Is the CPA exam harder than the bar exam?

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    Apparently, not too many people really know what a CPA exam is. I have given up explaining to them what it is exactly so I just tell them its harder than the bar exam. I think I read one person on a blog who said this. if you have taken both, can you please confirm which one is harder?





    I haven't taken the bar exam, but I can say that difficulty is relative from person to person. You will most likely hear both sides from people that have passed/failed the bar and cpa exam.


    Yes…or No….

    John Tucker

    The Bar Exam does have a different level of difficulty depending upon the state that it's taken in, but in general, the CPA Exam is regarded as the hardest professional examination out there on most rankings that I've reviewed. This is in spite of a lot of professionals who have taken the CFA exam saying that the CFA is harder than the CPA Exam.


    From a difficulty perspective, I would say yes. But this is based on pass rates, both individual and overall.

    Individual pass rates on CPA sections range from 40-60 (unless this changed a lot recently), while most states have bar pass rates 80+.

    However, I would say the skill set to understand & applly legal knowledge is different than the skills needed to be an accountant. Accounting is more about precision and following steps. Law is as well, but it's not as rule-driven (i.e. you need to be able to interpret precedents in addition to understanding more basic laws/regulations).

    Short answer, no, CPA exam is not easier, but with an asterisk.


    Attorneys are a dime a dozen now, no demand for them.

    CPA's are in high demand.

    That should tell you either:

    a) People hate accounting or

    b) It's harder to become a CPA


    @Gatorbates: Why not both? lol


    Why not Zoidberg for that matter?


    I have not taken both, but the bar exam is definitely more prestigious and, I assume, has stricter standards that must be met prior to sitting (more years of schooling?).

    Among the accounting/finance certifications it is definitely considered:

    CFA > CPA > CMA

    If I were you, I wouldn't say it is harder than the Bar exam – but you could mention the pass rate – so that they get an idea of the level of difficulty. something like, “it is a really difficult 4-part exam for accountants, that you need ~5 years of education for and has a really low pass rate per section of around 50-60%'.


    I don't know about the pass rate argument. That could be at least partially explained by the fact that everyone taking the bar exam is finished or nearly finished with a doctoral level degree in law. People taking the CPA exam could have just a bachelor's in accounting or business. Perhaps that's changed with the 150 hour rules in most (all?) states, but that's relatively recent.

    I have no idea which is harder. I think the bar is taken all in one or two days, which could add to the difficulty level compared to having 4 spaced out sections. Either way, the CPA is freakin' hard.


    On that, my dad (a CPA for 40+ years) said the 4 spaced out sections came from necessity– there was a shortage of CPAs since not enough people were passing, so they had to figure out a way to make it more passable and have enough CPAs. Whereas there are so many lawyers that a lot of them can't even find jobs in law, so they haven't had to make the bar more passable.

    We have someone at work who has passed both, and he couldn't really say which was harder. They were “different.”


    Thanks for the responses. I really hope that more people will be familiar with what CPA's or accountants do because we protect the public too. When I tell them I work in accounting, they automatically think I do taxes or I do well in Math.I can't blame them though. It seems like the accounting profession is not as well known as medicine or law but it is still very important!


    According to my attorney mother, the CPA exam is harder from what she's heard other attorneys say. She knows an attorney who became one because she couldn't pass the CPA. Also, at least in the states she's taken it, she knew how the exams were scored. 🙂


    I asked my friend to show me how many books he needed to review before taking the Bar, and its almost twice of the four books we need to cover. I think the passing rate is higher for the Bar exam cause they need to pass it to be able to practice, so most of the new graduates study full time for the exam.


    I passed the Michigan bar first try (after they changed it and the pass rate went way down). I passed 2 sections of the CPA exam first try and 2 I took multiple times. The CPA exam is more difficult because of the duration of studying and the broad range of topics but the concepts are not any more difficult, IMO. The bar exam testing conditions are much, much more stressful though.


    Well the bar varies drastically by state. My girlfriend passed the bar in CA, which has about a 30% pass rate. Here they do three straight 8 hour days of testing in two 4 hour shifts. There is multiple choice, case study and verbal response. I realize the CPA is hard but in CA, I have to say the bar is harder. It's condensed and there is tons more pressure since a law degree without passing the bar basically makes you a paralegal…


    from my understanding, you have to graduate (or about to graduate) law school to sit for the bar exam.

    there is already so much $ & time invested at that point.

    some CPA candidates have MBA or equivalent, some don't(BS+some acc credits).

    bar exam is allday deal(3hrs in the morning and 3 in the afternoon). you can sit twice a year. and EVERYONE in the room is taking the same test.

    I don't know which is harder, but bar exam sounds more intense. I like the flexibility of the CPA exam.

