The CPA exam is commonly undertaken by professionals in the accounting field. Once you earn your CPA certification, you’ll be in a position to earn more promotions, get higher raises, and even attract better clientele. Accordingly, it’s a goal for almost anyone starting out in accounting.
The exam covers the fundamentals of accounting in a variety of different topics, including auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. These are typically topics covered in any undergraduate accounting program, so it should be easy to pass, right?
The statistics say something otherwise. The first-time pass rate for the CPA exam is just 54.7 percent – in other words, just under half of all first-time CPA exam takers will fail at least one section. This pass rate seems relatively consistent over the years, meaning small changes to exam questions are unlikely to significantly affect this rate.
So why is this the case? Why do so many people fail their first time taking the CPA exam?
The Difficulty of the CPA Exam
For starters, we need to acknowledge that the CPA exam itself is difficult by design. It’s not meant to have a high first-time pass rate.
Think about it logically. This exam serves as a professional gateway – a barrier that stands between an accountant and the next stage of their career. The title “CPA” carries some prestige and is well-respected even outside of the accounting field. If the first-time pass rate was too high, the certification would no longer serve as a differentiator.
That said, the CPA exam isn’t intentionally tricky, manipulative, or deceiving. You’re not going to see many trick questions, or questions related to topics outside the primary focus of each section. The questions are designed to be difficult, but fair, so it’s on you to study enough to pass your first time.
The Lack of Preparation
Most first-time failures are the result of a lack of preparation. People simply aren’t ready to take the exam. This can happen for several reasons.
· Graduate vs. undergraduate pass rates. The pass rate statistics show that people with graduate degrees have a higher average first-time pass rate than people with undergraduate degrees only. When you spend more time studying the core material and learning new subjects, it stands to reason that you’ll have a higher rate of passing.
· The role of an exam prep course. People who use a CPA exam prep course also tend to have a higher than average first-time pass rate. Exam prep courses are designed to prepare you specifically for the exam you’re taking, giving you access to the material that the exam is going to cover, helping you understand and address your own weaknesses, and ultimately giving you the tools you need to succeed.
· Starting too late. Despite the fact that you can schedule each section of the CPA exam months in advance, many people only start studying when it’s right around the corner. The most successful test takers are ones who take studying seriously and begin to study on a consistent, gradual basis in the months leading up to an exam. If you wait to study until the week before the exam, it may already be too late.
· Not taking the exam seriously. Generally speaking, many first-timers don’t take the exam very seriously. They see it as a necessary step on the road to earning professional recognition, rather than a true test of their knowledge, skills, and expertise. They don’t realize how difficult the exam actually is, or how much studying they’ll need to do to pass successfully.
· Test anxiety. Test anxiety is something that affects almost everyone, at least to some degree. Unfortunately, some people don’t do anything about it. It’s important to proactively recognize your own susceptibility to test anxiety and stress, then come up with management strategies to help you cope with stress and anxiety on test day.
The Sectional Nature of the Exam
Finally, we should acknowledge that the high failure rate may also be related to the fact that this exam unfolds over four sections. You need to pass all four to pass the exam – which means even one weak section could stand in your way of passing the first time.
How to Pass the CPA Exam Your First Time
Are you an aspiring accountant getting ready to take the CPA exam for the first time? Try not to be discouraged by the statistics. Though it’s difficult to pass the CPA your first time, it’s definitely possible if you spend an appropriate amount of time and effort reviewing the material. Make sure you start the studying process as early as possible, working with an exam prep course to complement your own efforts, and the day before the exam, get ample sleep.