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Brick By Brick: The Structure Of The CPA Exam

For all of the CPA Exam tips, tricks, news, debates, updates, information, etc. etc. etc. that we provide our readers here at the CPA Exam Preparation Blog, I don’t think that we have ever truly broken down the structure of the CPA Exam and what makes up the grueling 14 hours that students will have to endure in testing.

The CPA Exam is a highly serious, structured exam administered at Prometric sites around the country. Just like other standardized tests the format does not change from person to person (although the entire exam is being reformatted for 2011, see below). Although most people are familiar with the overall structure of the exam, we thought we would explain the parts of the exam in more detail for our readers who are just starting out their CPA process. In order to conquer the exam, it is not only important to have a firm understanding of the accounting principles and concepts, but it is also essential to understand how the test is comprised and administered so that you are not surprised.

The CPA Exam is really four distinct exams: Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, Regulation, and Business Environment and Concepts. The total length of the exam is 14 hours, but each separate test is a different length AUD: 4.5 hours; FAR: 4 hours; REG: 3 hours; BEC: 2.5 hours.

The structure of the CPA Exam is built around three question types.

1. Multiple Choice Questions: Most of us remember these from high school – Pick the best response from a list of options. These questions are scored automatically by the computer and are allotted different values based on a variety of factors including difficulty level.

2. Simulations: Often people worry about this section the most. Simulations are case study examples of situations in which a candidate must demonstrate a wider array of skill sets. Rather than choosing from a list, candidates must create their own responses based on the information given. Most simulations will require several responses, which is what makes them so daunting. Simulations are also scored automatically.

3. Written Communication: This portion of the test requires a candidate to demonstrate their writing skills. In response to a case study, the candidate must prepare a response to a variety of professional documents. The key here is just to make sure that your response is on topic, regardless of if your answer is 100% correct. Responses should also be well organized and meet conventional business English standards. Not all written communication sections are scored by computers; some responses are scored by a network of readers who are also CPAs.

The Financial, Auditing, and Regulation exams are made up of five “testlets”. The first three testlets consist of either 24 (REG) or 30 (FAR, AUD) multiple choice questions and the last two testlets are simulations. The Business Environment and Concepts Exam consists only of three testlets of 30 multiple choice questions.

The multiple choice questions account for 70% of a candidate’s final score. Simulations account for 30% of a candidate’s final score, 10% of which focuses on written communication.

AUD, FAR, & REG: 70% Multiple Choice, 30% Simulations; 10% of simulations are related to effective written communication

BEC: 100% Multiple Choice