The FAR section on the CPA Exam is hard. Don’t believe me? Just ask the pass rates.
The fact is, people don’t pass FAR as often as they pass all the other sections. For some people, quickly working through complex calculations really hits their sweet spot. Others, not so much.
Me? When I first began studying for FAR, I was by no means a die-hard FAR fan (if any such people exist). For starters, the review textbook is pretty darn big, and I dreaded cracking it open. Once I did, what consistently tripped me up was the double-entry system – how the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statements all work together. One transaction can affect multiple financial statements, and it can be difficult to account for all the cascading effects, especially when you’re under a time crunch.
While discussing exactly that with one of my mentors, she asked me, “If you don’t know the principles tested in FAR, how are you going to figure out a company’s earnings so you can help them file their tax return? How are you going to audit a company’s financial statements? How are you going to determine investment cash flows so your client can make a purchase decision based on NPV?”
She struck a nerve. I was thinking about FAR in entirely the wrong way. Sure, it’s just one section of four on the CPA Exam, but it’s the most important one: FAR is the accounting part of the exam.
- REG tests taxes and business law. Definitely important subjects a CPA needs to know, but it doesn’t test debits and credits and journal entries (aka, accounting).
- BEC tests economics, finance, IT, and cost accounting. All areas that a CPA needs knowledge of to provide advice to a client or employer, but again, it doesn’t test journal entries (ditto the aka).
- AUD tests the planned performance of procedures to obtain and evaluate financial statements. Clearly, an auditor needs to know financial accounting to evaluate its accuracy, but again, AUD doesn’t test debits and credits directly.
The other three sections are important, sure, but as far as core job skills go, you need to be able to do the accounting to be a CPA. Accountants must account.
Feeling motivated by this epiphany, I knuckled down, followed the recommendations of my Gleim SmartAdapt™ course, and took every practice quiz and task-based simulation it threw at me until I knew I could pass.
It was hard. It was frustrating when I failed practice quizzes, and I failed a few. But I did it. I passed FAR the first time, and I’m so glad I did. The only thing I can think of that’s worse than taking FAR is taking FAR more than once.
But the thing is, as arduous as FAR was to pass, it really is applicable to the work I’m doing right now. As a CPA, I need to know (and actually use) just about everything FAR tests at pretty much all times. At any given moment, I should be able to pass FAR all over again because it really is that important.
I don’t want any of you to have to retake FAR, so I’ll run down a few things you should know about the most brutal section on the CPA Exam. Prepare for knowledge.
FAR basics: Let me introduce you to FAR
FAR is all about:
In short, FAR is where the accounting happens on the CPA Exam. This means FAR has math – so much math. Making it even harder is the fact that it comes with its own bespoke set of rules: GAAP, which is a highly structured, all-encompassing standard. In the CPA Exam Blueprints, the AICPA says, “Candidates should assume that each question applies to a for-profit business entity reporting under U.S. GAAP unless otherwise stated …”
So you really have to know the ins and outs of this vast standard, plus be able to complete a wide range of calculations. FAR really tests you to make sure you’re ready for the rough and tumble world of a CPA.
FAR consists of four Content Areas, which are listed and weighted below:
Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting
Select Financial Statement Accounts
State and Local Governments
If you want more specific information about the exam content, check out our article on the CPA Exam Blueprints. It dives deeper into what’s on the exam.
But as you can see from the high-level areas, most of the FAR exam consists of Financial Statement Accounts, which means this is where you apply your practical skills in accounting. Remember, this section is about doing the accounting, not memorizing all the extra things that go with it, like regulations, information security, etc.
FAR has five testlets: two testlets of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and three testlets of task-based simulations (TBSs). There are 66 MCQs and eight TBSs. MCQs are one-half of your grade and TBSs are the other half, so you can’t afford to skimp on studying for either.
The exam includes pretest and operational questions. Operational questions are questions that count toward your total exam score, and pretest questions are questions that don’t. Pretest questions are the AICPA’s way of giving new questions a trial run, and they’ll eventually be made into operational questions if they meet certain statistical requirements. You won’t be able to distinguish between operational and pretest questions, so don’t waste time trying. Just approach all questions as if they’ll count toward your score.
What score do you need to pass?
Scoring for the CPA Exam is fully automated, so computers grade both the FAR, MCQ, and TBS testlets. As with every CPA Exam section, you have to score a minimum of 75 to pass. Note that a score of 75 is not the same as 75%. Each MCQ is weighted according to its difficulty, which the AICPA establishes during the “pretest,” and you can get partial credit for simulations.
How did I pass FAR?
During my harrowing journey to pass FAR, I discovered three secrets to passing the first time: understand the section, pick Gleim as your review provider, and be willing to work hard.
Okay, so those aren’t really secrets as much as they’re advice your professor might give you. But they were all vital for me to pass FAR the first time.
FAR pass rates have been declining since 2013. 2017 saw its lowest cumulative pass rate since the AICPA began publishing pass rates for the computerized CPA Exam in 2006.
It’s more important than ever to be the best of the best. Gleim can help you get there. Please, for the sake of your sanity, don’t get stuck taking FAR over and over again. Gleim CPA Review has helped candidates pass over a million CPA exams – choose Gleim and you will overcome FAR the first time. Check out our free CPA Exam guide to get started today.