How is the CPA Exam Scored and Graded?

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If you are a CPA candidate, you must know that the CPA exam is divided into four sections: AUD, BEC, FAR & REG. It is a computer-based exam and a highly complex one. Each section of the exam is four hours long and candidates only get a fifteen minute standardized break after the first Task-based Simulation (TBS) testlet. The goal for CPA candidates is to pass all four sections of the CPA Exam within 18 months.

CPA exam scores are evaluated on a scale of 0 to 99 and to pass you must get a minimum of 75 points in every exam section. However, the CPA Exam is not scored based on percentages. For instance answering 75% of the questions on the exam correctly does not translate into a score of 75. Also, the score is not based on a curve either.

CPA Exam Scoring is done through a fully automated system except for the written communication questions. Written Communication questions are graded by a computer grading program that is calibrated by human scorers.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) follows the Item Response Theory (IRT) for the objective segment of the exam. IRT is a known psychometric way for scoring used by many licensing and certification exams. If you fail any particular section of the exam, you will receive a candidate performance report to evaluate what went wrong in your performance. The report will help you improve and score better in your next attempt.

CPA Exam Scoring Process

There are multiple factors that go into your CPA exam scoring process that include:

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

In order to get a passing score, you must perform well in all types of questions because of the pretesting questions and varying points assigned to each question based on difficulty, the exam will not let you get a passing score from one particular segment.

Exam Structure and Weight Allocation

The AUD, FAR, and REG sections of the CPA Exam present two different types of questions – multiple choice questions (MCQs) and task-based simulations (TBSs), from which the scoring is done. The scores from each of these segments are combined to get your overall score. Since, BEC includes Written Communication tasks (WC) the BEC scoring is a weighted combination of MCQs, TBSs, and WCs.

Percentage Of Score Contributed By Item (Question) Type

Item TypeAUDBECFARREG
Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)50%50%50%50%
Task-based simulations (TBSs)50%35%50%50%
Written communication tasks(WC)N/A15%N/AN/A

Pretested Questions

The CPA Exam includes pretested questions that do not count towards the overall CPA Exam score. Pretested questions are placed by the AICPA to evaluate if the questions should be used in future exams. The sole purpose of putting pretested questions in the exam is to collect data. Pretested questions are in each section of the CPA exam. These questions are identical to the questions that are being graded and they are not marked as pretested, so it is advised to answer every question as if it will be counted in the overall exam score. In each section of the CPA Exam
  • 12 MCQs are pretested irrespective of overall number of questions.
  • 1 TBS is pretested regardless of the total number of TBSs.
  • 1 WC is pretested out of 4 WCs for the BEC section.
Note: While it is almost impossible to identify a pretested question, if you find a question that is completely out of place, there is a slight chance of it being pretested.
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Varying Difficulty and Scoring of Questions

CPA exam scoring is determined based on the difficulty level of the questions. This means that not every question has the same scoring weight. Each question is assigned a value depending on how difficult it is to answer. The difficulty level of the question is determined by the statistical analysis of candidate responses and then every question is assigned a numerical value. Therefore, the more difficult the question, the higher the numerical value.

Multi-Stage Testing

In the multi-stage testing process, the testlets are classified into medium and difficult types. The first testlet is always of medium difficulty level. A candidate’s performance on the first testlet will determine the difficulty level of the next testlet. For instance, if a candidate performs well on the first testlet, the next teslet presented will move to a more difficult testing level. However, if a candidate performs poorly on the first testlet, the second testlet presented would be of medium difficulty level. Multi-stage testing is only conducted on the MCQ portion of the CPA Exam and not for TBSs or WCs.

CPA Exam Scaled Scores & Passing Score

The AICPA uses scaled scoring to evaluate candidate performance on the CPA Exam. A scaled score is only used when there is a chance of differences in difficulty in various segments of the exam. Scaled scoring is a little different from the regular scoring process. For example, if you scored 80 in a CPA Exam section, it does not necessarily mean that you have answered 80 questions correctly. Each question has a different numerical value based on the difficulty level. A simple question will have less value than a more difficult one. The purpose of calculating scores this way is to compare the results of different types of questions.

Furthermore, the multi-stage testing allows a performance adjustment through the MCQs in testlet 1 and 2 of each part. Once you are done with all the testlets, the scaled scoring system will evaluate the total number of correct answers and convert it into a new number that can be standardized.

In short, two major factors matter in a scaled scoring system.

