Professor Joe Hoyle Answers Lots More CPA Exam Questions

Presented below is the fourth part of our conversation with Joe Hoyle about preparing for the Uniform CPA Examination that is now being given around the world. Professor Hoyle has been involved in CPA Exam Review since 1980 and is a recognized leader in CPA exam preparation. Thanks to Joe for answering student’s questions. — Donna Rodgers, Financial Services Guide

Question: There are a lot of questions on the exam. Very few candidates can know them all. Assume that a candidate reads a multiple-choice or simulation question and just does not have any idea as to the answer. Should the candidate guess or leave the question blank?

Joe: A candidate should always eliminate as many possibilities as possible and then make the best possible guess. Grading is based on the number of correct responses so a wrong answer and a blank answer have the same impact. Never leave any question blank. If time starts to run out, make sure to guess at the ones remaining.

Question: Given all of these complications that exist with the computerized CPA Exam, does anyone ever pass?

Joe: Actually, the pass rate has gone up rather dramatically since the CPA Exam became computerized. It was a paper and pencil exam until 2004. Under that previous format, the pass rate for each of the four parts was in the range of 32 to 36 percent normally. The pass rates for 2010 were:

  • 47.81 percent for Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • 47.80 percent for Auditing and Attestation
  • 50.66 percent for Regulation
  • 47.29 percent for Business Environment and Concepts

Keep in mind that the chief reason for failure is the lack of adequate preparation. A lot of candidates simply do not spend enough time. Therefore, the percentage of candidates who prepare seriously and then pass is actually quite high. That should be very encouraging to every candidate. Do the work and there is a very good reason to go into the CPA Exam with a great deal of optimism.

Question: I have heard rumors that the CPA Exam questions are quite difficult. Is that true?

Joe: Most experts agree that the difficulty of the CPA Exam does not come from the depth of the questions but rather from the extraordinary breadth of the coverage. During these four exams, the candidate is facing questions from numerous courses taken in college over several years. It is that broad range of questions that makes the exam such a challenge.

Most candidates say that any one question is probably easier than what they faced in college. However, in college, the candidate was usually taking each exam on just two or three specifically identified chapters. The CPA Exam requires the candidate to know something about almost every possible topic.

The most common description of the CPA Exam is that it is a mile wide and an inch deep. Thus, there is no reason to dwell for long on any topic. It is much more important to cover all of the possible areas.

Question: Will I need to bring my calculator to the exam to use in making computations?

Joe: No, a four-function (add, subtract, multiple, and divide) calculator is available to the candidate on the computer screen. In addition, spreadsheets that resemble Excel are also included. Present value tables (like those that are found at the back of Intermediate Accounting textbooks) are available if needed.

The Candidate Bulletin (found at does a good job of telling candidates what they can bring and what they should leave at home.

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