CPA Exam



CPA Exam

Authored By: Jake Houston, CPA


The CPA exam is taken by individuals who wish to earn their Certified Public Accountant designation. The exam is very difficult and is made up of 4 different tests.

In order to practice public accounting, individuals will need to pass the CPA exam. Individuals will be tested on various skills and overall accounting knowledge to determine whether they are ready for their CPA certification.

Check out this complete guide below for more information on CPA exam requirements, costs, general information, and study resources. For more help, consider using CPA prep.

What is the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam is taken by individuals who wish to attain their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.

The CPA exam is broken into four different sections. The test as a whole will require 16 hours to complete, with test-takers being allotted four hours per section.

The 4 section of the CPA test do NOT need to be taken together – you can spread them out as you choose. You will need to pass all four sections of the CPA exam within a rolling 18-month period.

You can take the sections in any order of your choosing. The 4 sections of the CPA exam are:

  1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  2. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  3. Regulation (REG)
  4. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

The CPA exam uses three different questions types – multiple choice (MCQ), task-based simulations (TBS), and written communication tasks (WCT). You can use our CPA exam questions to help prepare for your exam.

Read below for more information on specific questions and how each section is weighted.

  • Multiple Choice – The CPA exam uses standard formatting for their multiple-choice questions. The questions will vary in length (a couple sentences) and will have 4 answer choices.
  • Task-Based Simulations – These types of questions will be based on “real-world” problems. Candidates will have to type in their answers. Some problems may be based around journal entries, audit, and analyzing reports.
  • Written Communication Tasks – These types of questions will challenge candidates and their ability to communicate effectively. Candidates will be required to submit a written response to various questions.
Section Time Multiple Choice Questions Task-Based Simulations Written Communication
Auditing and Attestation (AUD) 4 Hours 72 8  
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) 4 Hours 62 4 3
Regulation (REG) 4 Hours 76 8  
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) 4 Hours 66 8  

Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

The auditing and attestation section provides questions that focus on professional responsibilities, ethics, assessing risk in developing plan responses, performing procedures and obtaining evidence, and forming conclusions and reporting accounting information.

  • Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principals: 15-25%
  • Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response: 20-30%
  • Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence: 30-40%
  • Forming Conclusions and Reporting: 15-25%

Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

The FAR section is comprised of questions that emphasize conceptual framework and financial reporting, selecting financial statement accounts, selecting transactions, and state and local governments and how they apply to accounting work.

  • Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting: 15-25%
  • Select Financial Statement Accounts: 30-40%
  • Select Transactions: 20-30%
  • State and Local Governments: 5-15%

Regulation (REG)

The REG section is made up of questions that focus on ethics, federal tax procedures, professional responsibilities, business law, federal taxation of property transactions, federal taxation of individuals, and federal taxation of entities.

  • Ethics and Professional Responsibilities: 10-20%
  • Business Law: 10-20%
  • Federal Taxation of Property Transactions: 12-22%
  • Federal Taxation of Individuals: 15-25%
  • Federal Taxation of Entities: 28-38%

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

The BEC section provides questions focusing on corporate governance, economic concepts and analysis, financial management, information technology, and operations management.

  • Corporate Governance: 17-27%
  • Economic Concepts and Analysis: 17-27%
  • Financial Management: 11-21%
  • Information Technology: 15-25%
  • Operations Management: 15-25%

CPA Exam Requirements

Any aspiring accountant who wants to sit for the CPA exam needs to have significant postsecondary education in the accounting field. A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution used to be enough for most test administrators.

However, today’s advancements in accounting technology and new compliance laws mean that the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has adjusted the educational mandate to require 150 semester hours of credits (for most states).

It is important to note that some states allow you to start sitting for your CPA exam at 120 hours but require you to have 150 hours before getting the certification.

CPA requirements are generally similar for most states, but there are subtle differences – you can use our guide on CPA requirements by state to learn more about your specific state.

