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The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) releases aggregate CPA Exam pass rates quarterly after each testing window. Gleim reports these pass rates here immediately—we know you’re excited to see how the entire cohort did!

The latest passing data also helps us understand how CPA Exam changes affect candidate performance, so we analyze and compare CPA Exam pass rates throughout the years. We highlight important patterns and examine how the AICPA calculates CPA Exam scores here, too.

2022 CPA Exam pass rates

CPA Exam candidates receive their scores individually during scheduled CPA Exam score releases. The AICPA releases the aggregate score for each section quarterly—the overall 2022 CPA Exam pass rates are below!

Learn how your score is calculated.

2022 CPA Exam Pass Rates
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2023 CPA Exam pass rate predictions

2023 should see candidates rushing to get their CPA Exams complete before the launch of the new exam in January 2024. Pass rates for each exam section should remain relatively in line with what we saw in 2022.

Don’t let the average performance of thousands of candidates scare you! Trust in your own CPA Exam prep, which can deliver you a passing CPA Exam score regardless of the trends. You can learn more about the CPA Exam and how to secure that passing score by accessing our free CPA Exam guide today!

2021 CPA Exam pass rates

The overall 2021 CPA Exam pass rates are below!

2021 CPA Exam Pass Rates
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2020 CPA Exam pass rates

The table below provides the overall 2020 CPA Exam pass rates for the year.

2020 CPA Exam Pass Rates
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2020 CPA Exam pass rate explanation

2020 saw significant fluctuations in the CPA Exam pass rates. The AICPA reported some of the highest pass rates in nearly 10 years, but also the lowest number of candidates testing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the world was on lockdown during Q2, so candidates had more time to study and fewer obligations competing for their time.

Additionally, because of the temporary Prometric Test Center closures, many candidates were able to reschedule their exams free of charge. More time to study per day plus a pushed back test date paved the way for a cohort of candidates better prepared on average.

The AICPA has confirmed that many of the Q2 2020 candidates were better prepared than usual. Not only were pass rates higher, but individual scores increased as well. Q2 2020 candidates performed better on every component (MCQs, TBSs, and WCs) across all four CPA Exam sections.

Q1 to Q2 CPA Exam Pass Rates for each section comparing 2019 and 2020

Test centers then opened gradually, and seating was restricted. It is likely that only the most motivated candidates tried to get the first available seats, given there was no cost to delay by a few additional weeks or months.

Whatever the cause, Q3 scores showed that much of what worked in Q2 continued to work for CPA Exam candidates. The AICPA noticed that many of the trends in Q2 continued into Q3, predominately that candidates were more prepared, and scores were up across the board.

Although the pass rates for each section dropped from Q2, they are still higher than average for prior years.

Though there are no longer testing windows, Q3 is traditionally one of the strongest quarters to sit for the exam. This could be yet another example of this trend; however, the scores have rarely been this much higher (Q2 is an outlier).

Q1 to Q3 CPA Exam Pass Rates for each section comparing 2019 and 2020

More likely, Q3’s success was a continuation of the effects of the turbulence in Q2. With many candidates postponing their exams and taking advantage of increased study time due to social distancing, they were likely more prepared going into their exams.

Continuous Testing started on July 1, 2020, at the beginning of Q3. While Continuous Testing doesn’t help candidates pass if they aren’t prepared, it can help candidates go back in and pass a section they barely failed earlier in the quarter. So if a candidate failed in early July, they would have had the opportunity to resit in the same quarter.

Other considerations

For both quarters, many candidates with sections already passed may have felt the pressure to quickly pass another section or two, in case Prometric had to shut down test centers again. While the state boards all made accommodations for candidates during the shutdown, there was no promise they would continue to do so afterward.

Also, there were some large revisions scheduled for the CPA Exam in 2021. Candidates were more motivated than usual to pass so they could avoid having to take the new version of the exam. REG saw changes as early as Q4, with the inclusion of the CARES Act, which probably relates to its higher-than-average pass rates. Recently, REG’s pass rates have been closer to those of AUD.

CPA Exam pass rates overview

The CPA Exam is difficult for a reason. The certification is sought after because it is meaningful. It signals to employers and peers a certain caliber of professionalism. If the CPA Exam was easier, the market would be saturated with CPAs, many of whom would not be able to contribute at the highest level. The CPA Exam pass rate is something the AICPA is continuously monitoring to make sure accountants who earn the CPA embody its standard.

The AICPA has reported CPA Exam pass rates since 2006, and for 16 years, the cumulative average pass rate has improved and now fluctuates between 45% and 60%.

