Uniform CPA Examination FAQs - Scoring 

Published March 23, 2017

The following questions relate to the 2017 standard setting process and score release holds for the Q2, Q3, and Q4 testing windows.


Who sets the passing score for the Uniform CPA Examination?

The passing score is determined by the AICPA Board of Examiners (BOE). Like most other significant BOE decisions, the passing score decision is supported by a strong collaborative effort among the Examination partners. The standard-setting process followed for the computer-based test (CBT) is rigorous, and performed with input from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), state boards of accountancy, and several consultant psychometricians.

In setting the passing score, the BOE considered many factors, including standard-setting study results, historical trends, any changes in Examination content, and input from the academic community and the profession. The passing score is the basis of the pass or fail decision recommended to boards of accountancy on the advisory score report.

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What is the passing score?

The passing score is 75 on a 0-99 scale. The scale of 0-99 does not represent "percent correct". A score of 75 indicates Examination performance reflecting a level of knowledge and skills that is sufficient for the protection of the public.

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Is scoring an automated process?

Scoring is fully automated for all Examination components except for the written communication tasks. Some written communication responses are scored by a network of readers (CPAs), while others are scored using an automated process. All scoring routines - whether automated or not - are verified at various stages of the scoring process.

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Is the Examination scored on a curve?

The Examination is not curved. Every candidate’s score is entirely independent of other candidates’ Examination results.

The Examination is a criterion-referenced examination which means that it rests upon pre-determined standards. Every candidate’s performance is measured against established standards to determine whether the candidate has demonstrated the level of knowledge and skills that is represented by the passing score. Every candidate is judged against the same standards, and every score is an independent result.

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What scoring method is used to score the Examination?

The AICPA uses Item Response Theory (IRT) for the objective portion of the Examination. IRT is a well-established psychometric approach to scoring used by licensing and certification examinations that administer many different test forms. IRT scoring ensures that scores and pass or fail decisions based on scores from different Examination forms are comparable. Based on the large amounts of data that are collected in pre-testing, the difficulty level as well as other statistical characteristics of Examination questions are known and taken into account in scoring.

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If I am given more difficult questions to answer than another candidate, how can our responses be scored comparably?

IRT scoring takes into account differences in the difficulty of test questions in addition to other statistical properties. IRT scoring uses statistical properties of items, and the pattern of correct and incorrect responses, to calculate scores representing candidates' knowledge and skill levels. These scores are comparable because they have been calculated taking difficulty levels, as well as other item statistics, into consideration.

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What is the percentage value of each Examination component?

In Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG), multiple-choice questions account for 50% and task-based simulations for 50% of the score. In Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), multiple-choice questions account for 50%, task-based simulations for 35% and written communication tasks account for 15% of the score.

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Given the different values of Examination components, how are total scores calculated?

For AUD, FAR, and REG, separate scores are produced for multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. The two scores are then weighted according to the percentage value of each component, and added together to arrive at a total score. For BEC separate scores are produced for multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations and written communication task, and then added together according to the percentage value of each component for the final score. For more details on scoring, please refer to the paper, How is the CPA Exam Scored?

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Are pretest questions scored?

No. Responses to pretest questions are never taken into account in calculating candidate scores. Pretest questions are included in every Examination (they may be multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, or written communication tasks) only for the purpose of collecting data. The data are needed to assess the quality of the questions, and to collect scoring information for later use when the questions become operational items.

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Are scoring adjustments made for candidates who experience difficulties during testing?

No. All candidate results are scored using the same process and method to ensure uniformity and the validity of the pass or fail decision. In the rare instances when serious technical problems occur during testing, candidates may be offered a free retest.

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The following questions relate to the 2017 standard setting process and score release holds for the Q2, Q3, and Q4 testing windows.

Why will there be a score hold for the Examination in Q2, Q3 and Q4?

Anytime the Examination undergoes significant changes, a passing score is set so that the assessment remains legally defensible. This is common practice in the world of high-stakes testing. The score holds after each testing window will allow sufficient time for the Board of Examiners to properly conduct its standard setting process. Upon completion, candidate scores will be released once after the close of each window as outlined in the tables above.

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What is the standard setting process that you will conduct in 2017? 

After the close of the Q2 2017 testing window, the Board of Examiners will assemble panels that consist of CPAs with experience supervising the work of newly licensed CPAs. There is one panel of CPAs for each section of the Examination. These CPAs will review test questions and performance data for candidates in the Q2 2017 testing window and approve ratings to recommend a passing score for the Board of Examiners approval.

Once the passing score for each section is approved, it will remain in place until there are significant changes to the Examination in the future. Prior to the 2017 standard setting process, passing scores were most recently set in 2004 when the Examination was computerized, and again in 2011 following a revision of the Examination. 

After the close of the Q3 and Q4 2017 testing windows, additional data analyses are require for quality assurance and validation purposes.

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What if the score release hold impacts my ability to complete the Examination within 18 months?

There is no need to contact your state board of accountancy. The AICPA, NASBA, and state boards are aware that some candidates testing in the Q2 2017 launch window will be impacted by the 10-week score reporting hold. With Q2 2017 scores scheduled for release by August 18, candidates may be unable to retake a failed section in Q3 2017.

NASBA's National Candidate Database is designed to prohibit expiration of conditional credits until advisory scores are received if candidates take the Examination prior to the date of their score expiration. In June and July, NASBA will notify state boards of all candidates testing in Q2 2017 with existing conditional credit who will be impacted by the score hold. The state boards will consider extending a candidate's conditional credit. Extensions of credit are handled on an individual case-by-case basis. State boards will notify candidates if an extension is granted.

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