    I was wondering about the same thing though, it really depends…if you like to analyze and write, write, write, or MCQ and number is your thing. I prefer writing paper than MCQ test while in college, I always wonder how I would do if I went to law school

    oops, another daydreaming before AUD exam. gotta get back to WTB!


    I read that, which I thought was interesting, but essentially says CPAs don't study “rigorously” enough. Which I think we can all agree is a big pile of crap.


    I have a friend in international tax for Deloitte and tried the CPA exam, failed, and just stopped. I've also read that CPA is the hardest professional exam.


    I just don't see the CPA being harder than the bar (in CA) or medical boards. Anybody ever check into the actuary exams? It's insane. I know somebody who passed CPA and CFA first shots all around. Took his first actuary exam, failed miserably…


    I've read many posts from people who have done both and they seem to all agree the bar exam is harder. That said, if you're talking to people who don't know what the CPA exam is, I'm not sure why you'd need them to know how difficult it is.


    How Many I'd LOVE to just aim for the actuary exam, because I've heard terrifying stories about it and I like a good challenge!


    @CPA Means–Before I joined this forum I would have agreed with you, but I have seen a lot of people post that they are taking exams without studying or studying for only a week, taking exams to just see what it's like, hail mary attempts, etc. Every one of those exam attempts affects the pass rate, but aren't truly reflecting attempts made after rigorous studying. I'e had one myself. Kicking myself everyday for wasting $200 on that exam!


    @CPAMommy: I didn't think of it like that, so you are probably right. All I know is that I'd rather have one really hard exam than four moving targets. 🙂


    I think the real question is: Is the CPA Exam harder than the Real Estate Exam??


    This list of worlds touphest exams will propbaly make you feel a bit smarter than what you think you are specially if you have failed some parts. They mentioned the California Bar only!

    World’s Toughest Tests and Final Exams

    By chad on May 1, 2012

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    In addition to the fact that Life itself is a test, there are a number of other scholastic and professional challenges along the way that would defeat even the best of us. That said, below is a list of the hardest final exams you could ever face and, if you’re lucky, you’ll never have to take them. (Not in any particular order!)

    1. CPA – Through both word of mouth testimonials and scouring the depths of the Internet, the masses agree, the final exam to become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is the toughest final exam one can face. In fact, slightly less than 40% of those that take the test actually pass it the first time. It’s a grueling closed book and administered test that truly separates the men from the boys.

    2. CCIE – Although the majority would argue that the CPA test is the most difficult, there is a less mainstream test out there that statistics prove to be even more daunting. The Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) is an IT industry certification that 75% of those that take it, fail. What makes the exam even more intimidating is that there is no study guide – it is experienced based and contests that you either know IT or you don’t.

    3. SAT – You may be thinking that the SAT cannot possibly match up to the other professional grade exams on this list but testing is relative. The Scholastic Aptitude Test is a long-winded academic assessment that most high school juniors and seniors take to qualify for college and while most of us have taken it, there are degrees of success. To put it in perspective, a mere .00002 percent of students ace this high school exam.

    4. The Oxford Prize Fellowship Exam – Leave it to the distinguished Oxford University in the United Kingdom to offer up one of the toughest tests ever taken. Though Oxford students are widely hailed as a cut above the rest, the All Souls College Oxford is an elite school-within-a-school; only those that pass the Prize Fellowship exam are admitted into the upper tier. While the test consists of many parts, the final and most challenging section is the essay. Students are given a single word for inspiration and three hours to produce a thoughtful and coherent essay in whatever direction they chose to pursue. It might sound flexible but when it comes time for the panel of Oxford select to evaluate the final paper, a fraction of essays get the green light.

    5. The California Bar Exam – A career in law is thought to be one of the top five most difficult professions that one can pursue and the feared Bar Exam is the final challenge one must face before becoming a lawyer. While the Bar Exam, in any state, is never a breeze, the California Bar exam in particular has a drastically lower success rate than any other jurisdiction. In fact, the passing rate is only around 48 percent (compared to the national average of roughly 60 percent).

    6. LSDT – Though the Language Skills Diagnostic Test is an undergraduate final exam taken for the purpose of admittance into many Journalism programs, it has a looming reputation for being a widow maker – a tool used to weed out the casual linguists. Ultimately this test determines ones grasp on the English language but it is not as easy as it sounds; until you’ve legitimately dissected the language and learned the black and white make up of a sentence, you’ve underestimated the intricacies of the English language.

    7. USMLE – Of course, you can’t have a list of toughest final exams without the inclusion of the USMLE. The United States Medical Licensing Examination is a test that any M.D. is required to pass before being allowed to practice medicine in the United States. Even though the test takers have already gone through the excruciating pains of medical school, this final barricade was designed as a professional form of natural selection – only those that truly know medicine will survive.