Line graph showing average CPA Exam pass rates from 2006-2021.

The cumulative average CPA Exam pass rate for 2020 set a record high that persisted throughout 2021, but this doesn’t tell us the whole story. Each of the four CPA Exam sections are taken and passed (or failed) separately, and each presents a unique set of challenges for CPA candidates.

CPA Exam pass rates by section

Since 2015, the AUD and REG sections have both tended to be “middle-of-the-road” as far as CPA Exam difficulty is concerned. FAR has had the lowest pass rate for the past seven years, and BEC has had the highest for eleven! In 2020, we saw REG start to catch up with BEC, and in Q1 2022 we saw REG surpass BEC. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues throughout 2022.

Back in 2006, CPA Exam pass rates for all four sections showed little variation. They begin to diverge in 2011 due to the massive changes the CPA Exam went through that year. In fact, 2011 boasted the biggest changes since the test was computerized in 2004, when the AICPA introduced testing on IFRS and removed written communication tasks from every section but BEC.

Line graph showing CPA Exam section pass rates from 2006-2021.

Why are CPA Exam pass rates higher in Q2 and Q3?

There are a lot of factors that determine pass rates: how hard the exam is, how prepared candidates are, any changes the exam is undergoing, etc. Also note: recorded pass rates for the CPA Exam only go back to 2006. The first “CPA Exam” was delivered by the New York Board of Examiners in 1896, so we’re unfortunately missing a lot of data (not that it would be useful for today’s CPA candidates). Let’s look at what affects the modern CPA candidate.

Line graph showing average CPA Exam Pass rates by quarter from 2006-2021.

When is the best time to take the CPA Exam?

Q1 (January-March) is the start of the busy season for tax accountants. People who work full-time probably find it hard to keep up with studying, so it falls by the wayside. Pair this with the fact that Q1 comes right after the holiday season, another time candidates probably find poorly suited for studying, and fewer people end up passing.

Q2 (April-June) is the first chance most college graduates have to take a CPA Exam section. They don’t have much time to study immediately after classes end, so most likely they have been studying while classes were in session. While they do pass at a high rate, they are not quite as prepared as they might have been in Q3.

Q3 (July-September) is a perfect time for college graduates to take a section of the CPA Exam. Students who graduate in May have all summer to study for the next section. There are very few holidays during that time, and many students probably want to finish so they don’t have to study during the holidays later in the year. This sets them up to do very well when they sit in Q3.

Q4 (October-December) pass rates could be low due to the holiday season, much like Q1. Recent graduates who began the testing process as a student are largely able to complete the testing process by the end of Q3, and so aren’t contributing to the average in Q4.

Accounting coursework overlaps with many CPA Exam topics, so current and recent students tend to perform well on the exam.

These explanations are all conjecture. Still, walking through this reasoning is important because there are critical factors for candidates to consider outside of the CPA Exam itself. While passing still depends largely on how well prepared you are, you should still be aware of the way your environment affects you and craft your study plan in a way that gives you every possible advantage. Are you someone who, no matter how hard you try, will never get work done over the holiday season? Consider that when scheduling your exam. Learn more in our guide to scheduling the CPA Exam.

2019 CPA Exam pass rates

2019 CPA Exam Pass Rates
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2018 CPA Exam pass rates

2018 CPA Exam Pass Rates
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2017 CPA Exam pass rates

Uniform CPA Examination Pass Rates 2017
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2016 CPA Exam pass rates

2016 CPA Exam Pass Rates
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2006-2015 CPA Exam pass rates

The CPA Exam became computerized in 2004, and the AICPA began reporting CPA Exam scores online in 2006. For as long as we’ve had access to the data, the overall CPA Exam pass rate has hovered between 45% and 50%, and pass rates for individual sections have ranged from 39% (REG) to 60% (BEC). Disregarding the 2011 dip, the overall pass rate gradually climbed from 2006 to 2015, the year the pass rate peaked before the new version was released in 2017.

What do CPA Exam pass rates mean for you?

We’ve already shown that the CPA Exam is difficult. But whatever the pass rates are, they don’t have to define your chances of success. The best thing you can do to ensure you pass on your first attempt is to have a solid CPA review provider by your side when you sit for the exam.

Each candidate who chooses to study with Gleim CPA Review has access to a team of Personal Counselors who can help you create a personalized study plan and will walk you through each step of the exam process. With SmartAdapt™ technology at your side, you’ll be on the path to success.

All about your CPA Exam score

Passing the CPA Exam is one of the four requirements to become a CPA. It is designed to measure professional competence in auditing, business law, taxation, and accounting. The AICPA’s goal is for every candidate who passes the exam with the minimum passing score of 75 to reflect positively on the profession.

