CPA Exam Pass Rates: Q3 2016

Q3 CPA pass rates

As we enter the second half of 2016, we are getting close to crunch time for those hoping to pass the CPA Exam before the next version launches in April 2017. With just under six months remaining, many candidates are applying to sit and planning to squeeze in one more section of the current version of the exam. With NASBA reporting an unusually high volume of exam applications recently, the rush to pass is clearly present, and with the recent release of Q3’s pass rates, evidence of how successful these efforts have been is here as well.

While the 2016 edition of the exam is less difficult in comparison to the coming 2017 edition, it still presents quite a challenge. Pass rates tend to vary by quarter, and it will be interesting to see how they change once the new exam debuts in April 2017. With that information in mind, let’s review each Q3 2016 CPA Exam pass rate.

Q3 2016 CPA Exam Pass Rates

The AICPA published the Q3 CPA Exam pass rates for 2016 in the beginning of October.

CPA Exam Pass Rate

Q3 2016 CPA Exam Pass Rate Observations

Significant observations about the Q3 2016 CPA Exam pass rates include the following:

  • The Q3 2016 pass rates for every section are lower than the Q3 2015 pass rates. In fact, the Q3 2016 pass rates are generally the lowest recorded Q3 pass rates of the last 6 years. The only pass rates to defy this tendency have been the BEC pass rate from Q3 2010, the BEC and REG pass rates from Q3 2011, and the REG pass rate from Q3 2013.
  • The 2016 cumulative pass rates are also lower than those of this time last year. BEC’s current 2016 cumulative pass rate is the only one to stay above the cumulative pass rates from Q3 2015.
  • When they have gone up, pass rates for 2016 have failed to demonstrate as much of an increase as the pass rates from 2015 did.
  • With the exception of 2012, Q3 pass rates for AUD are usually the second highest pass rates for a given year. With the recent pass rate percentage coming in right between the Q1 and Q2 figures, AUD pass rates for 2016 are on track to uphold that tradition.
  • BEC has its own history of putting up big numbers in Q3. Though the Q3 pass rates of 2014 broke the pattern, BEC traditionally exhibits its highest pass rates for the year in Q3, and so far, 2016 is no different.
  • FAR and REG most consistently experience a Q3 pass rate surge that produces their greatest numbers for the year. There have been no exceptions to this rule for either section in the last 6 years. To date, the pass rates of 2016 seem set on maintaining these Q3 pass rate trends from FAR and REG.

Q3 2016 CPA Exam Pass Rate Interpretations

The fact that the 2016 Q3 pass rates have been noticeably low is not the most encouraging news, but this situation might be better than it appears. The number of first-time candidates sitting for the exam has gone up in Q3, most likely in an attempt to pass at least one section of the easier exam before the next version arrives. Sitting for a section now is a great idea for exam candidates, but apparently, this behavior has not had such a great effect on pass rates, as first-time candidates are less likely to pass the section for which they sit. Therefore, looking at the Q3 pass rates in light of the increased first-timer figures means that these low pass rates could be an anomaly that won’t make a reappearance again in coming years.

When the exam isn’t changing in less than 6 months, Q3 actually seems to be the best time of year to sit. The quarter doesn’t include any major holidays and comes well after (and well before) busy season. Furthermore, summer overlaps Q3 and often provides fresh accounting graduates an ample amount of time to study before they enter the workforce in the fall. So, the fact that 2016’s Q3 pass rates have been abnormally low should not deter candidates from sitting during this time of year. Just plan to sit when you feel adequately prepared and confident.

Q4 2016 CPA Exam Pass Rate Predictions

Historically, pass rates for Q4 drop below those of Q3 and Q2 and occasionally even below those of Q1. With 2016 reporting such low pass rates for Q3, its Q4 numbers might also be shockingly low. However, despite recent evidence to the contrary, pass rates tend to rise as the number of candidates who sit rises, and in the last 10 years, Q3 has always presented the largest number of candidates taking the exam in any quarter for the year. As fewer candidates have routinely sat for the exam in Q4 than have in Q3, Q4 2016 might stick to the code. Yet, with the next version of the exam on the horizon and NASBA noting an unusually large number of applications, the final stretch of 2016 might just be primed to surprise.

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