CPA Scaled Score – What is the pass mark?

CPA Program 2020 Semester 2 – estimated scaled scores

We often get asked ‘what is the pass mark’ for the final CPA exam and also for our practice exams.

CPA Australia don’t publish a ‘pass mark’ as they use a scaled score approach (it is quite complicated).

So how do you know if you are on track? We can provide you with an estimated scaled score (final result) based on your practice exam results.

How do we calculate an estimated scaled score?

We compare past data from candidates practice exam results to the final results and establish the likely outcome.

Is this going to be exact? No

Is it a guarantee of your final result? No

It is just a useful guide showing what other people who have scored the same as you in the practice exam end up getting in their CPA exam.

Some disclaimers:

  • It is only based on the MCQ portion. So, for subjects with ERQ – if you didn’t do the MCQs in the appropriate time frame and skipped the ERQ, this will distort your result
  • This is just what happened to other people. It does not guarantee it will happen to you

Things that will distort the results:

  • If you have done the practice exam before (in a previous semester)
  • Did you guess any answers? If you guessed right this will distort your score. Don’t guess…leave it blank
  • If you do the practice exam 1 day before your final exam and have no time to revise and improve after that (this assumes you did it 2 weeks before…and did revision afterwards)
  • Cheating in the practice exam (did you use the study guide PDF to search answers?)
  • Stress…and panic…this can make your final exam result much lower than your actual ability

Ethics & Governance (out of 63 MCQ Marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 43 / 63

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 43 / 63



Financial Reporting (out of 42 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 26 / 42

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 26 / 42

Strategic Management Accounting (out of 52 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 32 / 52

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 35 / 52


Global Strategy & Leadership (out of 68 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 41 / 68

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 38 / 68



Advanced Audit and Assurance (out of 90 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 58 / 90

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 56 / 90



Australia Taxation – Advanced (out of 53 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 34 / 53

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 33 / 53




Australia Taxation (out of 50 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 29 / 50

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 32 / 50



Contemporary Business Issues (out of 75 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 42 / 75

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 47 / 75



Financial Risk Management (out of 70 MCQ marks)

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 1: 45 / 70

Average MCQ result for Practice Exam 2: 46 / 70



Here is a short video that explains a bit about it.

CPA Australia do not provide a pass mark, but they do explain what a CPA scaled score is here. As a result, the team at KnowledgEquity have CPA practice exams that give you feedback about your current ability and where you need to improve. We also strongly advise you to focus hard on mastering the CPA study guide materials, rather than figuring out what a minimum pass might be.


Is a passing score of 540 / 900 the same as 50%?

No. The CPA scaled score is definitely not a percentage of the number of correct answers you achieved, and 50% is not the pass mark in your CPA exam.

Calculating a CPA pass mark percentage


Why isn’t there a simple ‘CPA pass mark’ so I know what to aim for?

CPA Australia have multiple exams for each subject to protect the integrity of the exams. Each exam may have a slightly different level of difficulty – so 45% in one version of the exam may be the same as 60% in another version. Therefore, scaling helps adjust the results so that each student receives a fair grade. This is why you can’t just give someone a percentage CPA pass mark.

Put simply, a CPA exam with harder questions will need a lower number of correct answers to achieve a pass. If it is an easier exam, you will need to get more answers correct to pass your CPA exam.

CPA Australia make it very clear that a scaled score of 540 is not 67.5%. (This would be very bad mathematics – because the scale is between 100 and 900 not 0 and 900).


Courtney Clowes


October 8, 2020

66 responses on "CPA Scaled Score - What is the pass mark?"

  1. Hi,

    Im doing SMA. I done one practice exam with 60 MCQs. what is the ideal mark? Iv got 40 out of 60

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Dineesha, We haven’t got an estimated pass mark for only the MCQs, you also need to do the written responses to get a combined result that we compared against your scaled score. Based on our analysis,
    Getting less than 48: scaled scores hover around the low 500s.
    48 – 52: Borderline pass (i.e. don’t be confident with this – do more study. Scaled score of around 542 – 553. 
    53 – 61: Scaled score of around 550 – 565 (but – be careful, not everyone gets through with this result…keep studying). 
    62-65: Usually leads to a strong pass (around 570) or a credit (of around 600 scaled score)
    65-73: Usually leads to a distinction…(but note my warning above…)
    >73: Good chance of an HD (Scaled score around 650 – 750).

