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Here’s How Candidates Performed on the CPA Exam In 2019

So I’ve been over here waiting patiently for the AICPA to update their website to reflect the final pass rates of 2019 but as yet, I’m still waiting. Gleim CPA Review claims pass rates have been released despite not appearing on the AICPA site, so we’ll go ahead and supplement this chart with what they posted. Cool?

When we last checked in to see how CPA exam candidates were doing, they were killing it. CPA exam pass rates for Q1 2019 were surprisingly high, despite many (my cynical self included) expecting to see a drop off at least in REG compared to the prior year due to significant changes in that section effective Jan 1, 2019. But nah, they killed it. So how did they end the year?

Here’s the data from the AICPA (absent Q4):

2019 Pass Rates

Since CPA exam myths are as pervasive as West Virginian Mothman sightings, I feel it’s important to include this blurb from the AICPA about pass rates here:

When reviewing these pass rates, you should remember that candidates are evaluated against an established standard of competence, and that the Exam is scored and scaled so that scores are comparable across test forms and over time. The Exam is not harder or easier to pass at different times. An increase in pass rates simply means that candidates are better prepared.

In other words, the exam is the same year-round (well, ignoring twice-yearly changes to exam content). The only thing that changes is candidate preparedness. To sum things up: Mothman isn’t real and the exam isn’t harder in the fourth quarter.

As I mentioned above, the AICPA hasn’t updated 2019 numbers yet so let’s go with what Gleim has and update the AICPA’s chart with those numbers ourselves:

2019 Pass Rates

Comparing cumulative pass rate percentages from the end of Q3 to year-end at Q4, every single section dropped, the smallest change being in REG (down from 56.51% to 56.34%) and the largest in FAR (48.30% to 46.31%). This is pretty common, as candidate performance is historically pretty bad in the fourth quarter as that’s when everyone tries to rush and finish sections they put off all year. That’s mostly an observation gleaned from my years working in CPA review and then many more writing about it — I’m not going to pull actual numbers here. Stephanie at I Pass the CPA Exam has some more (actual) historical pass rate data if you’d like to take a look for yourself.

The year ahead promises to be interesting, as we may see behavior similar to that in 2010 when candidates rushed to take the exam ahead of sweeping changes. The AICPA acknowledges this trend when reporting actual candidate numbers (see the bottom of this report on CPA exam candidate numbers from 2006-2017); however, I’m not aware of any research on their part into a correlation, if any, with increased numbers of candidates due to exam changes and candidate performance. Anecdotally (again, based on my 13 years working with this stuff) I’d say panicked candidates make for bad performance, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Congrats to everyone who contributed to the pass rates above, and to those of you who weren’t able to add to those percentages, don’t feel bad, you’ve got four fresh quarters ahead of you in which to destroy that monster.