Mar 28, 2016

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.


Leave a comment
  • Rakib Hossain | Jan 08, 2017
  • Liz Kolar, Vice President, Surgent CPA Review | Apr 01, 2016
    Samuel, A Candidate Performance Report is still sent to candidates who fail the exam.  This diagnostic report is provided to help candidates understand their performance.  The candidate’s performance is compared to those who have “just passed” the exam (scores between 75 and 80), and uses a relative performance scale (stronger, comparable, weaker). The report is divided into two tables. The first table shows performance results by content area calculated from the responses to the multiple choice questions.  The second table reports performance results by item type (multiple choice questions, simulations, or written communication (BEC). Candidates should use the report to identify their weaker content areas and weaker items types. They should focus their studies on those weaker areas.
  • Liz Kolar, Vice President, Surgent CPA Review | Apr 01, 2016


    NASBA releases quarterly and annual pass rates for the four sections of the CPA Exam.  The pass rates typically range from 44% to 59%.  First-time overall pass rates are not made public.  More detailed information about pass rates can be found in NASBA's Candidate Performance Report. This annual publication reports pass rates by state, and includes enhanced demographic reporting, international exam performance metrics, and school rankings.

  • Sharon Turhcick, CPA | Apr 01, 2016
    I was in the "odd" group that could take the exam pending graduation (1989). I took it May 3, 4 and 5th and graduated on the 6th! I too passed all 4 parts because I treated it like a class I needed to study for.  It didn't hurt that I had interned full-time with one of the "Big Eight" the prior summer and knew it would be very hard to study while working. Students now take one part at a time.  I am currently teaching at Pitt.  I am happy to see more simulation and critical thinking coming to the exam.
  • XH XU | Mar 31, 2016
    Thumbs up to Denton. It was not easy at your time. I passed the exam in 2012 and became certified in 2014. Now I am interning with a firm for their busy season in Manhattan. You are right, I am interning. I have 1.5 years of retail general accounting experience and I am still learning. Just don't want to waste time and try to be a better me. I feel like I always learn something new while working. Accounting professionals... the older... the better... I am hopeful I could be others' resource some day. 
  • Denton L. Kanouff | Mar 30, 2016
    I took the exam many years ago (1962) and was lucky enough to pass all parts on the first sitting, and am now long retired.  Wondering how many pass the entire exam on the first attempt?  Denton L. Kanouff, CPA
  • Samuel J. Maney, CPA | Mar 30, 2016
    I am concerned about information given to the candidates when they receive their test scores.  I remember when I took my exam in the late 90's I received a breakdown of how I performed on the exam in the categories tested.  Is this still being done?  I have heard that the candidate simply gets a grade, no explanation of how that grade was determined.  If this is true how can we expect our candidates to be successful.  I would be curious to know how the grading and transparency to the candidates is being handled with the current exam.  Anyone that has taken the exam knows how difficult it is and how much the CPA license means.  We only want the best and brightest to represent our profession but in the end fairness should be our top priority.

    Leave a comment

    Follow @PaCPAs on Twitter
    PICPA Staff Contributors
    Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.