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How Hard is the CPA Exam?

 

So you’re thinking about taking the CPA exam?

Whether you have a dream of becoming a tax advisor, feel as though you need public accounting experience, or just want to solidify your business acumen, the CPA license is one of the most prestigious and well respected licenses in the business world. The exam itself is known for being one of the most challenging professional exams out there.

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How Many CPA Exam Sections Are There? 

Beginning January 1, 2024, the CPA Exam has commenced its Core-Discipline CPA Exam format. This means that there are now three Core CPA Exam sections (AUD, FAR, and REG), and three Discipline CPA Exam sections (BAR, ISC, and TCP). All state jurisdictions will likely extend the credit period from 18 months to 30 months. This means that once you pass your first CPA exam you will now have 30 months to pass your subsequent three sections (all of the required core CPA exams and one of the three discipline CPA sections).

While at first glance you might be thinking “that doesn’t sound like a huge hurdle”, you might feel differently once you dive into the exam material and learn just how comprehensive it is. The CPA exam pass rates have historically ranged between 45% and 55% per section, meaning only half of the candidates that sit for the exam each quarter have passed.

While the CPA Exam will always have around a 50% pass rate, we predict that with the new CPA Evolution format, the pass rates will actually go up. 

How Many Times Can I Take the CPA Exam?

You can take the CPA Exam as many times as it takes to pass. Meaning there is no limitation to how many times you can fail each exam. However, the testing availability will be somewhat limited in 2024 due to the CPA Exam updates.

Whenever there is a major change made to the CPA Exam format, everything gets a little bit wonky. With that being said, the AICPA anticipates that the testing schedules will revert back to normal start in 2025.

Take note of the following caveats related to the 2024 CPA Exam schedule:

Testing for the discipline sections will only be available for one month each quarter for the duration of the 2024 calendar year.

The CPA Exam score release dates will be less than normal as the AICPA needs additional time to score the submitted CPA exams.

You can take the CPA Exam as many times as it takes to pass. Meaning there is no limitation to how many times you can fail each exam. However, the testing availability will be somewhat limited in 2024 due to the CPA Exam updates.

Whenever there is a major change made to the CPA Exam format, everything gets a little bit wonky. With that being said, the AICPA anticipates that the testing schedules will revert back to normal start in 2025.

Take note of the following caveats related to the 2024 CPA Exam schedule:

CPA Exam Section Multiple-Choice Questions Task-Based Simulations
AUD - Core
50%
50%
FAR - Core
50%
50%
REG - Core
50%
50%
BAR - Discipline
50%
50%
ISC - Discipline
60%
40%
TCP - Discipline
50%
50%

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Which CPA Exam Section is the Hardest?

While it’s still far too early to determine which CPA Exam section will be considered the hardest section within the new CPA Exam format, the Universal CPA Review team has been studying the AICPA blueprint since it became available, and we have some bold predictions:

Core CPA Exams

You will be required to pass all three core CPA Exams with a score of 75 to pass the Uniform CPA Examination.

Child writing 'about the CPA core exams' on a chalkboard to illustrate key points for the CPA Evolution core exams that will be tested

Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

The Auditing and Attestation (AUD) exam is the one CPA Exam that had the least amount of changes. There were some minor additions to the CPA blueprint for this section such as some added content related to data analytics. However, because these changes were so minimal, we believe that the AUD CPA Exam will stay the same.

Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

In our minds, the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) exam will have the largest increase in future passing scores. The reason FAR was so challenging pre-CPA Evolution was due to the sheer volume of information that was tested. Because much of this information was moved to the BAR Exam, we predict pass rates will go up!

Taxation and Regulation (REG)

Similar to the FAR Exam, the Taxation and Regulation (REG) exam also shifted much of its challenging content over to the new TCP discipline exam. Historically REG had some of the highest pass rates in previous years. This is still a tax-heavy exam, but due to the CPA Evolution changes, we predict that this exam will become even more doable than before.

Discipline CPA Exams

You will be required to pass one of the three discipline CPA Exams with a score of 75 to pass the Uniform CPA Examination.

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Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)

The Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR) exam focuses on assessing candidates’ skills in advanced financial accounting, entity analysis, and understanding economics, strategy, and risk. It evaluates their proficiency in cost of capital and valuation techniques. Content areas include:

Information Systems and Controls (ISC)

The Information Systems and Controls (ISC) exam can either be pretty easy or pretty hard, depending on your computer systems or IT background. Ask yourself, am I a computer person? If the answer is yes, then this exam could be your best friend. Like the AUD core CPA Exam, the ISC Exam is going to purely be conceptual. No math involved!

Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)

If you have a background in tax, or found the Regulation CPA exam to be intuitive, then the Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP) CPA exam will be a good fit. Don’t get me wrong, the TCP CPA Exam is significantly more challenging than the REG Exam as it will cover more advanced tax topics and some additional specialty tax areas and financial planning. 

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Can You Bring a Calculator to the CPA Exam?

CPA Exam calculators will be provided to candidates at the Prometric center. There is no need to bring your own calculator to the CPA Exam as you will not be allowed to bring it in. If you don’t feel like the CPA Exam calculator provided helps as much, you will have access to the exam version of Microsoft Excel. 

Bottom Line: 

So, how hard is it to pass the CPA exam? The short answer is that it’s very hard, but it is certainly doable. Regardless of your professional accounting background, or  lack thereof, the CPA exam is very different from what you might have learned in college, and it’s different from what you might have learned at work. The CPA exam is a thorough break out of anything and everything academic that you may see within the accounting profession. 

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