CPA timeline: schedule and preparation
For college students, graduation is not only a celebration of years of hard work, but also a time to start thinking about the future. Along with finding that first job, there’s one major moment looming for new accounting graduates: passing the CPA Exam. Passing the CPA Exam takes hard work and determination, so planning how to start tackling the exam can be just as important as actually studying for it.
Becker wants to make sure that you plot the best course to find success on the big exam day. With that in mind, we’ve created a basic CPA Exam schedule and timeline to help you plan your path forward and alleviate unnecessary stress along the way.
The path to CPA Exam success: your CPA Exam schedule
1. Getting started with your CPA study plan
While passing the CPA Exam is the ultimate goal, it’s important to remember that there are a number of hurdles to clear between now and exam day. First things first: you need to determine your eligibility. Each state or jurisdiction has specific CPA requirements regarding education stipulations, experience and residency, so you'll want to check those before completing your application.
Once you submit the required documentation, your application will be verified for eligibility and you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS). Your NTS will indicate the first and last days you’re eligible to take the CPA Exam and is valid for six months. Once you've received your NTS, you're better able to define your CPA Exam schedule for studying and sitting for the exam.
2. Understanding the CPA Exam
Administered by the AICPA®, the CPA Exam is split into four sections to test the minimum knowledge and skills required of a CPA. The CPA exam content is frequently updated to reflect the most relevant information for newly licensed CPAs.
You'll need to pass four sections of the CPA Exam, and beginning in January of 2024, that will include three Core exams:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
You'll also need to pass one of three Discipline exams:
- Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)
- Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
- Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)
Once you understand the scope of the exam material, you’ll be able to hone in on what will be the easiest or most difficult sections for you and plan accordingly. Becker can help you create a CPA study schedule that best works for your needs.
Not sure which CPA Exam Discipline is right for you? Take our quiz and find out!
3. Organizing your CPA Exam study schedule
Passing the CPA Exam requires a great deal of time and effort, so it’s important to allow for adequate study time of the in-depth material. Remember that once you pass your first exam, you’ll have a minimum of 18 months, depending on your state, to pass the three remaining ones.
By planning your CPA test schedule ahead of time, you can make sure you’re best prepared to pass the exam with flying colors. Most candidates spend between 350 to 450 hours of time studying for the entire exam; that’s about 20-25 hours per week, which can be a substantial time commitment on top of your other obligations. You’ll want to make sure you leave room for lectures, practice questions, mock exams and any other kinds of studying you choose to partake in.
PRO TIP: Plan your time strategically
In order to create a realistic CPA Exam schedule, remember to consider the outside influences that could affect your CPA study schedule. Ask yourself a few questions: Are you starting a new job soon? Is it your firm’s busy season? Do you have any events coming up in your personal life (weddings, vacations, etc.)? You need to take these things into account as you map out your CPA study plan.
4. Scheduling the CPA Exam
The four parts of the exam are not equal when it comes to difficulty, and some exams will build on knowledge you studied for in previous sections. So, it's important to create a schedule and an outline of how to schedule your exams. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to scheduling the order of your CPA Exams:
This approach entails taking the section that will be the most difficult for you first. Remember, your 18-month clock doesn’t start until you pass your first section, so if you don’t do well your first time, there is no rush to retake the test. Plus, passing your most difficult section first gives you a big confidence boost heading into sections you know better.
Best foot forward
You may want to start with the section you’re most comfortable with. It’s great to start off the exam on a high note with material you know best while you gain experience in exam format. If possible, it may make sense for you to start with the exam section that’s the most recent in memory. For example, if you took a business accounting course your last semester before graduating, you might want to start with FAR, as the business concepts and topics will be the freshest in your mind. Similarly, if you’re starting in an audit role post-CPA Exam, you may want to save the AUD section for last, so that you’re ready to dive in headfirst with your AUD knowledge.
To eliminate doubt and confusion about how to schedule your exams, we created a map to help you determine the best order to take the CPA Exam depending on the Discipline you choose. Typically, we do recommend starting with FAR as that lays much of the groundwork and foundational knowledge you'll need as you progress through the other sections.
PRO TIP: Account for the unexpected
You may want to plan for things not going your way when figuring out your CPA Exam schedule and timeline. Whether it’s not passing a tricky section, an extra-heavy busy season or unforeseen obligations, a number of factors can impede your CPA Exam progress, so always allot more time than you think you’ll need to clear the exams.
We do want to note that things like inclement weather can force exam center closures. Although these factors are out of your control, you can make sure to be proactive in planning your CPA Exam schedule in case one or more of these situations occur. Be sure not to wait until the last minute to schedule your CPA Exams!
5. Taking the exam
You must pass the three Core exams and one Discipline exam in at least 18 months with a minimum score of 75. Your “clock” begins when you pass the first exam section. Remember that the content may change between exams, so it’s important to make sure you’re using the most up-to-date material to prep.
6. Applying for your license
Once you pass the CPA Exam (congrats!), it’s time to apply for your CPA license. Before you do, make sure you meet the requirements to become a fully licensed CPA.
- 150 credit hours of education with a concentration in accounting. This includes:
- 30 hours in accounting subjects
- 24 hours in business administration subjects
- 15 hours in accounting must be at upper division or graduate level
- Minimum of one year of experience (approximately 2,000 hours) verified by a licensed CPA including accounting, attest, auditing or tax
Once you’re a fully licensed CPA, remember that you’ll need to maintain your CPE credits and other professional obligations based on your state or jurisdiction.
Complete your CPA Study Plan with Becker
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