To that end, the exam also tests related business skills, the ability to conduct oneself skillfully and with good judgment, and understanding of professional responsibilities and ethics. Passing this exam confirms you have the competence to practice in a highly specialized field.

Who creates the CPA Exam?

The AICPA contracts with third parties to produce multiple-choice questions (MCQs), task-based simulations (TBSs), and written communications (WCs). Exam questions are created and vetted by experts in the fields of accounting, psychometrics, and test development.

Through the development process, these experts ensure that testlets and exam versions will be graded and scored equitably on a comparative basis. The AICPA is ultimately responsible for the creation and maintenance of the CPA Exam.

Who administers the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam is administered at Prometric test centers in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). After you apply to your state board of accountancy, you will schedule and sit for your exam with Prometric.

Who grades the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam is scored in a largely automated process. MCQs, TBSs, and WCs are all graded electronically; however, WCs may be reviewed and regraded by human scorers if a candidate’s score is very close to 75. The human grading process can push the release of a BEC score back by a week or so.

How is the CPA Exam graded?

The minimum CPA Exam passing score is 75 points, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to answer 75% of questions correctly in order to pass.

The CPA Exam is what is known as a criterion-referenced test, which means every candidate’s performance is measured against established standards to determine whether the candidate has demonstrated the level of knowledge and skill represented by the CPA passing score.

The CPA Exam is not curved in the traditional sense. Every candidate is held to the same standard. The AICPA uses Item Response Theory (IRT) to figure out the relative value of MCQs and TBSs. It rates questions according to three statistics:

  • Difficulty – whether the question is generally easier or more difficult for candidates
  • Discrimination – how well the question differentiates between more able and less able candidates
  • Guessing – the chances of candidates answering the question correctly just by guessing

The calibration for the automatic grading of WCs is done using the input from a network of volunteer CPA readers. This process ensures that scores from different exam forms are comparable. Again, if a candidate’s BEC score is close to 75, WCs may be rescored by human graders.

Using the collected data, the AICPA is able to extrapolate scores from different exam forms that accurately represent candidates’ knowledge and skill levels. These scores are comparable because, to put it simply, difficult questions are worth more points and easier questions are worth fewer. It is entirely possible for two candidates to answer the same number of questions correctly and have slightly different scores.

The scores from each testlet are then multiplied by the policy weights:

  • 50% for multiple-choice and 50% for simulations for AUD, FAR, and REG
  • 50% for multiple-choice, 35% for simulations, and 15% for written communications for BEC

Finally, the aggregate score is mapped to the 0 to 99 scale used for score reporting.

How CPA is scored

How does the AICPA set the CPA Exam’s passing score?

The AICPA Board of Examiners sets the CPA passing score by considering historical trends, changes in content, input from the academic community and profession, and other sources. The score is set such that a candidate who passes with the lowest possible score will reflect positively upon the professional community. Anyone who scores a 75 or higher is capable of performing the duties of a newly minted CPA.

When are CPA Exam scores released?

The AICPA regularly sets four CPA Exam score release dates per window. For the most part, you can expect your score a few weeks to a month after you sit for the exam.

CPA Exam score reports

When your CPA Exam score release date arrives, there are two ways to get your score:

  1. Some CPA state boards of accountancy partner with NASBA to provide CPA Exam scores to candidates, so if your state board offers NASBA’s online score retrieval service, you must visit NASBA’s website to discover your score.
  2. If your state board handles the process of sharing exam scores with their candidates, you will receive your exam score from them. Some state boards post the scores on their website and then email their candidates, while others mail candidates their scores in a letter. Check with your state board for more info.

How do I read my CPA Exam score report?

The AICPA does not release sub-scores by content area, but it does report “weaker,” “comparable,” and “stronger” performances. Exercise caution when interpreting your content area performance, because these sub-scores are calculated using a relatively small number of questions.

For example, in REG, 10-20% of your exam will be on “Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and Federal Tax Procedures.” If your exam only contains 10% of questions on that topic, that’s about 8 multiple-choice questions and maybe a TBS. It’s useful to know how you did, but we don’t advise drawing conclusions about your mastery of the topic based on such a small sample size.

What should I do if I don’t pass a CPA Exam section?

If you fail a CPA Exam section, don’t panic. We have steps to get you back on track on our blog.

If you decide to retake any section of the exam, we recommend you go through all of the material again at least once. A lot of time can pass between attempts, and it is best to keep the material fresh in your mind.

Read more about how to improve your CPA Exam score!