  3. Hi Courtney,
    Is there an analysis of the exam mark to scaled score for FR?

  4. Some guidance (but not guarantee)

    <20: Low fail (Scaled score around 460 - 500)

    20 – 25 Fail (Scaled score around 500 – 520)
    26 – 29 Borderline fail (Scaled score around 539)

    30 – 35: Usually a pass (but not always…be careful)

    36 – 40: Moving towards a credit (scaled score around 615 – 640)

    40 – 43: Distinction territory (640 to about 675 scaled score)

    44 – 50: High Distinction (around 675 scaled score)

    55 +: High Distinction (around 780 scaled score).

  5. Hi Courtney,

    I’ve done one of the AAA practice exams with a score of 63/90. What would the ideal mark be?

    Thanks in advance

  6. For AAA:

    Some guidance (but not guarantee)

    Fail: <48 (scaled score of 480 – 519)

    Borderline Fail: 48 – 53 (scaled score of 520 – 539)

    50/50 either way: 54 (scaled score of 539/540)

    Borderline Pass: 55 – 57 (Scaled score of 540 – 569) (most people here pass, but quite a few do not)

    High Pass: 58 – 62 (Scaled score of 570 – 629)

    Credit: 63 – 66 (Scaled score of 630 – 644) Distinction: 67 – 70 (Scaled score of 645 – 679) High Distinction: > 71 /
    90 (Scaled score of 680 +)

  7. Hi Countney,

    What’s the marks range for E&G?

    Thank you.

  8. Some guidance (but not guarantee) based on our practice exams (out of 85 marks)

    < 37: Low Fail. 
    38 – 46: Fail.

    47 -52: Borderline…fail (some make it through)

    53 – 60: borderline…pass (i.e. usually students pass in this category but quite a few don’t)

    60 – 65: High Pass / Credit

    66-70: Distinction

    >70: Usually a High Distinction.

  9. Hi Courtney,

    Can you please give an analysis for passing rate for the Advanced Taxation ?

    thank you

  10. For Advanced Taxation:

    <21: fail

    21 – 24: Borderline Pass / Fail (about 50% fall into each category – so please, do some extra revision)

    25 – 29: Pass (but some people don’t make it through – be careful)

    30 – 33: Credit (some will get a distinction or HD here)

    >33: Distinction or High Distinction

  11. Can anyone please suggest passing mark for GSL (New exam format).
    Thank you

  12. Last semester everyone who scored over 50 / 80 on our practice exams achieved a CPA Pass. Most students who scored over 40 also received a pass (so not everyone). So, to be ‘confident’ we recommend a 50, but a 40 is usually good enough.

  13. Thank you Courtney for your prompt reply.
    Will that be same for CPA exam.

  14. CPA have different pass marks for different versions of the exam. They have around 6 different exam papers, and so some will be harder, and some will be easier. So, they set a lower pass mark on the harder paper. This is why we provide a comparison of what to expect, so you can estimate whether you will get a pass based on your practice exam result.

  15. Hi Courtney. Any predictions on the new advanced tax analysis?

  16. Hi – although we can’t predict what it will look like, we think that based on the content it will be a tough exam, but the pass mark will not be set very high. A similar thing happened with the GSL exam changed – the overall pass mark was much higher than usual.

