Is The CPA Exam Really That Difficult?

If you’re looking for a way to give your career a boost, then becoming a CPA is a solid option. Many find that, while the CPA exam can be challenging, the rewards in becoming a Certified Public Accountant more than make up for the difficulty. Yet, many people considering this option find themselves hesitant to make the leap. The CPA exam has become infamous as one of the most difficult exams to pass on the first try, but is there any truth to it?

The truth is, through strong CPA test prep and determination, anybody can pass on the first try. The trick is to first familiarize yourself with the exam, so you know how to plan out your preparation. Knowing your enemy is always the first step, which is why we’ve compiled all of the information you need, including what it takes to pass each section of the exam.

The CPA Exam Structure

The CPA exam is broken up into four sections: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. In order to pass the entire CPA exam, you will need to pass all four sections in an 18-month period. Each of the sections will be broken down further into 5 testlets that include multiple-choice and task-based simulation type questions.


Each testlet will be considered as either “medium” or “hard”, which refers to the average level of difficulty for each question. The test will adapt to your skill level, so if you do well on a “medium” section then you will be given a “hard” section next. The grading is adjusted for the level of difficulty to keep things fair. For example, you will get more credit for answering a hard question correctly.

A Breakdown Of The Four Sections

Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

This section currently has a pass rate of 52%. It’s usually suggested that students spend around 100 hours working on AUD test prep, depending on their prior familiarity with the material. You will need to be familiar with the entire auditing process when you face this section.

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

Often considered the easiest section of the CPA exam, the BEC has a pass rate of 58%. It usually requires 50-75 hours of prep to face this section. The BEC is unique, in that it has a writing portion in addition to the usual multiple-choice and simulation questions.

Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

The FAR is usually considered the most difficult section, which is why many students rely on a CPA test prep tutor to help them prepare for this portion in particular. You will need to commit at least 125 (though preferably closer to 150) hours of study before you sit for this section. It has a pass rate of only 45%.

Regulation (REG)

This section has a similar difficulty level to the AUD, with a pass rate of 53%. It usually requires around 75-100 hours of test prep to pass.

Is It Possible To Pass The CPA Exam The First Try?

The short answer? Yes. This is a very difficult exam and should not be underestimated, but it is possible to pass as long as you prepare thoroughly. Finding the right study tools or CPA test prep program can make the difference between passing the first time and retaking certain sections. Most importantly, don’t let yourself be discouraged. If you set your mind to it and work hard, you’re sure to do well.

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