CPA First Time Pass Rates

We all want to know what the stats are of passing the CPA exam on the first attempt. Because, as much as we love being holed up in our parent’s basement studying, we’d like to go back to our normal social life as soon as possible. Just give us that magical 75! 4 times in a row please.

But how realistic is this goal? Let’s take a look at CPA first time pass rates and related stats below.

Passing All 4 Parts The First Time

There aren’t very many stats out there on CPA first time pass rates. What I did find was, in 2010, 131,158 unique candidates sat for the CPA exam and 12,892 of those candidates passed their 4th section with only 4 total attempts. If my math serves me correctly, that’s a first time pass rate of 10.17%.

If this number doesn’t sound appealing to you (it sounds scary to me), keep this in mind: According to a CPA pass/fail study, you have a 75% chance of passing at least one section on the first try and a 90% chance of passing at least one section on the second try.

Pass Rates By Section

If you want to know which exams are seemingly the hardest, check out these individual section pass rates. Obviously, you have to know your own strengths and weaknesses and work with them to pass the exam, but knowing how others are doing is a great place to start. So, behold, the pass rates for each section of the CPA exam for Q1 of 2016:

FAR – 44.7%

AUD – 44.9%

REG – 47.6%

BEC – 55.4%

According to these pass rates, both FAR and AUD are running a close game for hardest exam, and BEC is far and away the easiest exam. So plan accordingly.

Chances of Passing All 4 Parts

This is not the same as passing all 4 parts on the first try. This is simply passing all 4 parts, in whatever order, at whatever time.

I sifted through same pass/fail study mentioned above and found the following:

28% of all candidates who took all 4 parts of the CPA exam passed.

Again, this particular study is from 2007 (it’s the only reliable source I could find with the information), but since pass rates have remained relatively stable on individual exams since then, it’s probably a good figure to consider into today’s pass rates.

Now, maybe you’re looking at this number and thinking it’s pretty grim. But keep in mind that you have an 18-month window to pass all four parts. Put in the time, do what you need to do, and you will definitely pass.

How To Increase Your Chances Of Passing

I’ve read it on so many different forums that it’s hard to forget. The best way to increase your chances of passing? Put in the time and put in the effort. You have to make sacrifices for this exam. Maybe you won’t enjoy not having a social life for a few months, but you will enjoy that feeling of knowing you passed your last exam and you never have to open CPA study materials again (bonfire, anyone?).

By the way, sign up for our 1 Week Free Trial to try out Magoosh GMAT Prep!

5 Responses to CPA First Time Pass Rates

  1. Paul September 19, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    Hi Megan,

    Re: CPA First Time Pass Rates (6/2/2016)

    I don’t understand the math on the calculation of the chances of passing all 4 parts the first time. Shouldn’t it be 9.83% (12,892/131,158) instead of 10.17%? How was the 10.17% calculated?



  2. Steve Smith January 29, 2018 at 9:33 am #

    I am not sure how you are getting your information but I have been a CPA since 1981. Every state at that time had different rules regarding minimum scores on all four parts in order to get credit for passing one or more parts. Remember, when you sit for the exam, some of your counterparts are from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. Some have bachelors degrees, some have masters, and some are already attorneys.

    I sat for the exam in California while working for one of the top 10 national CPA firms. I only studied on my own a little and then decided to go ahead and sit for the exam, if for no other reason than to get a feel for what I was in for. I had a bachelors degree from a mid-level university. And all we could take into the exam was a pencil, eraser, and a slide-rule.

    I passed all four parts that first attempt. But in all fairness, I did attend two major universities on academic scholarships, and I changed my major from engineering to accounting (not sure how smart that was).

    All the research I have done suggests that the percentage of those who sit for the exam and pass all four parts the first attempt is between 5% and 9%.

    Any one who says the CPA designation is not worth the hassle is an idiot. I have almost 40 years of experience to back up that position.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 8, 2018 at 7:54 am #

      Hi Steve,

      There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a student passes the CPA exam, but I think that we can all agree that it is a difficult test! Our estimate of 10.17% percent here is an estimate based on one year, so it gives us a snapshot of what to expect, but it isn’t an exact measurement. For most of this blog post, we used the technical report released by the AICPA which analyzes pass-fail patterns from 10 testing windows in 2007. That information comes directly from the data and provides much more reliable information!
      It sounds like you had some pretty unique circumstances leading up to your first-time pass, and that is certainly an achievement! Our goal with this blog post is to give potential test-takers some information that can help them to put the test in perspective and prepare for every eventuality.

  3. Cecilio Manaois December 6, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

    I passed all 4 parts on my first try in May 1986. I have BS Accounting in Manila,
    I also passed my CPA in the Philippines.

    I enrolled at Becker CPA REVIEW SCHOOL in Chicago while working full time. I followed and did what they instructed except the second half of the course but I mentally solved all the materials.

    • Glen Bascetta January 3, 2019 at 3:10 am #

      Hi Cecilio,

      Bravo! In 1984, in CT, we had to sit in an auditorium for 2.5 days straight. Testing was from 8-4pm. Now that is a test! I passed all sections. I received the thin envelope. The one without re-application forms. That was EVERYTING, RECEIVE THE THIN ENVELOPE IN THE MAIL, NOT THE THICK ONE.


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