  17. Thanks a lot Courtney for the quick reply. Also, do you have an approx. passing analysis for financial risk management as well? Little urgent. Thanks 🙂

  18. <40: Fail
    40 – 42: Borderline pass / fail (about 50% fall into each category – so please, do some extra revision)
    43 – 50: Pass (but some people don’t make it through – be careful)
    51 – 59: Credit (some will get a distinction or HD here)
    >60: Distinction or High Distinction
    Regards, Courtney

  19. Hi what would be the scaled score for 61 in Gsl?

    • Hi – the scaled scores for each subject are in the PDF that goes with the Exam preparation webinar (you will find this in the weekly webinars unit. Let me know if you have trouble finding it.
      Regards, Courtney

  20. Hi, can I know what is the exam passing mark for FR?


    • Hi Irene,

      There is no ‘pass mark’ for any of the CPA exams. It is a scaled score based on a minimally competent candidate.

      We have previously provided a scaled score comparison (so if you do the practice exam you can see what others before you have achieved in the CPA exam). But, it is a new study guide this semester, so we cannot be sure how accurate our past analysis was when estimating this. Here is the previous analysis:
      Some guidance (but not guarantee)

      <20: Low fail (Scaled score around 460 - 500)

      20 – 25 Fail (Scaled score around 500 – 520)
      26 – 29 Borderline fail (Scaled score around 539)

      30 – 35: Usually a pass (but not always…be careful)

      36 – 40: Moving towards a credit (scaled score around 615 – 640)

      40 – 43: Distinction territory (640 to about 675 scaled score)

      44 – 50: High Distinction (around 675 scaled score)

      55 +: High Distinction (around 780 scaled score).

      Regards, Courtney

  21. Hi Courtney,

    Currently doing Australia Taxation.

    Could you please tell me what the estimated marks are for this subject (don’t think anyone has asked this yet).


  22. Hi,
    I’m giving the first paper under MOU of CPA Australia with ICAI (India) of GSL. we are supposed to give only 2 paper – GSL and Better Practice in Governance and Accountability. How much we need to score to pass both the exams?

    • Hi Shaily,
      I am not familiar with Better Practice in Governance and Accountability, so I cannot help with this.

      For GSL, CPA do not publish a pass mark. The best thing you can do to get a comparison is to use the Practice Exams for feedback. You can compare your result to the average, and if you are above average then you are on track for a pass, because the pass rate is about 80%. Just make sure you are not in the bottom 30 – 40% to be sure.

      Regards, Courtney

  23. Hi Courtney, I am able to score 70% in GSL practice exam 1, what’s the estimated scaled score comparison for actual CPA exam? Thank you so much

    • Hi Widdy,

      We don’t have a scaled score estimate this semester with the new exam format, as they haven’t been run before. One thing we are doing this semester instead of a ‘scaled score comparison’ is ‘compare yourself to the average’. Once there is a large data set we can compare this to the pass percentages (lets say 80% of candidates pass – then the top 80% are roughly on track, and we can set the pass mark estimate somewhere around that).
      Regards, Courtney

  24. Thank you Courtney. Any update on the estimated timeframe if the average data will be published ?

    • In about a week there will be enough data for this to be available. You can access it by going back to the practice exam and clicking on the ‘graph’ icon, which shows you this.

      Regards, Courtney

  25. Hi Courtney.
    How about FRM practice exams – 2 scaled score?


  26. Hi, What’s the marks range for E & G? I got 31 out of 50 in the practice exam 1. Is there any chance for me?

    • Hi Monika,
      there is a table in the post that shows the estimated result based on your score in practice exam 1 – so you can check against that and get an estimate of how you are going.

      Regards, Courtney

  27. Thanks Courtney, That table shows out of 85 marks for E & G.

  28. Hi Courtney,
    I am planning to take SMA first. As a new student to the CPA program, Am i supposed to concentrate on the study guide which is provided or any other resource? Also can you suggest me a strategy to get started learning SMA??