Some examples of degrees that most students will pursue before taking their CPA exam include:

  • Accounting
  • Taxation
  • Finance
  • An MBA with a concentration in accounting

Taking the CPA Exam

The first thing a candidate should do is decide which state they will be practicing in. This will usually be determined by where the candidate intends to work – some states may be more appealing than others based on different requirements.

Before registering, candidates should check with their planned state of registration and make sure all requirements are met. Candidates should gather all transcripts from their undergraduate and graduate classes. Some states have pre-evaluation services that candidates can utilize. The length of time for registration varies from state to state but applicants should plan on 1-2 months.

When applicants register, they can decide whether they want to sit for part of the CPA exam or the whole exam. Candidates will be sent a Notice to Schedule once they are registered. A NTS is an official document that allows candidates to schedule testing with Prometric – the official proctoring service for the CPA.

After receiving a Notice to Schedule, candidates can pick testing dates. Candidates can take the exam sections in any order they choose. A general rule of thumb says that candidates should reserve their seats within 45 days of their test date, but they can reserve a spot up to 5 days before the exam.

Read more about how many hours you should study for the CPA.

CPA Exam Dates

There used to be specific testing windows to take your CPA exam. However, there is now a continuous testing window. This allows candidates to take the exam year-round. The only restriction would be if you are waiting for your score from a prior attempt of the same section.

There are a couple of rules to keep in mind when scheduling your CPA exam:

  • Candidates can take one section, some sections, or all sections of the CPA exam during the same testing period. While this is allowed, it is not advised.
  • Sections can be taken in any order.

Prometric has testing centers in all 50 states. In addition to having testing centers in the states, they also have testing centers in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

CPA Exam Cost

The costs associated with the CPA exam varies from state to state. When taking the CPA exam, candidates should expect to pay an application fee and a fee for each individual section on the CPA.

Generally, candidates should be prepared to pay $900-$1000 if they are taking the whole CPA exam.

Most students will use a course or program to prepare for the exam. Check out our reviews of the best CPA review courses to find the course that best fits your needs.

CPA Exam Scores

Every testlet with multiple-choice questions can be one of two difficulties – medium or difficult. Additionally, individual question difficulty can vary dramatically, although “difficult” tests are generally harder than those labeled “medium”.

All CPA candidates receive medium testlets at first, though the succeeding section could be the same difficulty or higher. This is relevant because your CPA scoring process takes the difficulty of all questions into account.

All section scores are reported on a scale that goes from 0 to 99. Test-takers must reach total reported scores of 75 in order to pass that section. This is not a percentage – just a point total. Additionally, the total score from the FAR, REG, and AUD sections will be weighted as a combination of scaled scores from both the MCQs and TBSs. The BEC section is graded as a weighted combination of the scaled scores from all of their questions, including the written communication tasks.

The scaled scores described above are calculated using formulas that account for the difficulty of the questions.

Multiple-choice questions contribute:

  • 50% of the score for all sections

Task-based simulations contribute:

  • 50% of the score for the AUD, FAR, and REG sections
  • 35% of the score for the BEC section

Written communication tasks contribute:

  • 15% of the score for the BEC section

Furthermore, every section of the CPA exam needs to be passed within an 18-month window. This window officially begins when the candidate passes the first exam. If the window goes by without all four sections being passed, the applicant must start again.

CPA Exam FAQs

What are the 4 exams for the CPA?

The 4 exams for the CPA are:

  1. Audit and Attestation (AUD)
  2. Regulation (REG)
  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  4. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

You can take the exams in any order you would like. You do NOT need to take them all at once. Most students will spread them out. As long as you pass all 4 within an 18-month period, you will earn your CPA designation.

How much does a CPA cost?

There are many costs associated with earning your CPA designation. One of the biggest costs is preparing for the exam.

Many students will use a CPA review course when preparing. These courses can cost more than $1500.

In addition to paying for a course, you will also have to pay to take the actual exam. You should budget ouot $900-$1000 for this.

Some employers, especially the Big 4, may pay for some or all of your costs.

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