Candidates in Utah and Missouri had the highest average pass rates on the CPA Exam in 2012, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.

In Utah, 61.2 percent of candidates passed the exam last year, while 57.7 percent passed in Missouri. Wisconsin (56.8 percent), Michigan (55.8 percent) and Iowa (55.7 percent) rounded out the top five.

Close to 93,000 candidates took the exam last year, which represents approximately a 50 percent increase since 2005. The average age of the candidates was 29, as it has been for several years, and the average score, at 71.7, stayed within the same two-point range as the previous six years. The overall pass rate, however, at 48.9 percent, was a significant increase over last year's 45.5 percent, and pass rates for all of the four individual sections of the exam were higher than last year as well.

"One of the biggest factors that stands out is that the Business Environment and Concepts section scores were significantly higher in 2012 than any year since moving to the CBT format," according to NASBA director of continuous improvement and analytics James Suh.

Suh pointed out, however, that the BEC section was the most difficult of the four sections for international students, even as more and more were taking the exam.



Suh also pointed out that jurisdictions with a significant number of international candidates (as measured by those whose home addresses were outside the U.S.) tended to have lower overall pass rates.

"One of the biggest drivers to pass variability among jurisdictions is the number of international students. The lower performance may be related to a language barrier," Suh said.

The notion of a language barrier would seem to be borne out by the fact that among states with large percentages of international candidates, those that border Canada (which would largely generate candidates who speak English) often showed less variability between pass rates than others.

International exam candidates who take the test in the U.S. are often drawn to jurisdictions with less stringent requirements -- such as those that don't have specific course requirements, or those that don't require residency -- as well as to those whose educational systems are similar to the one in their home country.

As for those who take the exam overseas, Japan and South Korea remain the largest single providers of candidates, but China and the Middle East are showing the strongest growth.

"China used to be one of our smallest exam applicant countries, but they surpassed Canada this year to take third place," Suh said. "We project that they'll overtake Korea this calendar year or early next, unless something changes dramatically."

Growth in the number of candidates from China topped 95 percent in 2012, but the strongest growth in candidates were the eye-popping 156 percent in the Palestinian Territories, and Kuwait's 120 percent -- though both, it should be noted, started from relatively low bases.



NASBA has been expanding the ways that it analyzes and distributes the data that it accumulates on CPA Exam candidates. The results include newly designed charts and trend analyses of interest to multiple classes of end-users, including state boards of accountancy, universities, researchers, and CPA Exam review course providers. They are available in a number of formats, including:

The original Candidate Performance Book, which has been available in previous years and offers an overall analysis of trends around exam-takers and their results;

The School Performance Book, introduced late last year, which analyzes the data from the perspective of educational institutions; and,

Customized reports for schools, new this year, that can tell them exactly how their students are performing and how changes to curricula are affecting their performance.

The first two are currently available online on, and the customized reports, available upon request, will be rolled out in the first quarter.

See all these stats and more in our slideshow.

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