How to choose your CPA Exam discipline section

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The CPA Exam has officially transitioned into CPA Evolution, an updated exam that is aimed at gauging the ongoing trends and changes in the accounting profession and updating the exam curriculum accordingly. There is a greater focus on in-demand skills related to data and technology as well as “higher-order skills” like thinking, problem-solving, analytical ability, professional skepticism and research. 

One of the research findings of the CPA Evolution initiative was that the profession is becoming more specialized. It is more common for firms to search for CPAs who have a talent and skillset in a particular area of business. In order to earn a CPA license, each candidate must pass the following three core sections:

  • Financial Auditing and Reporting (FAR)
  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Taxation and Regulation (REG)

Candidates must also pass one of the following three specialized discipline exams:

  • Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)
  • Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
  • Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)

To help you make the best choice for your career, we're sharing some tips to help you choose a Discipline on the CPA Exam. 

Before you dive in, National Instructor Mike Potenza shares the three questions you should ask yourself before choosing your Discipline. 


Which Discipline section should I choose?

For a bit more background, it's important to update your CPA study plan with the CPA Exam changes in mind and factor in the order you take the exam with your Discipline in mind. 

Take our  Discipline Quiz to find the right option for your career goals!

Before we dive in, it's important to know that there is not an inherently right or wrong track to follow for aspiring CPAs. All kinds of specialists will be needed in the future accounting profession, and there are ample opportunities for career advancement across disciplines. Also, choosing a Discipline doesn't set your career path in stone. However, it can be a benefit and an opportunity for you to focus on accounting competencies that play to your strengths and interests while building a specific focus area when you enter the job market. 

So, if you’re a current accounting student, what Discipline track should you follow?

Information Systems and Controls

If you’re skilled or interested in information technology and data management, you may want to sit for Information Systems and Controls (ISC) exam. Information technology, security and data management are a crucial and growing field of expertise in public accounting, as automation increasingly performs more rudimentary accounting tasks while also creating more demand for accountants who know how to derive insights from data.

As a CPA who specializes in ISC, some opportunities may include a data manager (which could lead to a position as a CIO or CTO) or IT auditor at a public accounting firm while also having fundamental accounting skills and the credential to prove it. Definitely a sweet spot for many CPA firms these days!

Tax Compliance & Planning 

If your interest is in pursuing a career in tax and compliance, prepare for the Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP) exam. Though certainly more “traditional” in a sense than ISC, TCP is just as cutting-edge and ever evolving in its own way since taxes and compliance rules for businesses and individuals are constantly changing. This is a vital public accounting competency for which there will always be a strong demand. 

If you closely follow tax rules and changes and enjoy the thought of helping clients ensure they’re in compliance and benefitting from tax regulations, this is the track for you. As a CPA who specializes in TCP, some opportunities may include working for the tax department within a company, a public accounting firm, the government, banks, hedge funds or even managing your own tax practice.

Business Analysis and Reporting

If you enjoy the more technical aspects of accounting and reporting, opt for the Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR) exam. This is a category that is more general than the other two but also elevates your basic accounting competencies above what is taught in the Core sections. Specializing in BAR allows you to help businesses confirm they are gathering the right information needed to analyze financials, make decisions and report to investors and other stakeholders – an always-important function of accounting, especially as new regulatory rules are constantly taking shape. As a CPA who specializes in BAR, you could pursue auditing at a public accounting firm, working in the accounting department at a corporation, becoming a controller, chief accountant, or even a CFO or CEO.

Researching your CPA Exam Discipline

Whatever Discipline track you choose to follow, be sure to not only do your own research but consult instructors and advisors on what they think may be the best route for you.  Are you worried that you will select the wrong discipline?  If you select a discipline and do not pass that section, you are able to select a different discipline section until you pass one discipline section.  Also, after you pass your discipline and core sections along with your other requirements, you will receive a general CPA license which will not reference the discipline that you selected.  If you want to change the focus of your career, the discipline that you passed will not hold you back.

We at Becker encourage you to approach this choice with excitement, as it offers you an opportunity to learn more about your desired career specialty. If you’re a career accountant, you may already have an advantage on your chosen Discipline, given your extra work experience. But whatever level of your career you’re at, and no matter which section you choose, you’ll still ultimately become a CPA.

Try all three CPA Exam Disciplines with Becker

Becker offers full 30-day access to all three Disciplines so you can become more familiar with the material and make an informed decision before you choose! Get a free 14-day trial of our CPA Exam Review > to get started!

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