    8. CAEI – Ranking as an international equivalent to the CPA test, the Chartered Accountancy Examination of India is the final exam aspiring accountants must take to join the ranks of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). As global outsourcing in the field of accounting becomes more prevalent, India has earned a stellar reputation for its high accounting and ethical standards and this test is the final audit for those attempting to enter the privileged ranks of the ICAI.

    John Tucker

    Yes, as I mentioned the Bar's level of difficulty depends upon the state, in California the Bar is a beast. But in general, I would say the CPA Exam is harder than the Bar exam as a whole, seeing as though the CPA Exam has so much content that must be memorized and comprehended in a short period of time.

    Also understand the CPA Exam's old format used to resemble the CA Bar Exam's structure in terms of the “all day testing” routine.


    Real estate exam?

    Every answer is: Location.


    Might be a little late to conversation, but I have taken both:

    -Both are manageable tests. If you put the time in, they are passable.

    -When people ask me, I tell them that the bar exam has more topics, but you are required to know less about the topics. The CPA exam has less topics, but you are tested on them more thoroughly.

    -You can choose when to take the CPA exam and change test dates. The Bar exam is offered on 2-3 consecutive days only 2 times per year. (No changing dates if you're not prepared)

    -I was more concerned about the bar exam. The questions there tend to have 2 correct answers, but you must choose the “most correct answer,” which can be challenging. The CPA exam, I felt I could use reasoning and basic math skills to get to the correct MC answer.


    I'm sorry but I've done research on this for almost half a decade now and the BAR EXAM IS ALOT EASIER than the CPA exam.

    Let me go into a million reasons.

    First, out of everyone in my grade in high-school of 70 kids, 25 are lawyers and 25 were sub par high-school students who could not pass an AP exam granted the average act exam score was 28. In other words my high-school was more difficult than an IVY LEAGUE COLLEGE, on average – excluding MIT if that is considered IVY LEAGUE.

    Every year my high-school churns out dozens of lawyers. Every graduating class, from what I see on Facebook, has about 12-20 lawyers, and most of these students, I know from studying with them, as I was valedictorian, could not be very intelligent.

    Second, I have asked dozens upon dozens of tax attorneys which is more difficult, to rule out the possibility that the rigors of education mattered, and all of them unanimously agreed that the CPA exam was much, much more difficult.

    Most recently, a professor named Cohen, there are thousands of accounting professors named Cohen by the way, stated that he has never met a CPA who has failed out of law school nor not passed the bar in his or her first attempt.

    Now comes the rigors of law school. Guess what…the harder it is to get into the law school, the easier it is. What governs this paradox? Economics my friends. Law schools that make it easy for you to get in must also make it hard for you to graduate. So the truth is, a high LSAT score means you have received a less rigorous education. In other words, what is quite factually true here is that the “harder” your law school is to get into, the less rigorous your education is….so the argument of education being rigorous goes right out the window…or so it would seem from this perspective.

    Finally, I must say, that accounting itself is difficult. I know computer programmers and people with IQ's well above 150 who failed accounting and say that it's because it's boring. To me that's a b.s. excuse. “Boring,” is an attitude. It is entirely subjective. What they truly mean to say is that they couldn't grasp it initially because it is a complex counter-intuitive system.

    One more thing, a woman who is a CFO recently commented at a family event that most accountants in her department have been trying to pass the CPA for years…some for half a decade. I don't hear this about the bar exam. In fact, I know c- students who achieved a high score of 18 on their ACT who also graduated cum lauda from top law schools and passed the bar on their first attempt but couldn't tell you the difference between a mean and an average. For the record the difference that I speak of is that a mean is a subcategory of an average, and the word average is a class which encompasses several different examples or instances of itself.

    Sad I know, but the law schools are scamming everyone and their mothers.

    And as for the CFA – I really did give that one some credibility. I believed that it was harder but recently my friend, we'll call him Harvey, passed his first part. It took him two years, but he passed it, which is a testament to how easy it is because Harvey coudln't pass an accounting class without asking me for “special” tutoring…if you know what I mean…

    I haven't ever met a moron who has passed the CPA exam except for someone who I later found out lied about the entire matter.

    If this sounds kind of rude to you I apologize, but I've really cracked down on this issue and done my homework. Don't let anyone fool you. The CPA exam is as difficult a test as the MCATS and it is easier than the boards for becoming a doctor. The only thing about the MCATS though is that you either have to have it or not…you can't simply pass it on hard work, but the amount of blood and sweat is almost greater for the CPA.

    Trust me…I come from a family of doctors who have tried becoming CPA's and couldn't do it. Why do you think I picked up the gauntlet! We take for granted our education, but don't.

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