How Is The CPA Exam Scored?

For those sitting for the CPA exam, it is common knowledge that you need a grade of 75 to pass -what is often misunderstood is the actual grading criteria of the examination. Those who earn a score of 75 may think they got 75% of the answers on the exam correct. However, the CPA exam weights questions, sections, and even entire parts differently.  Getting 75% of the questions right doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a passing score. This article will break down the grading criteria of the exam so you know what’s needed for a passing grade.

Exam Structure

For each one of the sections, excluding BEC, there is an even weight between task-based simulations and multiple choice questions. BEC multiple choice questions will account for 50%, tasked based simulations will account for 35% and the remaining 15% will be scored on written communication.

Each section of the exam will comprise of varying topics that will be tested in proportion to their own weights. For example, here is the breakdown for AUD:

  • Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and General Principles: 15-25%
  • Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response: 20-30%
  • Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence: 30-40%
  • Forming Conclusions and Reporting: 15-25%

But wait, there’s more. Not only are the sections and categories weighted but the “skill allocation” is weighted as well. The skill allocation is a mix of performance metrics used to evaluate if a CPA candidate obtains a passing score. The 4 categories are as follows: Evaluation, Analysis, Application, and Remembering and Understanding. For AUD the breakdown is as follows:

  • Evaluation: 5-15%
  • Analysis: 15-25%
  • Application: 30-40%
  • Remembering and Understanding: 30-40%

Each portion of the exam will be graded separately and then combined based on the weights to get a total score.

75 Doesn’t mean 75%

Not only is each section weighted differently but each question is weighted differently as well. Each question is assigned a different point value based on its difficulty. The point values are determined through statistical analysis of candidate responses and each Testlet contains a questions with a varying degree of difficulty..

The more difficult the question, the higher the question’s point value. Therefore, a candidate who correctly answers 10 ‘difficult’ questions would score higher than a candidate who correctly answers 10 ‘easy’ questions.

Multi-Stage Testing

For the multiple choice section in particular, the difficulty of each Testlet is determined on how well you did on the previous Testlet. The first Testlet is always medium difficulty and candidate who perform well on the first Testlet will receive a more difficult second Testlet. Those who don’t perform well will receive another medium difficulty Testlet.

Essentially, how well you do on the exam is not predicated on the number of questions you get right but instead the amounts of points you get from a combination of easy, medium and difficult exam questions.

CPA Exam Blueprint

The CPA exam blueprint is issued by the AICPA and gives a detailed breakdown of the test subjects and their weights. The weights and categories vary by test and are not the same for each year or even the same quarter. The blueprint is very detailed as it pinpoints specific topics, their corresponding weights, and what skills will be tested.

For example:on AUD, candidates will be tested on their application of control environment and entity-level controls by identify and documenting the significant components of an entity’s control environment, including its entity-level controls.

Importance of CPA Exam Prep Software

If this seems overwhelming that’s because it is. It is almost impossible for a candidate to determine the topics they should focus on and what skills will be tested on the exam.

CPA prep software takes guessing out of the studying process by integrating the CPA exam blueprint, enabling you to study the right topics and manage your time devoted to these topics effectively. CPA prep software provides more content questions based on the subjects’ weightings.

Remember, do your homework, study topics that are heavily weighted, and make sure to understand the skills that will be tested on the exam.

Jeremias Ramos is a CPA working at a nationally recognized full-service accounting, tax, and consulting firm with offices conveniently located throughout the Northeast. Jeremias specializes in tax and business consulting with focus areas in real estate, professional service providers, medical practitioners, and eCommerce businesses.

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