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Did Pennsylvania CPA Exam Stats Improve in 2015?

Meg Killian, VP MembershipBy Meg Killian, Vice President - Member Relations

The launch of the new CPA Exam next year has created a sense of urgency among exam candidates, and it would appear a surge of applicants began in 2015. Nationally, the number of new candidates rose to 42,439 in 2015, the highest it’s been in the past five years. But what about Pennsylvania?

PICPA Womens History MonthThe number of new candidates in Pennsylvania increased by about 10 percent from 1,360 in 2014 to 1,491 in 2015. Unlike the national number, though, it was not a five year high. That honor goes to 2011, which had a huge increase of candidates before the 150 hour licensing requirement went into effect.

At 3,278, the total number of candidates did help Pennsylvania reclaim the No. 5 spot among the top states for number of candidates. The last time we cracked the top five was in 2011.

The number of successful candidates in Pennsylvania was a bit disappointing. Only 871 candidates passed their final part of the exam in 2015, up slightly from 842 in 2014. The pass rate of Pennsylvania candidates remained at 49 percent, but the average score dropped slightly to 71.8. Other statistics show the average candidate age was 27.2 years, but the largest number of candidates were between 22 and 25 years of age.

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), the “easy” section, continues to have the highest pass rate: 65.1 percent. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) had the lowest at 47.5 percent.

Notable National Rankings for Pa. Schools

Pass Rate, First Time, All Programs
No. 1 - University of Pennsylvania

Institutions by Size, Most Candidates
No. 4 - Penn State University Park

New this year from NASBA was more detailed cohort tracking, which looks at candidate performance based on the year in which they started the exam process. In Pennsylvania, 264 candidates passed their fourth part within 12-18 months after taking their first part. There were 268 candidates who passed the final part more than 24 months after taking their first part. Fifty-five candidates passed within six months! That was 6.1 percent of all Pennsylvania successful candidates in 2015, which is slightly higher than 5.1 percent of successful candidates nationwide who did the same.

No doubt, the number of exam candidates will be very high in 2016, and that will help fill the gap created by a couple of lean years. But I’m not going to lie; I am nervous about what lies beyond 2016 as students, universities, and exam review providers adapt to the new exam format and content. We’re likely to see another dramatic drop in candidates like we did in 2004 when the electronic exam debuted.

Convenience factors like shortening the blackout months will help eliminate some barriers going forward. But lots of educator encouragement and employer support and incentives will be essential to keeping accounting graduates on the path to the CPA credential and to ensure a strong pipeline of future CPAs.

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