CPA Exam Grading Curve

Who here gets excited when their professor says, “All exams are scored on a curve.” Cue grading party! Unless you have some genius in your class who makes the whole curve concept moot. Then, less exciting.

While college professors were up front about it, the CPA exam is not. We all want to know, is there a CPA exam grading curve? The quick answer: No. I know, so sad! But bear with me, I do have good news about the scoring process.

Traditional Curves

When we think about “grading curves,” we think about how they are represented in high school and college. They don’t happen in every class, usually just the hard ones, and are fairly easy to understand.

Basically, the teacher (or professor) looks at all of the scores and assigns the highest grade to the top score. So if the top scorer earned a 92% on his or her exam, that would be equivalent to 100%, and the rest of the class would be graded accordingly. This is the most basic of the grading curves, although there are some variations depending on the teacher or professor.

So traditional grading curves compare the candidates to each other and base the scores off of the total pool of test takers.

CPA Exam Grading Curve

The CPA exam works a little differently. Each exam has three testlets, and one section devoted to either task-based simulations or written communications tasks. Each testlet varies in difficulty and all candidates start out with a testlet of medium difficulty. If a candidate does poorly, the next testlet will also be of medium difficulty. If he or she does well, the next testlet will be more difficult.

You’ll essentially start your CPA exam with zero points and each correct answer will earn you points. If you earn 75 points, you pass.

When we say the CPA exam is curved, it is a reference to this system. According to the AICPA, the exam is “curved” based on your performance and scores are completely independent of other candidates.

A Common Misconception

There are a multitude of conspiracy theory threads out there saying the CPA exam is curved. It’s not, I promise.

And just because you feel like you didn’t do well doesn’t mean you didn’t pass. Remember, getting 75% of the questions correct doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pass. Maybe the last two testlets you got were of a higher difficulty and you felt you didn’t do well on them. But these questions are worth more points and each correct answer gets you closer to the pass. So don’t feel discouraged if it seemed hard! You probably crushed it.

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2 Responses to CPA Exam Grading Curve

  1. Eric December 5, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    I realize this article has been out there a while, but I have a question. Does the 60-40 weight (for REG, FAR, AUD) mean that a person can earn only 60 points on the multiple choice (even though some harder problems could be worth more than 1 point)? In other words, could a person’s score possibly be above 60 just from the multiple choice questions?

    • Megan
      Megan December 12, 2016 at 10:31 am #


      Thanks for the comment! The scoring of the CPA exam isn’t truly 60/40; it is a combination of getting the right answer AND how difficult the question is. For example, if you do well on multiple choice testlet 1, your multiple choice testlet 2 will be harder, but the questions will be worth more. If you do really well on all of the multiple choice questions, it may be possible to have 60 points or more going into the SIM problems. However, it is not possible to pass AUD, FAR or REG on multiple choice questions only. Check out this document prepared by the AICPA for more information.

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