The best order to take the CPA Exam
A common question is which CPA Exam-takers is, which section do I take first? The best order to take the CPA Exam is up to personal preference, but we've created a guide to help you decide the best order for you.
CPA Exam content
Before we dive into our recommendations, let's review the basics of the CPA Exam. First, it's important to understand the breakdown of each part of the CPA Exam, so you know what to expect and can best determine which section to take first. For now, to pass the CPA Exam, you’ll need to pass each of the exam’s four component sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG).
Starting in January 2024, the CPA Exam is changing, under the CPA Evolution initiative. The CPA Evolution includes structural and content changes, which are detailed in the CPA Exam's Final Blueprint. One of the biggest changes to the exam is the transition from four sections to three core sections and one discipline section. BEC is being removed, and candidates will choose one of three discipline sections.
You must pass all four sections (or three core sections and one discipline section) within an 18-month time period. The best order to take the CPA Exam is up to you. Along with the order, you need to decide your timeline for spacing out the sections -- taking them over the course of six, 12 or 18 months, for example.
So, what’s the best order to take CPA exams? The short answer is: it depends. Your oder of CPA Exams can depend on your leading area of accounting expertise and practice, as well as your general test-taking preferences. Do you like to get difficult material out of the way first, or do you prefer to notch an early (and probably easier) win to boost your confidence in preparation for more challenging tests ahead?
Expertise and preference aside, we've put together a recommendation for the best order to take the CPA Exam before the exam changes, so you don't have to do the heavy lifting.
Which CPA Exam to take first?
Here is our recommendation for the CPA Exam order: start with BEC, before the CPA Exam changes in 2024.
The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section will experience the biggest change between the current CPA Exam and CPA Evolution. Most of the content that is currently tested on BEC will be distributed between two core sections - AUD and FAR - with other concepts being tested within discipline sections.
If you take BEC now, before the exam changes, you will receive credit and will not need to take one of the discipline sections in 2024. The discipline sections may seem intimidating, especially if none of the three options seem to strike your immediate interest or expertise. If you're worried about how well you'll perform in one of the discipline sections, take BEC now.
Where to go after you’ve gone BEC: best order to take CPA Exams
After you've tackled the BEC section, you can focus on AUD. Auditing and Attestation (AUD) will remain mostly the same after CPA Evolution. Some of the concepts in BEC will be moving to AUD after January 2024, meaning if you wait until after the exam changes, you'll be tested on more content.
Wait until 2024 to take FAR and REG, because both sections will have less content under the changes.
The Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section currently covers the largest amount of ground, content-wise. Plus, the section currently has the lowest pass rate of the four CPA Exam sections - for 2022, about 43.76% of CPA candidates passed the FAR section. That compares with nearly 48% who passed AUD, approximately 60% who passed REG and about 60% who passed BEC during that time period. Because of this, you should wait until 2024 when the section is potentially more manageable, and spend your time right now focusing on BEC and AUD.
If you have the capacity to dedicate 40 hours a week to studying for the CPA Exam, you could plan to pass all four sections of the CPA Exam in as little as three months - and have the entire exam out of the way before CPA Evolution. If that's the case, don't save FAR for last.
"Whichever CPA Exam section you decide to take first, or second, or third, don't save FAR for last," warns Becker's Senior Director of Curriculum, Angie Brown, CPA, CGMA. "You won't have the stamina." So, if you're going above and beyond to knock out the exam before it changes, do yourself a favor and don't save the "hardest" section for last.
Order of CPA Exams: what matters most
So, to answer “which CPA test should I take first,” while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for CPA candidates, a sense of urgency in taking the tests will serve students well, Brown says. “The highest rates of success with test-takers are with those who take and pass the exam as quickly as possible after graduation and as soon as possible in their career,” she says. Even with the CPA Exam changes, the overriding driver in deciding when to sit for the four CPA Exam sections, Brown adds, should be “candidates should finish their exam as soon as possible in their career.”
“The best thing (students) can do professionally if they graduated this year is to try to get the CPA Exam done as quickly as possible after graduation,” she says.
Never forget that Becker is here to support you - with your exam preparation and with study plan timing.
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