    • Hi Sheby,
      The study guide is the whole focus of the exam. Nothing else is examinable, so yes, you should know it inside out. The best way to learn it is to start reading it, and also watch the video tutorials that go along with it to help guide you through. Check out our free resources for SMA from 20 May to get a headstart on semester. Just sign up via our website after the CPA exam period finishes in a few weeks.
      Regards, Courtney

  29. Hi Courtney,
    How about AT practice exam – 2 scaled score?

  30. Hi Courtney,
    How about ATA and CBI practice exam – 2 scaled score? Thanks

  31. Hi Courtney, I appeared for my GSL exam in Sem 1 2020 and I failed. It was very hear breaking and terrible feeling. Don’t want to have such feeling ever in my life again. I would really appreciate if you could reply to this comment. I got 525/900 and the passing grade was 540/900. How do i interpret this result? Was i very close to passing i.e may be missed it by a question or two. If it was that close, its more heart breaking as it will cost me more money and six months of agony till Dec. I am very determined to answer all my questions right next time. Appreciate, if you can help me assess my score. Thanks in advance for your reply. Looking forward to your reply.

    • Hi Lakshmi,
      It can feel very frustrating after all that hard work – especially after such a crazy semester with lock-downs, extended study time, and the pressure of everything that has happened It is hard to estimate exactly but 525 is several marks off 540, because other candidates have scored 529, 530, 535, and 539. The best way to get a clearer picture of how you went is to review your practice exam scores. I can help give you some feedback here, if you you email

      Let me know your practice exam scores and the dates you did them compared to your CPA exam – this is a good starting point.
      Regards, Courtney

  32. Hi Courtney, what does credit mean? Can understand Pass / Fail / Distinction. I am presuming Credit is higher than pass as it comes after pass. Since it comes in between pass and distinction, i would assume it is a passing score but not distinction. somewhere between the two.

  33. Hi Courtney,

    Could you confirm if the exam structure followed for Sem1 2020 (2 hours / 100 MCQs) will be followed even in Sem2 2020?


  34. Hi Shruti,
    The exam structure is reverting back to the normal 3.25 hour exam as per 2019. Please review the Essentials webinar in Guided Learning (in the webinars tab) for a detailed breakdown of the structure of each subject.

    Regards, Courtney

  35. Hi Courtney,

    This semester I’ve got 2 subject, SMA & CBI! I had SMA last semester but unfortunately I failed and I decided to take 2 this semester as I’m not working now and just want to get my study done.
    I really want to pass both this subjects this semester, please give me an advise that would help me in achieving my goal.

    Kind Reagards,

  36. when will the FR written answers be marked and will you then provide a scaled score incorporating those marks? thanks

    • Hi David,
      You need to mark your own written answers against the suggested solution and use the marking guide there to get your overall score. We won’t be updating the scaled score to reflect this because we don’t have a complete data set.
      Regards, Courtney

  37. Hi Courtney,
    How about ATA practice exam scaled score?

  38. Hello One of my questions wouldnt save the answer I have it in word document where do I sent it to?

  39. wow these results are not very strong pretty much across all subjects (with the exception of a few). this is worrying

  40. Hi Courtney,

    I just completed the Practice Exam 1 of GSL and I got 46/68. Can you please let me know the mark scale as the result doesn’t include ERQ? In addition, am I going to have a mark for my ERQ? Thank you in advance


    • Hi Leo,
      The mark scale is out of 68 as it doesn’t include the ERQ (see the notes at the top of the page). There is no mark given for the ERQ – but you can self-evaluation by comparing your work against the key notes Chris prepared in the suggested answers section.

      Regards, Courtney

  41. Hi Courtney,

    I attempted two practice tests for GSL and scored 41 and 36 respectively. Considering time constraints, i was really not able to attempt ERQ. Just want to confirm one thing, if in final exam i attempted majorly all my MCQs correct and missed ERQs , will it still help through me to clear exams ?

  42. Hi Courtney,

    Is the total mark for Ethics and Governance exam this semester 75 marks? I checked in guided learning and it said E&G exam this year is 63 + 12 = 75 marks but I saw you posting a mark range for E&G with full mark of 85 in the comment. Just want to verify whether it is 75 marks in the coming E&G exam and what will be the marks range based on 75 marks. Thanks.

  43. Thanks Courtney for the reply.

  44. Hi Courtney,
    What is the meaning of the “confident pass” (for only MCQ) of EG. Does that means even if I skipped the ERQ, I still got a great chance to pass the exam?

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