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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? 

There are four sections of the CPA exam (AUD, BEC, FAR and REG), and once you pass the first of the four, you will have 18 months to pass the remaining 3 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 range between 45% and 60% per section, meaning only half of the candidates that sit for the exam each quarter will pass. 

How Many Times Can I Take the CPA Exam?

There is no limit on how many times a candidate can take each section of the exam. In fact, most CPA exam candidates will take the exams multiple times.

Which CPA Exam Section is the Hardest? 

While each section is difficult in its own way, pass rates tend to lean a bit higher for the Business Environment Concepts (BEC) section and the lowest for the Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) section. The main reason that CPA exam candidates refer to the FAR exam as the “beast” of the CPA exam, is due to the sheer volume of information that needs to be retained. Essentially, anything covered in the FASB literature is fair game come exam day. While none of this is meant to scare you away from pursuing this license, it is important to understand that getting a 75% on the FAR exam is much different than getting a C in your college intermediate financial reporting class. The CPA exam requires everyday study efforts and a ton of consistency in order to claim a passing score for each section. 

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 exams version of Microsoft Excel. 

What is the Format of the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam is broken out into both multiple-choice questions as well as task-based simulations. There is also a written communication section of the exam that will be removed from the exam format come January 2024, when CPA exam evolution goes into effect.  While it is important to score highly on the multiple-choice questions, the CPA exam is not memoizable. It is important that you have a thorough understanding of the concepts. Universal CPA Review provides a step-by-step video explanation for every single multiple-choice question to ensure that you thoroughly understand the intuition behind the most challenging concepts. 

With this being said, it is impossible to pass the CPA exam without decent scores on the task-based simulations. In other words, there is no hiding from the simulations. Task-based simulations are designed to test your ability to think critically about a specific concept. You will be provided a variety of exhibits that you must be able to navigate your way through. Each exhibit will almost always contain pertinent information needed to answer the questions being asked. This is the AICPA’s way of testing your abilities to perform in a professional environment as a certified public accountant. Like the multiple-choice questions within the Universal CPA platform, each task-based simulation contains a video explanation that walks you through the sim that you just attempted.

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 even your 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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