Which Section of the CPA Exam is the Hardest?

Answering the question of which section of the CPA Exam is the hardest is by no means objective. According to the AICPA, the cumulative pass rates for 2015 for AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG were 47.28%, 56.48%, 46.75%, and 49.43%, respectively. So, theoretically that means that FAR is the hardest section of the exam.  But of course, nothing with the CPA exam is that simple.

It’s Not Just Pass Rates

On average, all else equal, you would expect that FAR would be hardest followed by AUD, REG, and BEC, respectively. However, all else isn’t equal.  When you observe the pass rates for AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG by quarter, the lowest pass rate may not actually be FAR, the “hardest section,” because each section’s pass rate is constantly changing. In the end, attributing level of difficultly of a section to the pass rate is flawed, in part, because you the test taker either pass or do not pass. Or in other words, on any given section, your individual pass rate is either 100% or 0%.

Instead, the question you should be asking yourself is which section of the CPA Exam is going be the hardest for you.

Your Strengths and Weaknesses

In order to address this question, you need to think about a variety of factors such as classes taken at your university, study time available, test taking aptitude, work experience, and test prep company. For example, if you are currently working on your Masters of Accountancy with a Certificate in Tax and have interned at a Big 4 Firm in Federal Tax and a regional firm in State and Local Tax, you will probably find the REG section of the CPA Exam to be fairly easy. However, because you have placed a lot of emphasis on tax courses instead of taking courses in corporate governance, advanced audit, analytics, forensics, and internal audit, you may have a harder time with the AUD section. At the same time, you may find that you have a lot of time to study for the exam, that you have a consistent track record on exams, and that you have selected the appropriate test prep company that addresses your study needs.

Consequently, you are in the best position to determine which section you are going to find to be the hardest. You are also in the best position to make your journey towards becoming a CPA as stress-free as possible. If you have a few more semesters before sitting for the CPA Exam, consider taking a well-balanced set of classes from different accounting perspectives and consider planning on interning in two different service lines. If you are just beginning your journey at college or university and really want to get a head start on all things CPA, consider talking with your advisor on how you can map out your courses over the next couple of years so that your last semester provides you with an ample amount of time to study for the CPA Exam. As always, remember to breathe.

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