to learn how to appeal a CPA Exam score, you can visit the NASBA Candidate Portal or contact your state’s Board of Accountancy. Additionally, be aware that you may have to travel to NASBA’s headquarters in Nashville to complete the CPA Exam appeal process.
It generally takes a few weeks for the AICPA to finish the process and report the results to you through NASBA or your state’s board. For instance, one reader who requested a CPA Exam score review said the process took 8 weeks.
Also, when considering time limits, keep in mind that you must apply for a CPA Exam appeal or review soon after receiving your scores. The deadline may differ by state, but it usually occurs around the next calendar quarter’s halfway point.
If you go through NASBA, the price for requesting a score review is $240 per section of the CPA Exam. The price is the same for each of the four parts (AUD, BEC, FAR, or REG).
Similarly, NASBA’s price to appeal a CPA Exam score is $550 per part. Additionally, NASBA will charge $100 per question that you challenge. You may also need to travel to a location that offers secure conditions for the appeal process. Thus, you may have to factor in travel and lodging costs, as well.
Although the fee to retake any part of the exam differs by state, it is almost always less than the cost of a review or an appeal. In my opinion, the examiner set the price such that it’s cheaper and less time-consuming to retake the test.
According to the AICPA, the likelihood of a score change following a score review is exceedingly small. Less than 1% of all requested score reviews since the inception of the computer-based test result in a changed score.
Moreover, the CPA appeal success rate is so low that statistics do not even appear to be kept. If you look on Reddit, you are more likely to run across the rumor that an appeal has never been successful than you are to find someone claiming they appealed a CPA score, and it worked.
Your 74 on the CPA Exam does not mean you were one point away from passing. Instead, your 74 means once they determined you failed, they compared your score with other people that failed and determine you performed better than them but still failed. For instance, you may be five to ten correct answers away from a passing score. Thus, if you attempt to appeal each of these questions, you will pay $500 to $1,000 on top of the $550 base fee for an appeal.
Another way to look at it is that your percent of right answers may be exactly equal to the percent of someone who passed, but the questions they answered were harder, as determined by the fact that fewer test-takers answered them correctly. Likewise, the questions you answered were easier. That is to say, more test-takers answered the same questions correctly.
So, your score does not depend on only your performance, but also on the thousands of other test-takers. Realistically, a CPA score appeal for a 74 has no greater chance of succeeding than any lower score.
According to an accounting blog called Going Concern, in 2011 and 2012, the AICPA did mess up on a few FAR and REG scores. The problem affected the scoring of TBS questions, and the grading program failed a few people who actually passed. However, this does not seem to be the result of an appeal or review. The AICPA figured out the problem, notified the affected people, and passed them.
That’s a choice you’ll have to make for yourself. However, be aware that the odds are stacked very heavily against you. Moreover, since the AICPA scores the test electronically, the odds of a mistake are incredibly low. The odds of successfully appealing individual questions are even lower. In all likelihood, you will simply waste your money.
A failed CPA Exam is not the end of the world! Remember that only one in five candidates succeeds on all four parts of the test the first time taking them. If you fail the CPA Exam, I recommend cutting your losses and retaking the test no matter how close your score.
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!