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How Hard is the Enrolled Agent Exam? A Look into the Difficulty

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enrolled agent exam difficultyHave you ever asked yourself during the decision process: how hard is the Enrolled Agent exam?

For those who have heavy commitment in work and family, it is an important consideration.

This is a rather subjective question, but I have the following measures to provide an objective analysis.

Enrolled Agent Exam Difficulty in terms of Preparation Time

CPA

Many professionals interested in the EA exam are accounting and tax professionals. Therefore, in this analysis, I will use the US CPA exam as the main comparison, together with a few others such as the CMA and CIA exam.

For the US CPA, there are four parts ranging from a wide variety of subjects, including financial accounting, audit, taxation, business law, ethics, strategic planning, corporate finance, IT and economics. These subjects are tested at the introductory level, but given the breadth, you can image that it takes a lot of time to prepare for and pass all four parts.

Roughly speaking, it takes an average candidate 300-400 hours to study for the CPA exam.

CMA

There are two parts in the US CMA exam. The scope covers more in-depth costing accounting and audit, together with corporate finance and financial management. Having said that, the coverage is much narrower given its management accounting niche and therefore, it takes less time to study.

The IMA suggests at least 150 hours for each part. This comes to around 300 hours of prep time.

EA

CPA exam is a mile wide and an inch deep. The EA was only a quarter mile wide but a lot deeper.

The EA exam focuses on the niche of federal taxation. It goes deeper and touch upon individual and business tax, together with matters on representation.

Given tax code is essentially a list of rules, as long as you memorize the tax code and is able to apply that to various tax filing and interpretation, you will pass. Unlike the CPA, you don’t need extended knowledge in business and accounting.

One review course provider tells their SEE students to budget about 50 hours to study for Part 1, 40 hours for Part 3, and 85 hours for Part 2.

If you study 2 or 3 hours a night for a month or so, most people would think it’s more than enough.

Difficulty in Terms of Pass Rate

The US CPA exam has an overall pass rate around 50%. The CMA exam’s is lower, at 35% for Part 1 and 50% for Part 2.

Based on this data alone, EA is considered easier with the following pass rates in 2017-8:

  • Part 1: 61%
  • Part 2: 65%
  • Part 3: 86%

There are many reasons behind the statistics. The US CPA pass rate could be lower if they didn’t require all candidates to have an accounting degree or equivalent, and some mandatory courses in audit and tax.

But it does show that if one prepares probably, EA exam candidates have a good chance of success.

Difficulty based on Readers’ Feedback

I have a few readers who got a CPA and EA.

When they compare CPA’s REG section with EA, most agree that the EA exam goes deeper, but the questions are more straightforward. REG, on the other hand, has trickier multiple choice questions and the dreaded simulation questions.

Also, candidates are given 3.5 hours for 100 MC questions in the EA exam. For REG, it is 72 multiple choice plus 6 sims within 3 hours.

Enrolled Agent Exam Difficulty Comparison of Part 1, 2 and 3

Some of you may wonder which part within the EA exam is more difficult. In the past, Part 2 has the lowest passing rate but Part 2 seemed to have become considerably more difficult since 2017.

We cover this in greater detail on the Pass Rate analysis page.

Conclusion

It will likely take you less time to prepare for the EA exam. Also, given the exam content is pretty much confined to the tax code, a larger proportion of candidates are able to pass.

This, however, doesn’t mean that you can take this exam lightly. Your goal is not to pass the exam, but to pass it effectively, i.e. on your first try.

Here are 2 Steps to Improve Your Passing Success

We have two actionable steps for you:

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