The CPA Examination is considered to be one of the most difficult credentialing exams for professionals. It requires hundreds of hours of study time to pass, and it’s long.
You may have heard many intimidating details about the exam and wondered how much truth there is to them. One of the most daunting facts is that first-time test-takers’ national CPA Exam pass rate is just under 50%.
Although that’s true, it’s also true that you can set yourself up to succeed the first time you take it, despite the low pass rate. We’ll go over some specific questions about the entire CPA Exam, CPA reviews, the exam process, and more.
It’s vital that you use every resource possible to gain every advantage against that low CPA Exam pass rate.
Why Is the CPA Exam So Hard?
The CPA Exam is difficult because it will test your working knowledge and familiarity with concepts in various fields. This is why it requires so much studying and preparation. Most people cite the vast amount of information covered on the exam as the biggest reason for its difficulty level.
What Are the CPA Exam Sections?
The exam has four main sections, each requiring you to demonstrate your knowledge of many different accounting topics. These sections are:
- Regulation (REG)
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
According to the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the actual CPA Exam is the same for everyone who takes it; however, other requirements may vary by jurisdiction. The AICPA recommends that you check with your Board of Accountancy about any variations. For example, some jurisdictions also require a final exam on ethics as a component, and others don’t.
What Are the CPA Exam Requirements to Pass?
For you to pass the CPA Exam, you’ll need to earn a minimum score of 75. In other words, you must pass every section with a score of at least 75 points.
How are CPA Exam sections scored? A scale with a range from 0 to 99 is used. Scores are not curved. If you fail a section of the exam, you will receive a Candidate Performance Report from the AICPA.
A candidate’s total score in the REG, AUD, and FAR sections is a weighted blend of scaled scores from various task-based simulations (TBSs) and multiple-choice questions (MCQs).
A candidate’s total score for the BEC section is a weighted combination of written communications and scores from the TBSs and MCQs.
These scaled scores are calculated using formulas based on factors like the difficulty of the questions and whether the questions were answered correctly. Here is a table showing what portions of each section contain the different types of questions.
It’s a misconception that the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) develops the content of the exam and scores them. NASBA also doesn’t receive all scores simultaneously, as a popular belief claims.
Who organizes the exam? The AICPA does this in association with the 55 State Boards of Accountancy (BOAs) and NASBA.
How Long Is the CPA Exam?
The short answer is that the CPA Exam is 16 hours long. It is, however, broken down according to the four sections; you don’t have to take them all at once during one 16-hour sit-down! As you might guess, you will have four hours to complete each section.
You are required to complete all four CPA Exam sections within 18 months. On average, candidates usually take nine to fourteen months to pass all of the sections.
There is no predetermined order to take the four-section exams, and testing is permitted year-round. It’s worth noting that in addition to the four hours per section for actual testing time, you will receive an additional 30 minutes for breaks, a survey at the end of the test, and the exam login at the beginning.
Should you need testing accommodations, refer to your BOA or your designee for information on your actual exam length.
How to Study for the CPA Exam
To study for the exam, the NASBA recommends that you begin with the Pathway to CPA Exam Quiz. The quiz will ask you a series of questions to put you on the right path to the CPA Exam. It involves a series of steps to follow to make the process of becoming a CPA less overwhelming.
In addition, before you apply to sit for the CPA Exam, NASBA does strongly suggest that you become familiar with its Candidate Bulletin. In fact, when you apply for the exam, you will be asked to attest that you have read through it.
There are excellent study guides online that are extremely helpful for candidates studying for the CPA Exam. It’s also strongly recommended that you spend plenty of time on the NASBA and AICPA websites, which have valuable additional information that can help.
As for study tips, some of the most common suggestions from CPAs who have taken the test include:
- Study in short sessions
- Don’t memorize; actually understand
- Be ready for difficult questions
- Study at least 30 days prior to the test
- Use materials that work for you
- Use flashcards
- Set a study schedule ahead of time
- Take as many practice quizzes and exams as you can
- Keep a study journal
- Invest in a high-quality calculator
- Practice with timed sections
The more you invest in preparing for the CPA Exam, the better your position to pass it will be. Maximize your time management skills and begin preparing well in advance — even before you apply to take the CPA Exam.