December 16, 2018

How Hard is the CPA Exam?

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A little more than 50% of people who take the CPA exam pass it. Those numbers may not seem too promising, especially if you are a pessimist. Is the CPA too hard for you to handle?

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The CPA exam requires an incredible amount of studying time, certain study habits, and high quality test-taking skills. Those that pass usually undergo extensive CPA exam review courses and spend many hours each week studying on their own.

Whether you consider the CPA exam hard or not depends on where you are in life. Did you just graduate college and have many of the standardized rules and regulations still fresh in your mind? Parts of the CPA exam may be easier for you then.

If you've been out of school for a while and worked in the accounting field before taking the exam, the task simulation portions of the exam may be easier for you while the regulations may be a bit more tedious.

Is the CPA exam hard? Of course it is - otherwise, it would have a 100% pass rate. But it's not so hard that you cannot pass it. Keep reading to learn important details about the CPA exam.

What Is the CPA Exam Pass Rate?

It goes without saying –the CPA exam is difficult. The statistics speak for themselves. According to the AICPA, just over 50% of test takers pass the CPA. While that number can be defeating, it should also give you hope - half of the people who do take it, pass it. Understanding what it takes to pass the exam can help you be a part of the illustrious 50%.

What Is the Most Difficult Part of the CPA Exam?

Using the statistics provided by the AICPA, the FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting) section of the CPA is the hardest. It has a pass rate of 46.79%, whereas the other sections have pass rates as follows:

  • AUD: 48.59%
  • BEC: 52.99%
  • REG: 47.24%

The statistics don't necessarily mean the FAR section will be the hardest section for you, though. Each section requires the same amount of dedication and studying. The hardest section for you might be the easiest for another test taker. It depends on your most recent education and/or experience. If you have recent exposure to regulations, you may find that part of the exam the easiest while someone else, who's been out of school for a while, may find it the most tedious.

You can take the CPA exam during one of four testing windows throughout the year. The testing windows are:

January 1 - March 10
April 1 - June 10
July 1 - September 10
October 1 - December 10.

What Is the Format of the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam has four sections:

  • AUD: Auditing and Attestation
  • BEC: Business Environment and Concepts
  • FAR: Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • REG: Regulation

Each section, which you take separately, takes up to four hours. The entire CPA test takes 16 hours to complete. The test consists of a variety of questions including multiple choice, written questions (3 questions in the BEC section), and task-based simulations.

You can take the sections in any order that you feel comfortable. You don't have to pass any section in order to take another section. However, you should check with your jurisdiction's rules regarding the length of time credit for a section is applicable. The average window to complete all four sections is 18 months, though.

Can You Take the CPA Exam Without an Accounting Degree? You NEED a bachelor's degree in order to take the CPA exam. Some states even require you to have 150 credit hours in order to take the CPA exam. But the degree may not have to be in accounting. A few states allow you to sit for the exam with a bachelor's degree in other subjects; however, they may require you to have a specific amount of experience in the accounting field before taking the exam.

What Is the Minimum Score to Pass the CPA Exam?

You'll need a score of at least 75 in order to pass the CPA exam. Each section has a possibility of 99 points. The 75 isn't a percentage, though. It's a weighted combination of the scaled scores from each section. All sections, except BEC, have 50% multiple-choice questions and 50% task-based stimulation questions. The BEC section has 50% multiple choice, 35% task-based stimulation, and 15% written-based questions. You need 75 points in order to pass.

The multiple-choice questions vary in difficulty. Each test starts with "medium difficulty" questions. If you answer these questions correctly, the questions for the next part of the section will ramp up and become more difficult. If you answer those questions right, you'll continue to receive difficult questions. If you answer them incorrectly, you may receive the medium difficulty questions again. The difficulty level of the questions determines how you score. Harder questions are worth more points and make it easier to pass with fewer right answers. Medium difficulty questions require more correct answers in order to score high.

What Do You Need to Pass the CPA Exam?

Everyone will differ in what they require to pass the CPA exam. At a minimum, you should:

  • Get the CPA Blueprints: The AICPA provides CPA exam blueprints that help you understand the topics on the test as well as provide sample task simulations so that you can best prepare yourself. This isn't the only study material you should use, but it could act as a guide to help your studies.

  • Take a course: Companies all over the United States offer CPA exam test prep courses. As is the case with any course, make sure you do your research to find the program that offers the highest level of success as well as adheres to your learning style.

  • Study: The CPA exam isn't something you can cram for; you'll need at least 500 hours of studying time before you attempt it. It's more than memorization - it's applying your knowledge to specific situations.

  • Take sample tests: If you paid for a study course, chances are that they provide sample tests for you. If not, you can find them on the internet. Just make sure they come from a reputable company.

How Many Times Can You Take the CPA Exam?
You can retake any section of the CPA exam as many times as it takes. But there are rules. You can't retake a section of the CPA exam in the same testing window.

For example, if you didn't pass the BEC section during the January 1 - March 10 window, you can't take the BEC section again during that time. Technically, you have 18 months to pass all sections and complete your necessary licensure requirements, so plan accordingly if you need to retake any sections.

Is the CPA Exam Worth It?

Taking the CPA exam may seem tedious, stressful, and every bad word you can think of to explain it. But in the end, it's usually worth it.

As a licensed CPA, you'll earn a level of respect reserved strictly for CPAs. Employers and even clients respect the time and dedication CPAs put into their dedication to accounting. It shows that you are truly passionate about the topic and will give your job and clients the utmost attention to detail that they require.

Becoming a CPA opens up a large number of opportunities for you, and not just the standard accountant that crunches numbers all day. You open up the possibilities for an amazing career that can take you into various industries, including forensics as well as multi-cultural opportunities.

How Hard Is the CPA Exam Compared to the Bar Exam?
Both accountants and lawyers often argue that their test was the hardest. The CPA exam and Bar exam are two different animals. The CPA exam covers a lot of information, but only breezes over the top of each without getting too in-depth. The Bar exam covers just 10 topics, and you need an immense amount of information on each.

The CPA exam can be more frustrating because you have to study for such a large amount of material, of which only 70% will show up on the test. If you don't know that 70% very well, your chances of passing are minimal. The Bar exam, on the other hand, has a straightforward format and its practice exams closely mimic the real thing.

Bottom Line

The CPA exam is hard - it's supposed to be, because otherwise being a CPA wouldn't be elusive or special. With the right preparation and experience, though, you can pass it. Use resources that have proof that they work and put the time in and someday you may be able to call yourself a CPA too.

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Becker CPA Review


Gleim CPA Review


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