How Hard Is The CPA Exam

How hard is to pass the cpa exam. For me, passing the cpa exam was a nightmare. I started the test while I was still in school. I made the mistake of taking the easiest sections first. Then I started working for the big 4. I still had audit and far left to pass when I went to work at a big 4 firm.

I failed both the first time around. I even failed FAR a second time. Is the cpa exam hard to pass? I think so.

how hard is the cpa exam

how hard is the cpa exam

Average time to pass the cpa exam

It would be hard to measure the average time for a student to take the cpa exam. However, we can estimate it. Many websites say it takes 6-12 months. I agree with that because that is how long it took me and most of my friends.

It can take longer though if you are holding down a job as well.

Is the cpa exam harder than it used to be?

People always wonder if the cpa exam is harder than it used to be. Don’t worry about the cpa exam difficulty increasing over time. If you are already worried about this, then you are just preparing your excuse.

is the cpa exam harder than it used to be

cpa exam difficulty by year

If you look at the test scores over the years, test scores have been going up. Does this mean that the people taking the test are smarter? Maybe. I think they are making the test easier so that more people become cpa’s. Accounting is already a tough job. They don’t need to make it harder to get in. Additionally, the big 4 accounting firms want more employees. They don’t want firms full of non-accredited individuals because clients won’t pay premiums for non-cpa’s. The big 4 are most likely the most influential group on the cpa exam.

This is always a struggle though because of accounting scandals. Every time there is a huge accounting scandal, people say it is too easy to be a cpa. Then they blame the cpa exam and ethics courses. The cpa exam and ethics courses won’t stay corrupt individuals from being corrupt.

In conclusion, the cpa exam is not getting more difficult. It has been getting easier in recent history.

Why is the cpa exam so hard?

In my view the cpa exam difficulty is hard because the test-makers use tricks. They put answers in the multiple choice that are very deceptive. There are answers that look like they could be the right choice, but are wrong. They do this to create a curve. They want to make the test purposely hard.

Additionally, if you test well, the testmakers purposefully give you harder questions. They start out by giving you what they call “medium” difficulty questions in the multiple choice section. If you do well on those medium difficulty questions, then they make the questions harder on the next section.

The other part of the exam is task based simulations. Task based simulations require you to apply practical knowledge. They might require you to fill out a form or complete research question. An example I can think of is regulation. Regulation might require you to fill out a tax form. For audit, you might be required to research and accounting principle and provide a response to a question.

Which section of the cpa exam is the hardest?

The cpa exam sections by difficulty are below

The hardest cpa section according to most people is FAR.

Far pass rate – 46.31%

Audit pass rate – 51.01%

Regulation pass rate – 56.34%

Bec pass rate – 59.98%

You also have to look at the structure of each section of the cpa test which we will do below.

How hard is the audit section of the CPA exam?

The audit section is 72 multiple choice questions. Audit has 8 task based simulations. If you allocate 2 hours to multiple choice and 2 hours to task-based simulations, then that gives you almost 1 minute and 40 seconds for each multiple choice question and about 15 minutes for each task-based simulation.

26 topics are covered on the Audit exam:

  1. Nature and scope of audit engagements
  2. Nature and scope of non-audit engagements
  3. Ethics, independence, and the AICPA Code of Professional conduct
  4. Engagement documentation
  5. Communication with management and those charged with governance
  6. Quality control
  7. Planning an engagement
  8. Understanding an entity and its control environment
  9. Understanding an entity’s internal control
  10. Identifying and assessing risk of material misstatement
  11. Planning further procedures responsive to identified risks
  12. Materiality
  13. Planning for and using the work of others
  14. Specific areas of engagement risk
  15. Understanding sufficient appropriate evidence
  16. Sampling techniques
  17. Performing specific procedures to obtain evidence
  18. Specific matters that require special consideration
  19. Evaluating and responding to misstatements and internal control deficiencies
  20. Written representations
  21. Subsequent events and subsequently discovered facts
  22. Reports on audit engagements
  23. Reports on attestation engagements
  24. Accounting and review service engagements
  25. Reporting on compliance
  26. Other reporting considerations

As you can see the audit section has a lot of topics to cover. It also has the second lowest pass rate, so it is a difficult exam. You should strive to take this during the highest passing windows. For audit this is during the second and third quarter testing windows each year.

How hard is the far section of the cpa exam?

The far exam is 4 hours long

It contains 66 multiple choice questions and 8 task based simulations. If you allocate 2 hours to multiple choice and 2 hours to task-based simulations, then that gives you almost 1 minute and 49 seconds for each multiple choice question and about 15 minutes for each task-based simulation.

