How is the CPA Exam Scored

As you know, a score of 75 or greater is required to pass each section of the CPA Exam. However, many candidates do not know how this score is generated. Based upon information released directly by the AICPA, we’ve broken down a variety of the factors that go into compiling your score.
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How the CPA Exam is Scored

Your score is not a percentage. Answering 75% of the questions on the exam correctly does not translate into a score of 75. There are many factors that go into your CPA Exam Score, including:

  • Exam Structure and Weight Allocation
  • Pretested Questions
  • Varying Difficulty and Scoring of Questions
  • Multi-Stage Testing

Percent Of Score Contributed By Question Type

Section scores are reported on a scale that ranges from O to 99. A total reported score of 75 is required to pass each section. These are not percentages and should not be interpreted as such. Scaled scores on the MCQs and TBSs of the Exam are calculated using formulas that factor in whether the question was answered correctly and the difficulty of each question.

Exam Structure And Weight Allocation:

The scores for the AUD, FAR and REG sections of the Exam are a weighted combination of the scores from the Multiple-Choice Questions (50% of the exam) and Task-Based Simulations (50% of the exam). The score for the BEC section is a weighted combination of the scores from the Multiple-Choice Questions (50% of the exam), Task-Based Simulations (35% of the exam), and Written Communication (15% of the exam). For the purpose of scoring the CPA Exam, think of the MCQ and the TBS/WC as two separate exams. The grades of each are combined (per the above ‘weight’ percentages) to form your overall score. Although one would think that answering 75% of the MCQ correctly and scoring 75 or better within the TBS/WC would combine for a passing grade, this is not the case due to the pretesting of questions and the varying point values assigned to each question.

Percent Of Score Contributed By Item (Question) Type

Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ) 50% 50% 50% 50%
Task-Based Simulations (TBS) 50% 35% 50% 50%
Written Communication Tasks (WC) N/A 15% N/A N/A

Pretested Questions:

Regardless of which CPA Exam section you are taking, you are going to be answering many questions that will not be graded, and thus have no effect on your score. These ‘pretested’ questions are, in a sense, the AICPA doing their homework, as the questions are being evaluated for future use on the Exams. Pretested questions are indistinguishable from the questions that are being graded; therefore, you must put your best foot forward on every question you encounter on the Exam.
  • On each of the four Exams, 12 of the Multiple-Choice Questions are pretested. This is true regardless of the overall number of questions, which varies by section.
  • On each of the four Exams, 1 of the TBSs is pretested. This is true regardless of the overall number of TBSs, which is 8 for AUD, FAR, and REG, and 4 for BEC.
  • On the BEC section, 1 of the 3 WCs is pretested.
  • Please note that it is generally impossible to tell whether a question is pretested or operational. However, if you encounter a particularly unusual question that seems out of place, there is a good possibility it is a pretested question.

Varying Difficulty And Scoring Of Questions:

Perhaps the most complex factor in understanding how your CPA Exam is scored lies in the scoring of each individual question. Not all questions are as difficult as their counterparts, and as such, each question is assigned a different value. Through the statistical analysis of candidate responses, the difficulty level of each question is determined and given a numeric value. The more difficult the question, the higher the question’s value. Therefore, a candidate who correctly answers 10 difficult (higher value) questions would score more than a candidate who correctly answers 10 easy (lower value) questions.

Multi-Stage Testing:

Specific to the multiple-choice portion of the exam, testlets are classified as either medium or difficult based on the average difficulty of the questions within the testlet. The first testlet you receive will always be of medium difficulty. If you perform well on the first testlet, you will receive a more difficult second testlet, while those who do not perform well on the first testlet will receive a second medium difficulty testlet. *Please note that Multi-Stage Testing is not used within the task-based simulation or written communication portions of the exam. Additionally, your performance within the MCQ will not impact which TBS/WC you receive.
As a result of the above four factors, it is not possible to compute your score on the CPA Exam based on the number of questions you answer correctly. You may, however, be able to predict the quality of your performance on the first and second testlet of MCQs by gauging the difficulty of the testlets that follow.

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CPA Exam Scoring Q&A

The CPA Examination is NOT curved. Every candidate’s score is entirely independent of other candidates’ examination results.

The CPA Examination is a criterion-referenced examination which means that it rests upon pre-determined standards. Every candidate’s performance is measured against established standards to determine whether the candidate has demonstrated the level of knowledge and skills that is represented by the passing score. Every candidate is judged against the same standards, and every score is an independent result.

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