CPA Exam Pass Rate in 2023 – How Hard is the exam?


The CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam is one of the most challenging professional certification exams out there. For cpa candidates, passing the CPA exam is a major milestone in their accounting careers. But with four lengthy sections covering complex accounting concepts and principles, the CPA exam has a notorious reputation for being extremely difficult to pass.

Just how hard is the CPA exam? In this blog post, we’ll break down the key stats on CPA exam pass rates to give cpa exam candidates an honest look at what it takes to clear this rigorous test. With pass rate data and tips directly from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, you’ll get insights into how each section is graded, how pass rates vary between first-time and repeating cpa exam candidates, and what you can do to optimize your chances of passing each rigorous section of the exam.

Table of Contents

CPA Exam Sections

The CPA exam consists of four core sections, each focused on a different area of accounting expertise:

1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

2. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) 

4. Regulation (REG)

The Auditing and Attestation section covers knowledge of auditing procedures, generally accepted auditing standards, and attestation engagements. This section tests your ability to assess risk and conduct assurance procedures.

The Business Environment and Concepts section covers general business knowledge related to business structures, economic concepts, financial management, information technology, and planning/operations management. 

The Financial Accounting and Reporting section focuses heavily on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for business enterprises, not-for-profit organizations, and governmental entities. Of the four sections, candidates often find that financial accounting presents the biggest hurdle.

Finally, the Regulation section covers federal taxation, ethics, professional and legal responsibilities, and business law. This section ensures CPA candidates have knowledge of legal standards and requirements.

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CPA Exam Format

The CPA exam is 100% computerized, given in Prometric test centers. Each section consists of multiple-choice questions (MCQs), covering 50% of the exam, as well as task-based simulations (TBSs), which make up the remaining 50%. 

Multiple-choice questions test candidates’ breadth of knowledge across a wide sample of topics, requiring recall of facts and concepts. Task-based simulations are more in-depth problems that emulate real-world scenarios and test critical thinking skills. Combined, this exam format ensures candidates have both the necessary knowledge base and ability to apply it. 

Scoring is automated and adaptive, meaning if you do well on MCQs, you’ll get harder follow-up questions. Passing requires strong skills across both question formats.

CPA Exam Pass Rates

Now, let’s get into the numbers around how cpa candidates actually perform on this challenging exam. 

In 2023, the overall CPA exam pass rate averages between 46-60% across all four sections. Pass rates can vary quite a bit depending on which section is being tested:

– Auditing and Attestation (AUD): Average pass rate of 51%

– Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): Average pass rate of 60% 

– Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): Average pass rate of 46%

– Regulation (REG): Average pass rate of 56%

As you can see, Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) has the lowest pass rate at 46%, meaning it’s the most difficult section for cpa candidates. The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section has the highest pass rate at 60%.

When examining the pass rate difference between first-time and repeating cpa exam candidates, the overall pass rate trends higher for those taking the exam again after initially failing one or more sections.

– First-time candidates: Average pass rate of 48%

– Repeating candidates: Average pass rate of 57%

Repeating examinees likely see a pass rate bump from having experience with the exam format and environment, as well as dedicating more time to review challenging content areas they previously failed. However, passing still remains difficult on subsequent attempts.

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Factors Impacting CPA Exam Pass Rates

What makes the CPA exam such a formidable test is the combined rigor of its lengthy, complex sections and tough grading benchmarks. However, pass rates can fluctuate year over year based on a few key factors:

CPA Review Courses: Structured exam prep courses help candidates adequately cover all the content tested on the CPA exam. Review courses that offer video lectures, test banks, example simulations, and adaptive learning tech can help boost knowledge retention and readiness.

Number of Sections: The more sections a candidate tries to pass at once, the lower their chances on each. Sticking to one or two exam sections per testing window results in higher pass rates. 

Experience Level: Candidates who have put in time working in accounting or finance roles tend to perform better on the exam compared to students coming straight from college. Work experience exposes you to more concepts covered on the exam.

Of course, the mental stamina and determination of each cpa candidate also impacts results. Now let’s look at some tips to passing this infamous exam.

Tips for Passing the CPA Exam

With meticulous preparation and persistence, you can join the ranks of those who pass the CPA exam. Here are some top tips to set yourself up for success:

1. Commit to a CPA review course. A structured prep course will ensure you have all the materials and practice needed to master concepts and improve recall. Build it into your study schedule.

2. Know the exam backwards and forwards. Understand the exam format, scoring, and what content is tested on each section. This can help your study strategy. 

3. Put in meaningful study time.Aim for at least 100 hours of prep for each section. Schedule study sessions and simulate the real test environment. 

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4. Practice with CPA sample exams. Work through retired CPA exam questions and simulations to understand the exam structure and experience its rigor first-hand.

5. Don’t lose hope on retakes. If you fail a section, thoroughly review your weak areas and test again. Refine your approach and keep persisting.

6. Talk to CPAs who have passed. Get advice from colleagues who have cleared the exam on what study tactics worked for them.

7. Maintain focus leading up to exam day. Stick to your preparation goals and avoid burnout. Get plenty of rest to be sharp for each testing session.

With dedication and sustained effort, you can overcome the challenges posed by the Uniform CPA Examination. Arm yourself with the right study resources, testing strategies, and self-motivation to power through this demanding exam.


Earning the certified public accountant designation is no cakewalk, as evidenced by the CPA exam’s relatively low 46-60% pass rates across its four sections. The Financial Accounting and Reporting section proves particularly challenging, with average pass rates around 46%.

While repeating candidates tend to perform better than first-time examines, passing still remains difficult. Strong preparation through CPA review courses, knowledge of exam structure, and perseverance even after failing initial attempts can help you beat the odds.

Remember that with diligent studying using sample exams, detailed content review, and testing tips from CPAs who have succeeded, you have what it takes to conquer this exam. Maintain focus as you work towards meeting the high standards set by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.

With strategic preparation and determination, you can push past the difficulties posed by the CPA exam and become a licensed accounting professional. Don’t get discouraged by the pass rates – with hard work and commitment, you’ll be able to accomplish this career milestone.

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