  1. Conceptual framework and standard setting
  2. General purposes financial statements: for-profit business entities
  3. General-purpose financial statements: nongovernmental, not-for-profit entities
  4. Public company reporting topics
  5. Financial statements of employee benefit plans
  6. Special purpose frameworks
  7. Cash and cash equivalents
  8. Trade receivables
  9. Inventory
  10. Property, plant and equipment
  11. Investments
  12. Intangible assets
  13. Payables and accrued liabilities
  14. Long-term debt
  15. Equity
  16. Revenue recognition
  17. Compensation and benefits
  18. Income taxes
  19. Accounting changes and error corrections
  20. Business combinations
  21. Contingencies and commitments
  22. Derivatives and hedge accounting
  23. Foreign currency transactions and translation
  24. Leases
  25. Nonreciprocal transfers
  26. Research and development costs
  27. Software costs
  28. Subsequent events
  29. Fair value measurements
  30. Differences between ifrs and u.s. gaap
  31. State and local government concepts
  32. Format and content of the comprehensive annual financial report
  33. Deriving government-wide financial statements and reconciliation requirements
  34. Typical items and specific types of transactions and events in governmental entity financial statements

The far section of the cpa exam has the lowest pass rate. It also has 8 more topics than audit with a total of 34 topics covered. What this equates to is more study time for the person taking the far exam.

How hard is the BEC section of the cpa exam?

Length – 4 hours

BEC has the best pass rate of all the sections of the cpa exam. You should take this section last because you are more likely to pass it. The optimal time to take BEC is in the third quarter. All other windows have similar pass rates.

BEC has 62 multiple choice questions, 4 task based simulations and 3 written communication tasks. Depending on how you split up the bec section of the exam, you have about 2 minutes for each multiple choice and more than 15 minutes for each task based simulation and written communication.

  1. Internal Control and enterprise risk management
  2. Other regulatory frameworks and provisions
  3. Economic and business cycles
  4. Market influences on business
  5. Financial risk management
  6. Capital structure
  7. Working capital
  8. Financial valuation methods and decision models
  9. IT governance
  10. Role of IT in business
  11. Information security/availability
  12. Processing integrity
  13. Systems development and maintenance
  14. Cost measurement concepts, methods and techniques
  15. Variance analysis
  16. Process management
  17. Planning techniques

How hard is the reg cpa exam?

The regulation section of the cpa exam is 4 hours long as well.

It consists of 76 multiple choice questions and 8 task based simulations. This provides about 1 minutes and 35 seconds for each multiple choice question and 15 minutes for each task based simulation.

The regulation section of the cpa exam has the 2nd highest pass rate of the cpa exam which shows that it is not as difficult as audit or far.

You should try to take regulation and bec in your last testing window if you are trying to pass the test in 6 months.

Regulation only has 11 topics to study also, so it shouldn’t be that hard compared to the other tests. The only problem with regulation with most people is that it has more to do with tax and law. Accountants might not be used to legal research and guidelines so that could trip you up as well.

  1. Federal taxation of individuals
  2. federal taxation of entities
  3. Federal taxation of property transactions
  4. Contracts
  5. Agency
  6. Debtor-creditor relationships
  7. Government regulation of business
  8. Ethics and responsibilities in tax practice
  9. Licensing and disciplinary systems
  10. Federal tax procedures
  11. Legal duties and responsibilities

How to pass the cpa exam in 3 months

Can you pass the cpa exam in 3 months? It’s pretty hard to do this since you can’t take a test more than one in each testing window. A testing window lasts about two months, so you’d have to take two tests in one testing window and two in the early part of the next window in order to pass in 3 months.

If you want to pass in 3 months, it’s most likely because you are going to work for the big 4 and you just want to get the exam over with. If that’s the case, then go ahead and try it. You just need to cram for each test.

You would probably want to study a ton for the first test and take that test at the middle of the first testing window. Then take your second test at the end of the first testing window. The third test would be taken at the beginning of the second testing window, and the last test would be taken a month away from that.


First test (FAR) – February 1
Second test (AUD) – March 10
Third Test (REG) – April 1
Fourth Test (BEC) – May 1

If you take the exam over 3 months, this gives you about 22 days to study for each section of the test. You’d probably want to budget more time to FAR and Audit if you went this route.

How to pass the cpa exam in 6 months

Passing the cpa exam in 6 months is way more reasonable. To accomplish this, you just need to pick two testing windows and take all 4 parts of the cpa test within those windows. You would take one test at the beginning of each window and another at the end.

If you take the exam over 6 months, this gives you roughly 45 days to study for each section of the exam.

When is the best time to take the cpa exam?

The best time to take the cpa exam appears to be in the Q2 and Q3 testing windows of the exam. For some reason the pass rates are always higher during this window. This is likely due to testmakers trying new things out in Q1. Then they see how badly the students tested on certain questions, and they adjust the test.

It could also be that this is when the most students take the test for the first time and they fail. Then they come back in Q2 and Q3 with better results. The people that try to cram a ton of sections into one testing window might also be doing this in the first quarter.

Another reason people might be failing so much in the first testing window is that most financial statement audits occur in Q1. This means the most overtime for people in the big 4 firms. It would be hard to study for a test while you are working through your busiest season of the year.

Hope this helps.