CPA Exam BEC Structure & Format
The BEC Exam is 4 hours long, though the candidate is not required to use all the allotted time, and consists of 62 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs), 4 Task-Based Simulations (TBSs) and 3 Written Communication Tasks (WCs).
Of the 62 MCQs, 50 are operational, meaning they count toward the exam score, while 12 are pretested and do not count toward the exam score. Of the 4 TBSs, 3 are operational and 1 is pretested. Of the 3 WCs, 2 are operational and 1 is pretested. Other than scoring, there is no functional difference between operational and pretested questions and no sure way for the candidate to tell the difference between an operational and pretested question.
The BEC Exam is organized into five testlets – two 31-question MCQ testlets followed by a 2-question TBS testlet, then an optional 15-minute break that does not count against the 4-hour test time, then an additional 2-question TBS testlet, then one 3-task WC testlet. The candidate proceeds at his or her own pace through the testlets. Once a testlet has been submitted, it cannot be revisited.
The operational MCQs count 50% toward a candidate’s exam score. The operational TBSs count 35% toward a candidate’s exam score. The operational WCs count 15% toward a candidate’s exam score.
By default the first MCQ testlet is of ‘Medium’ difficulty. The difficulty level the next MCQ testlet depends on the candidate’s performance on the first testlet. The candidate will therefore experience one of the following MCQ testlet difficulty sequences:
- Medium – Difficult (candidate performed well on first testlet)
- Medium – Medium (candidate did not perform well on first testlet)
Characterizing a testlet as ‘medium’ or ‘difficult’ refers to the average difficulty of the questions in an MCQ testlet. There is not a binary ‘medium’ or ‘difficult’ value assigned to each MCQ. Rather, the difficulty level of each question exists on a numeric scale.
Credit awarded for MCQs is weighted by difficulty level, meaning more credit is awarded for getting a more difficult question correct than for getting a less difficult question correct. Therefore, a candidate with a Difficult testlet is not penalized for having harder questions, nor is there any advantage in having two Medium testlets.
It is still possible to pass the exam even with a Medium-Medium MCQ testlet sequence. In these cases, good-to-excellent performance on the second MCQ testlet, the TBS testlet and the WC testlet is key to passing.
The assigned TBS testlet and the assigned WC testlet are pre-selected and have nothing to do with the candidate’s performance on the preceding MCQ testlets, nor do the TBSs and WCs within a TBS testlet or within the WC testlet proceed according to performance on the previous item.
WCs are graded according to three general criteria: organization, development, and expression.
Organization refers to structure, ordering of ideas, and connections between ideas. An overview or thesis statement is expected, along with unified paragraphs and well-chosen transitions and connecting elements.
Development refers to supporting evidence or information to clarify the candidate’s assertions. It includes details, definitions, examples, and rephrasing.
Expression refers to the quality of the business English used. Grammar, punctuation, word usage, capitalization and spelling are all considered.
Operational WCs are graded via software, but are automatically reviewed and re-graded by human scorers if the candidate is ‘on the bubble’ or close to a passing score on the BEC exam. If more than one person re-grades a candidate’s WC responses, the average of the human graders’ scores will be the candidate’s final WC score.