What’s the Average CPA Pass Rate? Here’s the Hard Data

cpa exam pass rates

The CPA exam is tough. About half of the people who take it get a passing score. What this means is that it’s a test to be taken seriously. CPA exam statistics can help candidates learn how to study and plan for the best time to take the test. 

Plenty of factors impact your chances of passing the CPA exam. Taking the right CPA review course, your timeline and dedication to study, as well as circumstances—like your CPA exam date and location—could all affect your final score.

CPA exams are scored on a scale of 0-99. All four sections have multiple choice questions and task-based simulations. The BEC portion has written communication tasks. Your score will depend on your ability to recall and apply a significant body of knowledge from each of the four subjects.

Didn’t pass the CPA exam the first time? CPA exam pass rate for the first time is different from CPA exam pass rates after multiple tries. The good news is that your chances of passing go up. Let’s get into all the details on CPA exam pass rates for 2020 and for the past few years.

Average CPA Exam Scores For The Last Five Years

average cpa scores 2015 to 2020

The last five years provide a good source of aggregated data for CPA exam pass rates. Each year, the CPA exam is updated. This means that there will be slight shifts in the test material that could impact pass rates. There are four CPA exam sections, which are written separately:

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

Each section of the test takes four hours. All require a minimum score of 75 to pass.

These numbers represent the average pass rate for each section of the CPA exam. You’ll notice that the FAR section has the lowest passing rate.

AUD48.88
BEC57.90
FAR45.77
REG52.12
cpa exam pass rate 2015 to 2020 line graph by exam sections

CPA Exam Pass Rates for 2020

2020 cpa exam pass rates

With Prometric closures and COVID-19 related delays, 2020 is a unique year for the CPA exam. 

Some students were delayed, and many plans to schedule the CPA exam were changed due to the disruptions. which has impacted the available data. AICPA has published Q1 CPA exam pass rates.

SectionQ1 (winter)Q2 (spring)Q3 (summer)Q4 (fall)Cumulative
AUD47.97%TBDTBDTBDTBD
BEC61.76%TBDTBDTBDTBD
FAR46.37%TBDTBDTBDTBD
REG55.42%TBDTBDTBDTBD

It will be interesting to see a full picture of this year’s pass rates, especially considering the unique circumstances in which candidates were taking the CPA exam. Because the data is incomplete, more insight can be gained from CPA exam pass rates for the past two years.

CPA Exam Pass Rates for 2019

cma pass rates for 2019

Here are the CPA exam pass rates for all four quarters of 2019, as well as a cumulative pass rate.

SectionQ1 (winter)Q2 (spring)Q3 (summer)Q4 (fall)Cumulative
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 Pass Rates for 2018

2018 pass rates

Here are the CPA exam pass rates for all four quarters of 2018, as well as a cumulative pass rate.

SectionQ1 (winter)Q2 (spring)Q3 (summer)Q4 (fall)Cumulative
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%

As you can see from the stats, each year and even each quarter vary slightly in terms of CPA exam pass rates. With about 100,000 test-takers each year, this number could represent quite a few candidates who do or don’t pass. Some of this variance may depend on the days before you even start studying.

CPA Exam Pass Rates by University

pass rates by university

Since one of the CPA exam requirements in most states is a bachelors’ degree, the school you attended can make a difference in your chances of success.

There are some top-rated collegiate programs that result in a higher percentage of passing the CPA exam. In 2018, the National Association of the State Boards of Accountancy released statistics on the uniform CPA exam. This provided some insight into which schools were turning out better-prepared candidates. 

Knowing that success could start this early, you may take a look to see whether your school made the cut. If you’re still making a university decision, this data may refine your process.

Here are the top 10 schools whose graduates passed the CPA exam the first time.

SchoolNumber of candidatesPercentage pass rate
Brigham Young University26389.2%
University of Virginia7889%
University of Wisconsin Madison22087.2%
University of Florida21984.8%
Boston College15584.4%
Wake Forest University7484%
Gonzaga University10283.2%
University of Texas at Austin40182.9%
James Madison University17380.6%
University of Notre Dame18580.4%

In 2018, the average CPA exam candidate was 28 years old and about equally divided between males and females. The three states with the highest pass rates were Utah, Wisconsin and Oregon.

If you’re at the stage of choosing a university or completing a degree, make sure you check your state’s licensing requirements, as they can differ. For example, Virginia CPA Requirements recommend graduate-level studies in accounting, and New York CPA Requirements include a master’s degree.

CPA Exam Pass Rates by Quarters

pass rates by quarter

The CPA exam is available in four quarters throughout the year. In each quarter, there are some trends related to pass rates. This is related to a variety of circumstances in play during that specific season. It may be interesting to note these as you decide when to take the CPA exam.

Pass Rates for Q1: Lowest

Several major holidays fall just before the first quarter of the year. Taking the CPA exam during January-March yields the lowest scores. Many CPA candidates work full time or are students. The general challenge of logistics and studying during these weeks may be the cause of low pass rates. 

Pass Rates for Q2: High

If CPA candidates just graduated from college, the second quarter of the year is their first chance to take the CPA exam. This may mean that they are fresh and highly motivated. April-June yields the second-highest CPA exam pass rates out of the whole year. 

Pass Rates for Q3: Highest

The highest pass rates of the year are reported in the third quarter. The July-September window represents the most successful CPA exam attempts. Recent college grads have had extra time to study for the CPA. Strategic thinkers and ambitious planners may target this time of year, which also contributes to its high numbers.

Pass Rates for Q4: Medium

As the year winds down, there is moderate success with the CPA exam. October-December isn’t the most successful window. The holiday season is approaching. This time of year may also be the “second option” for people who didn’t make the third quarter. A delay like this could cost points or even passing.

FAQs

faqs

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

What percent pass the CPA exam?

About half of the people who take the CPA exam pass it. The actual CPA exam pass rates range by section and are typically between 45%-65%. FAR is usually the lowest scoring section and BEC is usually the highest scoring section. To pass, candidates need to commit themselves to rigorous, organized CPA study plans.

How many people pass the CPA exam per year?

Each year, about 100,000 people take the CPA exam. In 2019, the average cumulative pass rates for each section were:

CPA AUD Pass Rate – 51.01%

CPA BEC Pass Rate – 59.98%

CPA FAR Pass Rate – 46.31%

CPA REG Pass Rate – 56.34%

To measure this against the general number of 100,000, it would mean the following in terms of how many people passed each section of the CPA exam:

AUD – 51,000

BEC – 59,980

FAR – 46,310

REG – 56,340

Which CPA review course has the highest pass rate?

How many students pass the CPA exam is a sticking point for most CPA review courses. If it’s not on their website banner, it’s definitely prominently displayed and broadcast. Here are the average pass rates for popular CPA review courses:

Keep in mind, these numbers only represent the students who came back and logged their exam numbers. While the data isn’t complete or reliable, many of these courses are very helpful for passing the CPA exam.

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