CPA

The CPA Exam blueprint

8 min read
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In 2024, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) launched CPA Evolution – a new CPA Exam format designed to reduce skill gaps, create flexibility, and provide greater opportunities for accountants to develop specialized knowledge in particular areas. 

To bring you up to speed, we’re providing an overview of the format and content in the CPA Exam blueprint. 

A summary of the CPA Exam blueprint 

Starting in 2024, the CPA Exam will consist of three Core sections that all candidates must pass. They must also pass one of three Discipline sections that focus on a specialized knowledge. Candidates who passed Business Environments and Concepts (BEC) prior to 2024 will not need to pass a Discipline. The 2024 CPA Exam blueprint also includes changes to the CPA Exam content, section time, question count, and skill level as well as how the CPA Exam sections are scored.

Jump ahead

  1. Why change the CPA Exam blueprint?
  2. Changes to the 2024 CPA Exam
  3. CPA Exam section content
  4. CPA Exam section structure and scoring
  5. CPA Exam skill levels
  6. Key takeaways from the CPA Exam Blueprint

 

Why change the CPA Exam blueprint?

Planning the sweeping changes to the CPA Exam blueprint started following an AICPA report1 published in 2019. The report showed that accounting firms were hiring fewer accountants and investing more in employees with stronger competency in technology and data analytics. A gap analysis showed that recent accounting graduates were skilled in data analytics and IT audits, but were less skilled in cybersecurity, IT governance, or Systems and Organization Control (SOC) engagement. To address these gaps and ensure that the accounting degree is still relevant, the AICPA and NASBA worked together to transform the existing CPA Exam.

Changes to the CPA Exam structure

Prior to 2024, the CPA Exam consisted of four sections that all candidates had to pass: 

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

The AICPA and NASBA The new CPA Exam, called CPA Evolution, introduced a new structure, consisting of three Core exams that all candidates must pass. Each section focuses on knowledge and skills universal to all CPAs:

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

Candidates must also pass one of three Discipline sections. Each one is centered on more specialized knowledge and skills gained in the Core sections:

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

 

 

Not sure which Discipline is right for you? Take our 4-question quiz to find out! 

 

CPA Exam section content

Core section - Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

The AUD Core section tests knowledge and skills you will need to show when performing audit engagements, attestation engagements, and accounting and review service engagements. The list below breaks down the content areas on the AUD section and how it’s allocated:  

new AUD content allocation

 

Core section - Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

The FAR Core section tests the knowledge and skills needed with respect to financial accounting and reporting frameworks, including those issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (U.S. SEC) and the AICPA for use by both for-profit and non-profit entities.

new FAR content

 

Core section - Taxation and Regulation (REG)

 The REG Core section tests the knowledge and skills concerning U.S. ethics and professional responsibilities related to tax practice, U.S. business law, and U.S. federal tax compliance for individuals and entities with a focus on recurring and routine transactions. 

new REG content

 

Discipline section - Business Analytics and Reporting (BAR)

The BAR Discipline section tests more complex technical accounting topics than those covered by FAR. More specifically, this section assesses knowledge and skills related to: 

  • Analyzing financial statements and financial information
  • Select technical accounting and reporting requirements under the FASB and SEC
  • Financial accounting and reporting requirements under GASB that are applicable to state and local government entities
  • Data and technology concepts, such as verifying the accuracy of sources used to analyzed financial statements and information and determining methods to transform data into a valuable tool used in decision-making. 
  • Applied research, focusing on reviewing and using source materials to complete tasks, including identifying problems, analyzing facts, and determining appropriate responses

 

BAR content

 

Discipline section - Information Systems and Controls (ISC)

The ISC Discipline section tests the knowledge and skills concerning information systems, including processing integrity, availability, security, confidentiality, and processing. It also covers topics a CPA must be competent in related to data management, including data collection, storage, and usage throughout the data life cycle. It also assesses the knowledge and skills related to information technology (IT) audit and advisory services, including SOC engagements.

ISC content

 

Discipline section - Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)

The TCP Discipline section will assess skills and knowledge related to U.S. federal tax compliance for individuals and entities, U.S. federal tax planning for individuals and entities, and personal financial planning.

  • Federal tax compliance emphasizes nonroutine and complex transactions and focuses on your role in preparing and reviewing tax returns. 
  • Federal tax planning focuses on your role in analyzing the tax implications of proposed transactions, available tax options, or business structures. 
  • Personal finance planning focuses on the strategies and opportunities typically identified by CPAs in connection with individual tax return preparation and review.
TCP content

 

CPA Exam section time and question count

The time allowed for each section of the CPA Exam is not changing. The time for each section of the exam, including Core sections and Disciplines, is four hours. Within the individual sections, there are two testlets consisting of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and three testlets consisting of task-based simulations (TBSs). 

chart showing new cpa exam section time

 

It's important to note that with the removal of BEC, there are no longer any written communication tasks. 

Skill levels in the CPA Exam blueprint

Like the original CPA Exam, the new CPA Exam blueprint has the same skill level categories: remembering and understanding, application, analysis, and evaluation. 

new cpa exam skill level allocation

The table below outlines the skill level categories within each CPA Exam section

chart showing new cpa exam score weights

 

Key takeaways from the new CPA Exam blueprint

The blueprint shares a ton of new information, but overall, it appears that a small amount of content will be eliminated from the current exam. 

Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • Most of the content that was previously assessed in the BEC section has been moved to the AUD, FAR, BAR and ISC sections, except the written communication item which will be completely removed. 
  • The content from the current FAR section will be split between the new FAR and BAR sections.
  • Content from the current REG section will be split between the new REG and TCP sections. 
  • Some content in the current FAR and REG sections will now be tested in the BAR and TCP Discipline sections, respectively.   

Below is a diagram to help summarize these changes. 

change summary

 A few important transition items to note: 

  • If you passed AUD, FAR, and REG prior to January 2024, you will not need to pass the updated versions. 
  • If you passed BEC before January 2024, you will not need to take a Discipline section of the exam.  
  • If you fail a discipline section of the exam, you can switch to a different discipline if you find that there is a better option for you. 

 

Download our FREE CPA Exam ebook 

If you want to learn more about the CPA Exam, download our free CPA Exam guide for 2024 and get a clear look at what you can expect. What's inside? 

  • An overview of the CPA Exam
  • Comprehensive details of each section, including the exam format, section times, scoring details, and key content areas
  • Choosing your Discipline
  • Do's and don'ts to get ready for the CPA Exam
  • Exam study tips
  • Multiple-choice practice questions

Download it here

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