CPA Exam Format & Structure

The CPA Exam is a comprehensive test composed of 4 parts, given individually, over a total of 16 hours. The four exams cover a wide variety of topics taught in most University accounting programs.

CPA Exam Blueprints

The CPA Exam Blueprints are created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to help CPA Exam candidates know what skills and content topics will be tested on the CPA Exam. The 2019 CPA Exam Blueprints were approved by the Board of Examiners on October 4, 2018 and became effective as of July 1, 2019.

 

 

Not only are the CPA Exam Blueprints intended to assist candidates in preparing for the Exam, but also takes into account the minimum level of knowledge and skills necessary for initial licensure once candidates become CPAs.

While it’s good to reference the blueprints to better understand what’s required of CPAs, you also don’t have to worry about them too much. We have already utilized them to guide our course materials so that you’re prepared for the CPA Exam no matter what.

2019 CPA Exam Blueprints

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What's covered on the 4 parts of the Exam, CPA Exam scoring and pass rates, education requirements, application checklist & more!

Topics by CPA Exam Section

Auditing
4 hrs
Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principles; Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Process; Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence; Forming Conclusions and Reporting
Business Environment & Concepts
4 hrs
Corporate Governance; Economic Concepts and Analysis; Financial Management; Information Technology; Operations Management
Financial
4 hrs
Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting; Select Financial Statement Accounts; Select Transactions; State and Local Governments
Regulation
4 hrs
Federal Taxation; Business Law; Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and Federal Tax Procedures

CPA Exam Question Types

Multiple-Choice Questions

One question and four potential answers, MCQs make up the majority of each exam.
Task-Based Simulations

Questions that require you to apply practical knowledge. This may include filling out a form or completing a research question.
Written Communication

Questions that require properly composed written essay responses and found only in the BEC exam.

Types of Questions by Section

AUD, FAR, REG Exam Format

The Auditing & Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG) Exams are similarly formatted. These three exams are composed of 50% Multiple Choice Questions and 50% Task-Based Simulations. The Multiple Choice Questions are broken up into 2 individual testlets: 36 questions per testlet for AUD, 33 questions per testlet for FAR, 38 questions per testlet for REG. The MCQ portion of the exam is followed by three testlets of 2, 3, and then 3Task-Based Simulations (TBS) for AUD, FAR, and REG, for a total of 8 TBSs per exam section.

score-weight-aud-far-reg

BEC Exam Format

50% of the Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) exam is comprised of Multiple Choice Questions. Just like the other 3 exams, the MCQs are broken into 2 individual testlets, with 31 questions in each. The MCQ portion of the exam is followed by two testlets of 2 Task-Based Simulations, for a total of 4 TBSs. Finally, there are 3 Written Communication questions in the final testlet- one of which is pre-tested – that require a written response in a memo format.

score-weight-bec

CPA Exam Content by Part

CPA Exam AUD Section

Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

15-25% Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principles

  • Nature and scope of audit engagements and various non-audit engagements
  • Ethics, independence, and the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct
  • Engagement documentation
  • Communication with management and those charged with governance
  • Quality Control

20-30% Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Responses

  • Planning an engagement
  • Understanding and entity and its environment
  • Understanding and entity's internal control
  • Identifying and assessing the risk of material misstatement
  • Planning further procedures responsive to identified risks
  • Materiality
  • Planning for and using the work of others
  • Specific areas of engagement risk

30-40% Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence

  • Understanding sufficient appropriate evidence
  • Sampling techniques
  • Performing specific procedures to obtain evidence
  • Specific matters that require special consideration
  • Misstatements and internal control deficiencies
  • Written representations
  • Subsequent events and subsequently discovered facts

15-25% Forming Conclusions and Reporting

  • Reports on auditing engagements
  • Reports on attestation engagements
  • Accounting and review service engagements
  • Reporting on compliance
  • Other reporting considerations

CPA Exam Content and Structure Q & A

The sections of the CPA Exam can be taken in any order. However, with the CPA exam changes beginning in April 2017, if you are eligible to sit for the CPA Exam now or will start soon, then it is recommended to take the exam in the following order:

 EXPLANATION
FARGet the most intensive Exam out of the way first.  
AUDChoose your concentration in school or work.
REGApply what you’ve learned to the business world.
BECTake this section last for a confidence boost at the end.

According to our recent CPA Industry Survey, 46% of people surveyed believe FAR to be the most difficult section of the CPA Exam. FAR requires that CPA candidates have a strong knowledge of US GAAP, including concepts and standards for financial statements, typical items in financial statements, specific types of transactions and events, accounting and reporting for governmental entities, and accounting and reporting for nongovernmental and not-for-profit organizations. CPA candidates must also be able to demonstrate the skills needed to apply their financial reporting knowledge required of CPAs.

However, this is a very subjective matter. The most difficult section of the CPA Exam can vary by individual, as some may find certain topics harder to understand than others.

If you fail a section of the CPA Exam, then follow these steps:

  1. Submit a reapplication to your state board/jurisdiction or CPAES.
  2. Get a new Notice to Schedule (NTS) for that exam.
  3. Schedule your retake of the exam as soon as possible.
  4. While studying to retake your exam, focus on your weak areas using your score report.
  5. Remember that the only true failure is giving up!

In order to take your exam, you will need a government issued identification and your Notice to Schedule (NTS). You will be provided a small locker to store your personal belongings as you will not be able to take them into the test room. Light clothing such as scarves, sweaters, or light jackets may be worn in the test room, but if removed must be placed on your chair and not on the workstation.

You are not allowed to bring the following into the test room:

  • Written notes
  • Electronic devices
  • Food and beverages
  • Hats
  • Outerwear
  • Watches
  • Notebooks

Weapons are strictly prohibited for all Prometric Testing Centers.

Candidates are allowed to take all four sections of the exam during any one testing window. However, a candidate may not take the same section more than once during any single testing window.