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What is the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam is one of the most grueling exams out there. Individuals who wish to earn their Certified Public Accounting designation will need to take and pass all 4 sections of this exam.

We will review what the CPA exam is and what is on the exam in our complete guide below.

Summary: Find out what the CPA exam is and what to expect. For help preparing, use one of the best CPA review courses.

What is the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam is taken by individuals who wish to attain their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is in charge of administering and scoring the exam.

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 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)

You will need to pass all four sections of the CPA exam within a rolling 18-month period.

Types of Questions on the CPA Test

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.

  • 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.

How Many Questions are on the CPA Exam?

There are a total of 276 multiple-choice questions, 3 written communication tasks, and 28 task-based simulations across all 4 sections of the CPA exam. Remember, you can take the 4 exams separately.

SectionTimeMultiple Choice QuestionsTask-Based SimulationsWritten Communication
Auditing and Attestation (AUD)4 Hours728 
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)4 Hours6243
Regulation (REG)4 Hours768 
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)4 Hours668 

Auditing and Attestation (AUD) Section

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) Section

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) Section

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) Section

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%


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.

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 out $900-$1000 for this.

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

Jake Houston
Jake Houston is our CPA expert. He is a Certified Public Accountant and has worked in Big 4 accounting.