  1. The difficulty level of the question
  2. Whether you have answered the question correctly or not
Section Content Testlets
AUD 72 Multiple-choice questions
8 Task-based simulations
Testlet1
36 MCQs
Testlet2
36 MCQs
Testlet3
2 TBSs
Testlet4
3 TBSs
Testlet5
3 TBSs
BEC 62 Multiple-choice questions
4 Task-based simulations
3 Written communication
Testlet1
36 MCQs
Testlet2
31 MCQs
Testlet3
2 TBSs
Testlet4
2 TBSs
Testlet5
3 WC
FAR 66 Multiple-choice questions
8 Task-based simulations
Testlet1
33 MCQs
Testlet2
33 MCQs
Testlet3
2 TBSs
Testlet4
3 TBSs
Testlet5
3 TBSs
REG 76 Multiple-choice questions
8 Task-based simulations
Testlet1
38 MCQs
Testlet2
38 MCQs
Testlet3
2 TBSs
Testlet4
3 TBSs
Testlet5
3 TBSs
AUD 72 Multiple-choice questions
8 Task-based simulations
Testlet1
36
MCQs
Testlet2
36
MCQs
Testlet3
2
TBSs
Testlet4
3
TBSs
Testlet5
3
TBSs
BEC 62 Multiple-choice questions
4 Task-based simulations
3 Written communication
Testlet1
36
MCQs
Testlet2
31
MCQs
Testlet3
2
TBSs
Testlet4
2
TBSs
Testlet5
3
WC
FAR 66 Multiple-choice questions
8 Task-based simulations
Testlet1
33
MCQs
Testlet2
33
MCQs
Testlet3
2
TBSs
Testlet4
3
TBSs
Testlet5
3
TBSs
REG 76 Multiple-choice questions
8 Task-based simulations
Testlet1
38
MCQs
Testlet2
38
MCQs
Testlet3
2
TBSs
Testlet4
3
TBSs
Testlet5
3
TBSs

What Is The Highest & Lowest CPA Exam Score?

According to the AICPA, the minimum requirement of passing a CPA exam is 75 points in each section. The exam is scored out of 99, so the maximum/highest score can be 99 in each exam section.
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How To Improve Your CPA Exam Score?

The CPA exam is one of the most difficult professional accreditation exams. It requires many hours of study and dedication to pass. While there is no magic formula to score well in the exam, a few factors can improve your exam score.

  1. Start Early: Start preparing for the exam as early as possible. The more time you have to prepare, the better your score will be. The aim is to start at least six months before the exam. Consider evaluating the weight of each topic and then focusing on the most weighted topics for the exam.
  2. Practice: A common mistake made by almost every CPA candidate is to only focus on the study material and ignore the practice. However, in order to achieve the minimum passing score, you must set aside time to practice questions on a regular basis. Practice tests and mock exams work like a hammer that actively drives knowledge into your brain.
  3. Active Learning: Active learning allows you to use practical knowledge to succeed in the CPA exam. Group discussions on cluster topics, case studies, peer-teaching are effective ways of using active learning.
  4. Memory aids: Since the CPA exam requires you to remember a lot, you might need to boost your memory to do well on the exam. Use mnemonics to help you recall larger pieces of information. You can also make flashcards of different topics to enhance your memory.
  5. Time management: Last but not the least, time management during the exam is important and could help increase your overall score.  Put a time strategy outlining how much time it will take to complete one testlet. Practice this time strategy when you take mock exams so that you’ll be ready on exam day. Allocating time to each testlet before sitting for the exam will minimize anxiety and uncertainty.

FAQs

The CPA exam scores are confidential. No one can look up your score or how many times you have attempted the exam. Once you have taken the exam at a Prometric testing center, your exam data is sent to the AICPA. Then, the AICPA shares that information with NASBA. Lastly,  NASBA delivers your score to your State Board of Accountancy.
Once you take the first section of your CPA Exam, your 18 month expiration window begins. You must pass the next three CPA Exam sections within 18 months to prevent your scores from expiring.
The CPA exam scores are released by NASBA to the State Boards of Accountancy according to the target release date timeline published on AICPA.
You are required to submit the Authorization for Interstate of Exchange of Examination and Licensure Information Form to the State Board of Accountancy where you sat and passed the exam. You can also request the same information online at NASBAstore.org.
The CPA Examination is not curved. Every candidate needs to score 75 points in each section to pass the exam. The score of every candidate is entirely independent of other candidates.
The scoring process is mostly done by an automated system. Only the WC questions are evaluated by human graders using a computer grading program.

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