The Most Difficult CPA Exam: Comparing the Challenges

Choose the exam you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on Mar 30, 2024 06:37
Are you ready to dive into the world of financial expertise and challenge yourself with the toughest CPA exam out there? StrawPoll brings you an exciting opportunity to rank the most difficult CPA exams that will push your limits and test your accounting acumen. Thousands of professionals and aspiring accountants have participated and shared their experiences, and now it's your turn to join the fray! Cast your vote for the exam that you believe is the most demanding, or suggest an option that we might have missed. Unravel the mystery behind the toughest CPA exam, and see how your perception stacks up against others in the community. Don't miss out on this thrilling chance to explore the depths of accounting difficulty - click further to participate and make your voice heard!

What Is the Most Difficult CPA Exam?

  1. 1
    This exam covers taxation, business law, ethics, and professional responsibilities. It is considered the most difficult due to the complex nature of tax laws and regulations.
    Regulation (REG) is one of the four sections of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam. It is designed to test the candidate's knowledge and understanding of federal taxation, business law, ethics, and professional responsibilities.
    • Exam location: Prometric Testing Centers
    • Validity period: 18 months
    • Exam format: Computer-based
    • Number of questions: 76
    • Time allotted: 4 hours
  2. 2
    This exam covers financial accounting and reporting standards, including GAAP and IFRS. It is known for its extensive content and calculations.
    Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) is one of the four sections of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. It tests the candidate's knowledge and understanding of financial accounting concepts and principles, as well as their ability to apply them in real-world scenarios. The FAR section focuses on areas such as accounting standards, financial statement preparation, and reporting for various entities including corporations, partnerships, and governmental organizations.
    • Test Format: Multiple-Choice Questions and Task-Based Simulations
    • Number of Questions: 66 Multiple-Choice Questions and 8 Task-Based Simulations
    • Time Limit: 4 hours
    • Topics Covered: Conceptual Framework, Financial Statements, Revenue Recognition, Leases, Business Combinations, Government Accounting, and more
    • Passing Score: 75 on a scale of 0-99
    Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) in other rankings
  3. 3
    This exam covers business concepts, economics, and information technology. It is considered challenging due to the broad range of topics and the need to apply knowledge in a practical setting.
    Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) is one of the four sections of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam. It assesses candidates' knowledge and understanding of the business environment and the concepts related to business practices. The section covers topics such as corporate governance, economic concepts and analysis, financial management, information technology, and strategic planning.
    • Exam duration: 4 hours
    • Number of multiple-choice questions: 62
    • Number of task-based simulations: 4
    • Number of written communications: 3
    • Passing score: 75 on a scale of 0-99
    Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) in other rankings
  4. 4
    This exam covers auditing standards, procedures, and internal controls. It is known for its attention to detail and requires a thorough understanding of auditing principles.
    The Audit and Attestation (AUD) exam is one of the four exams required for individuals to become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in the United States. It tests candidates' knowledge and skills related to auditing engagements and attestation functions.
    • Exam Length: 4 hours
    • Question Format: Multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations
    • Number of Questions: 72 multiple-choice questions and 8 task-based simulations
    • Content Areas Covered: Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response, Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence, Forming Conclusions and Reporting
    • Passing Score: 75
  5. 5
    This exam covers advanced financial reporting topics, including complex consolidations and business combinations. It is considered difficult due to the complex nature of the topics covered.
    The Advanced Financial Accounting and Reporting (AFAR) is a section of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam that focuses on advanced topics in financial accounting and reporting. It is designed to test the candidate's knowledge and understanding of complex accounting concepts and the ability to apply them in practical scenarios.
    • Exam Format: Computer-based test
    • Number of Questions: 72 multiple-choice questions and 8 task-based simulations
    • Time Limit: 4 hours
    • Content Areas: Conceptual Framework, Financial Statements, Specific Transactions/Events, Foreign Currency, Partnerships, Government Entities, Not-for-Profit Entities, Employee Benefit Plans, Consolidations, Business Combinations, etc.
    • Difficulty Level: Considered one of the most difficult sections of the CPA exam
  6. 6
    This exam covers advanced auditing and assurance topics, including fraud examination and forensic accounting. It is known for its complexity and requires a deep understanding of auditing principles.
    Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA) is one of the most difficult sections of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. It focuses on advanced knowledge and skills related to auditing and assurance services.
    • Exam Length: 4 hours
    • Number of Multiple-Choice Questions: 90
    • Number of Task-Based Simulations: 7
    • Exam Format: Computer-based
    • Content Areas: Auditing and Attestation, Accounting and Review Services, Professional Responsibilities, Ethics, and General Principles
  7. 7
    This exam covers financial planning and analysis concepts, including budgeting and forecasting. It is considered challenging due to the need to apply financial concepts in a practical setting.
    Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) is a strategic financial management process used by organizations to forecast future financial results and develop strategic plans. It involves analyzing historical financial data, identifying key trends, and making informed projections to guide decision-making and resource allocation. FP&A is crucial for organizations to optimize performance, manage risks, and achieve financial objectives.
    • Strategic Financial Management: FP&A helps organizations make strategic financial decisions by providing insights into past performance and future projections.
    • Forecasting: FP&A involves accurately predicting future financial outcomes based on historical data and underlying business assumptions.
    • Budgeting: FP&A assists in the development and management of budgets, ensuring financial resources are allocated effectively.
    • Financial Modeling: FP&A utilizes various financial models to simulate scenarios and assess the impact of different financial decisions.
    • Variance Analysis: FP&A compares actual financial results with projected outcomes, identifying deviations and reasons for discrepancies.
  8. 8
    This exam covers accounting information systems and technology. It is known for its technical content and requires a deep understanding of accounting software and systems.
    Accounting Information Systems (AIS) is a field of study that focuses on the design, implementation, and control of information systems used in accounting and financial management. It combines elements of accounting, finance, management, and computer science to effectively manage and process financial data.
    • Data Integrity: Ensures the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of financial data.
    • Internal Controls: Incorporates processes to safeguard financial transactions and prevent fraud.
    • Information Technology: Utilizes various software, hardware, and networking technologies to manage accounting data.
    • Database Management: Involves organizing and maintaining databases to store financial information securely.
    • System Analysis and Design: Incorporates methodologies to analyze and design efficient accounting systems.
  9. 9
    This exam covers ethics and professional responsibilities for CPAs. It is considered challenging due to the need to apply ethical principles in real-world scenarios.
    Ethics and Professional Responsibilities (EPR) is a section of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam that focuses on ethical behavior and professional responsibilities of accountants. It tests the candidate's understanding of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct and other important ethical guidelines for CPAs.
    • Number of Questions: 40
    • Exam Time: 2 hours
    • Passing Score: 75
    • Content Areas: Professional and Legal Responsibilities, Ethical Practice and Procedures, and Responsibilities to Clients and the Public
    • Testing Format: Multiple-choice questions
  10. 10
    This exam covers strategic management accounting concepts, including performance measurement and cost management. It is known for its complexity and requires a deep understanding of business strategy.
    Strategic Management Accounting (SMA) is a specialization within management accounting that focuses on providing information and analysis to support strategic decision-making within an organization. It involves considering both financial and non-financial information to evaluate and guide the formulation and implementation of an organization's strategy. SMA helps management understand the impact of various strategic options on the organization's financial performance and identify opportunities for improvement.
    • Integration of Financial and Non-Financial Data: SMA integrates both financial and non-financial data in order to provide a comprehensive analysis of the organization's performance and support strategic decision-making.
    • Alignment with Organizational Strategy: SMA is closely aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the organization and helps management evaluate and fine-tune the strategy to achieve desired financial outcomes.
    • Long-term Perspective: SMA takes a long-term perspective by focusing on the organization's competitive position, sustainability, and value creation over time.
    • Scenario Analysis: SMA utilizes scenario analysis techniques to assess the impact of different strategic scenarios on the organization's financial performance.
    • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): SMA identifies and tracks key performance indicators (KPIs) that are relevant to the organization's strategic objectives and measures progress towards achieving them.

