Why Is the CPA Exam Pass Rate So Low?

When I first knew I wanted to take the CPA exam, I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know the extent of how difficult it was. Then I looked up passing rates, and I realized just how scary this exam really was.

CPA exam pass rate low

At the time, I never thought about the factors that made the CPA exam pass rate so low. Now that I look back on it, I realize that the difficulty of the material was only one factor; there were several others that came in to play to make the CPA exam seem so scary.

Information Overload

When I received my study materials, I was a little freaked. Four thick books, information filling each page in small font. I thought there was absolutely no way I could learn all this material. But I did and I successfully passed the exam, even with my initially negative outlook.

One reason why passing rates are so low on the CPA exam is that there is a wealth of material that has to be learned to pass. We’re lucky that it is split up into four separate exams, but even then, each exam has its own difficulties in terms of formulas to be memorized and processes to be understood.

As you study, keep in mind that you are capable of learning the information you need to pass the exam. The CPA exam pass rates may be low in part due to the amount of information, but you can definitely be a part of the 50% or so who pass the exam.

The Material Is No Joke

While the sheer amount of material is daunting, CPA exam pass rates are also low because the material isn’t exactly easy. There are formulas that have to both be memorized and put into practice. You have to understand processes that may be hard to grasp. I always had a hard time getting microeconomics, so when I had to study it for BEC, it took a lot of time to really understand how everything worked.

Even if you just have memorization material, it can be difficult. For REG, you have to know how to get to AGI, which isn’t just plugging in two or three numbers.

The best way to overcome material difficulties is to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you can easily memorize the law portion of REG but have a tough time with tax, spend more time on tax. The key is really understanding key items that are sure to be on the exam.

Candidates Don’t Study Properly

I’m not an expert, but I would guess that passing rates are so low because many people just don’t put in enough time. As we stated above, there is a boatload of information covered in the four parts of the CPA exam and the material isn’t easy. If people don’t properly prepare, they simply aren’t going to pass.

And that’s why the numbers seem so low. It’s like when you were in college and grading was on a curve; there were always those few people who decided they didn’t need to study and therefore bombed the exams. In the case of college, that was good for you well prepared students; the curve was in your favor. But in the case of the CPA exam, those ill-prepared people cause passing rates to drop. And when those passing rates are low, it freaks everyone out.

The best advice I can give for anyone taking the CPA exam is make sure you are properly prepared. Put in the time you need and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. I’ve said it before, and I’ve heard it from several friends who have also passed the exam: if you put in the time, you WILL pass.

Chins up and good luck my CPA friends!



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