About the CPA Exam

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CPA Exam Basics

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The Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination is one of the CPA Exam licensing requirements to obtain CPA licensure and become a CPA. The exam is developed, managed, and scored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) with assistance from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and state boards of accountancy. The purpose of the exam is to evaluate the knowledge and skills needed for newly licensed CPAs (nlCPAs) to practice public accounting.

The online CPA Exam consists of four sections that are each four hours in length, requiring a total of 16 hours of test-taking time. The four single sections of the exam are:

The CPA Exam is administered by Prometric testing centers throughout the year, and all four sections must be passed within an 18-month deadline, and with a score of 75 or higher for each section. If you do not pass the CPA Exam within the 18-month deadline, you will lose credit for the section that was passed 18-months prior and the 18-month deadline will roll over to the next section you have passed. CPA candidates are allowed to take each exam-section as many times as they need in order to pass. The only rule is that once you pass your first section, you must pass your remaining three sections within 18 months. Your 18-month window does not begin until you’ve passed your first section of the exam. You can schedule the CPA Exam at any Prometric testing center.

What is on the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam’s framework is based on the AICPA blueprints document that provides a detailed content listing of each CPA Exam section. The CPA Exam blueprints incorporate the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives which classifies a sequence of skills that students are expected to learn and exhibit. In terms of the CPA Exam, there are around 570 representative tasks that all lCPAs must demonstrate when they begin their careers. Below is a graph indicating the four skill levels that align with each task found in the CPA Exam.

Skill Levels
Evaluation The examination or assessment of problems, and use of judgment to draw conclusions.
Analysis The examination and study of the interrelationships of separate areas in order to identify causes and find evidence to support inferences.
Application The use or demonstration of knowledge, concepts or techniques.
Remembering & Understanding The perception and comprehension of the significance of an area utilizing knowledge gained.
The CPA Exam changes every few years based upon the needs of the accounting profession.

CPA Exam Question Types

Each section of the CPA Exam contains its own question types, topics, content, and score weighting for each question type. There are 3 main types of questions on the CPA Exam with varying weightage in each section.
  • Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ): MCQs test the skills Remembering & Understanding and Application. They are questions in which you are asked to select the correct answer out of the choices from a list.
  • Task-based simulations (TBS): TBSs test the skills Application, Evaluation, and Analysis. These are case studies that ask you to generate responses rather than selecting the correct answer. Different types of TBSs include: Document Review Simulations & Research Questions.
  • Written Communication (WC): WCs are designed to test your writing skills and ability to understand/explain a concept
The table below provides information about the CPA Exam by section, allotted time, and question type.
Section Time MCQs TBSs WC
AUD 4 hours 72 8 -
BEC 4 hours 62 4 3
FAR 4 hours 66 8 -
REG 4 hours 76 8 -
The table below provides score weighting of each CPA Exam section’s question type. Those question types include multiple-choice questions (MCQs), task-based simulations (TBSs) and written communication.

Score Weighting

Section MCQs TBSs WC
AUD 50% 50% -
BEC 50% 35% 15%
FAR 50% 50% -
REG 50% 50% -

CPA Exam Testlets

Each section has a certain number of testlets which are blocks of operational and pretest questions that correspond to each section. There are five testlests for each section of the CPA Exam. For AUD, FAR, and REG, the first two testlets consist of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and the remaining three testlets consist of two to three task-based simulations (TBSs). BEC’s last three testlets are written communication (WC) tasks.

TBSs are divided into their own testlets, which prohibits candidates from moving between all TBSs. In other words, once a TBS testlet is finished, candidates cannot go back and must move onto the next testlet. It is important to note that candidates will also receive at least one research-oriented TBS in the AUD, FAR, and REG sections of the exam which will require candidates to search through authoritative literature to find appropriate references that will help them answer the question.

AUD BEC FAR REG
Testlet 1: 36 MCQs Testlet 1: 31 MCQs Testlet 1: 33 MCQs Testlet 1: 38 MCQs
Testlet 2: 36 MCQs Testlet 2: 31 MCQs Testlet 2: 33 MCQs Testlet 2: 38 MCQs
Testlet 3: 2 TBS Testlet 3: 2 TBS Testlet 3: 2 TBS Testlet 3: 2 TBS
Testlet 4: 3 TBS Testlet 4: 2 TBS Testlet 4: 3 TBS Testlet 4: 3 TBS
Testlet 5: 3 TBS Testlet 5: 3 Written Communication Questions Testlet 5: 3 TBS Testlet 5: 3 TBS

The testlets are presented in a testing process called multistage testing (MST). When a CPA candidate does well on the first testlet of an exam section, they will be presented with a more difficult second testlet. However, if a candidate does not perform well on the first testlet, their second testlet will be medium in difficulty level.

What Order Should You Take The CPA Exam

The answer depends on where a candidate is in the testing process. If you are a First-Time Candidate, the order to take the CPA Exam comes down to personal preference. For example, if you are fresh out of college and have an amazing Audit professor, perhaps you want to start with the AUD exam to give you a healthy boost of confidence. On the other hand, you may want to start with the most difficult and time-consuming exam parts so that you can get them out of the way early in the process.The bottom line is to make sure you do what works for you. But if you’re unsure and are looking for some guidance, here is our general recommended sequence:

FAR > AUD or REG > REG or AUD > BEC

As a whole, think of taking the four-part CPA Exam as a representation of your career. You learn the basics (FAR), you begin applying your knowledge as a professional accountant (REG, AUD), and then, like many, you may move on to consult, helping businesses thrive based on your expertise (BEC). You can read more on which part of the CPA exam you should take first.

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CPA Exam FAQs

Once you’ve sat for the CPA Exam, the Prometric testing center sends exam data files to the AICPA for processing. This normally takes around 24 hours after testing is completed and the date scores are released is called score release day. The AICPA provides great attention to CPA Exam scoring and treats scoring with a high level of importance. Each response to the CPA Exam question goes through quality assurance reviews by the AICPA’s team of experts. If you have any questions or concerns about CPA Exam scoring or if you have issues obtaining your scores, we recommend contacting the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) or your State Board of Accountancy.

The examination is NOT curved. Every CPA candidate’s score is entirely independent of other candidates’ examination results. The examination is a criterion-referenced examination which means that it rests upon predetermined standards. Every candidate’s performance is measured against established standards to determine whether the candidate has demonstrated the level of knowledge and skills that is represented by the passing score. Every candidate is judged against the same standards, and every score is an independent result.

If you’re thinking about becoming a CPA, you’ll need to first pass the exam. Before you can sit to take it, you need to qualify and apply to take the exam. Every state and territory has different educational and experience requirements. Be sure to check out our State Requirements page to familiarize yourself with the CPA Exam requirements of your local jurisdiction.
The CPA Exam cost and fees for 2022 vary from state to state. Check our State Requirements page to find out your state’s specific CPA Exam fees and requirements or visit your State Board of Accountancy’s website.
The AICPA and NASBA are restructuring the CPA Exam to meet a new CPA licensure model that is scheduled to launch in January of 2024. The goal of the CPA Exam evolution is not only to align with the new core-plus-discipline licensure model, but also to evolve with the profession. Today’s CPAs are required to perform more advanced tasks and contribute to increasingly complex projects earlier on in their accounting careers. Therefore, the 2024 CPA Exam will measure the knowledge and skills CPAs must have to practice their profession more efficiently and effectively.
What is the most effective way to pass the CPA Exam?
Practice. Practice. Practice. See what first-rate questions and answers TRULY look like.
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