Missing your favorite exam?


Ranking factors for difficult exam

  1. Time constraints
    The time allowed to complete each section of the CPA exam can influence the difficulty level. The shorter the time allotted, the greater the pressure on candidates to complete the exam and the higher the likelihood of making mistakes. This factor may make one section appear more difficult than another.
  2. Test format
    The different formats and types of questions used in each section of the CPA exam can affect the degree of difficulty. For instance, multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, or written communication tasks may be easier or harder for different individuals based on their knowledge levels and test-taking skills.
  3. Pass rates
    Historical pass rates can provide an indication of the difficulty level of each section of the CPA exam. Lower pass rates may suggest that a particular section is more challenging for candidates.
  4. Unique challenges
    Each section of the CPA exam comes with its own set of unique challenges and content. For example, the AUD section may be more difficult for individuals who struggle with understanding auditing and assurance concepts, while the FAR section might be more challenging for those who have difficulty navigating complex financial accounting and reporting concepts.
  5. Personal strengths and weaknesses
    When evaluating the difficulty of the CPA exam, personal factors such as individual strengths and weaknesses in specific subjects, previous educational and work experiences, and test-taking skills should also be considered. What may be difficult for one candidate may not be as challenging for another.
  6. Preparation time and resources
    The amount of time and effort candidates spend studying and preparing for the CPA exam, as well as the quality and effectiveness of the study materials and resources used, can significantly impact their ability to successfully tackle the challenges of each section. This factor can vary greatly from one candidate to another and can have a significant influence on perceived difficulty levels.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult CPA exam. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or exam is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 206 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each exam once every 24 hours. The rank of each exam is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.


More information on most difficult cpa exam

Background Information: What is the CPA Exam? The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam is a rigorous test that aspiring accountants must pass in order to become certified professionals. It is composed of four parts: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). The CPA Exam is known for its difficulty, with an average pass rate of around 50%. Candidates must have a strong understanding of accounting principles, business law, and taxation, as well as the ability to apply these concepts to real-world scenarios. In order to take the CPA Exam, candidates must meet certain educational and experience requirements, which vary by state. Most states require a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, as well as a minimum of 150 credit hours of education. While all four parts of the exam are challenging, many candidates consider the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section to be the most difficult. This section covers topics such as accounting standards, financial statement analysis, and governmental accounting, and requires a deep understanding of complex financial concepts. Overall, passing the CPA Exam is a significant accomplishment that demonstrates a high level of expertise in the field of accounting. However, it requires a great deal of dedication, preparation, and hard work to achieve this goal.

Share this article