CPA Exam Parts

The basics

Administered by the AICPA®, the CPA Exam is a computer-based test comprised of four sections. The current version of the exam takes a total of 16 hours. 

CPA Exam sections:

Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
4 Hours (72 questions and eight task-based simulations)
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
4 Hours (62 questions, four task-based simulations and three written communications tasks)
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
4 Hours (66 questions and eight task-based simulations)
Regulation (REG)
4 Hours (76 questions and eight task-based simulations)
 

CPA Exam questions

The CPA Exam consists of three components:

1) Multiple-choice questions

Each exam section includes three multiple-choice testlests or groups of questions covering topics described in the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs). 

2) Task-based simulations

The exam simulations use real-life work situations to test your in-depth knowledge and skills in a particular subject area. The simulations appear on three of the exam parts: Financial Accounting and Reporting, Auditing and Attestation and Regulation.

3) Written communications tasks

Only appearing on the Business Environment and Concepts section, these tasks require you to respond in either memo or letter format to a scenario based on the topics outlined in the CSOs. You will have access to word processing to prepare your answers.

Detailed descriptions of the specific testable content for each section can be found in the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) published by the AICPA.

Testable Content
  Multiple-choice Task-based Written
Auditing and Attestation (AUD) 50% 50% -
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) 50% 35% 15%
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) 50% 50% -
Regulation (REG) 50% 50% -

Grading system

You MUST pass all four CPA Exam parts to become a certified public accountant. Each examination section is graded on a scale of 0 to 99, using a rigorous scoring structure. The minimum passing score is 75.

Download and read How the CPA Exam is scored.

What order should you take the exam in?
Option #1: Hardest 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. 

Option #2: Best foot forward

It might make sense to start with the part you’re most comfortable with. It’s a great way to start off the exam, with material you know best while you gain experience in exam format. 
 

Financial (FAR)

Financial encompasses the largest volume of information, which can make it challenging. However, most students take several classes relevant to this section of the exam during their degree program, so it is also likely to be relatively fresh. Candidates should expect some questions focused on key differences between financial statements prepared on a U.S. GAAP basis versus those prepared on an IFRS® basis. In addition, if you had the opportunity to take a course in governmental or not-for-profit accounting or both, that will be an advantage in taking this section.

Auditing (AUD)

Auditing encompasses the entire audit process, plus other services including compilations, reviews and attestation engagements, and the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. If you took your auditing class during your final semester or you’ll be working in the audit practice of a public accounting firm, Auditing might be a great place to start. On the other hand, you may find it beneficial to take the Auditing exam after Financial since a strong understanding of U.S. GAAP and IFRS will help you answer many of the questions in this section.

Regulation (REG)

Regulation is the combination of federal taxation and business law, including ethics and professional responsibilities. Students who are familiar with tax, whether personal, partnership or corporate, should be comfortable with the Regulation materials. The areas covered within the business law portions are straight out of most university business law core classes. And, since the Regulation exam tests U.S. tax law and business law, it is effectively immune to IFRS. If you will or are working in a tax practice, Regulation might be a place to start to gain confidence.

Business (BEC)

Business can be a challenging test because of the breadth of the material, including operations and strategic management, economics, financial management and information technology. Many students find it helpful to take the Business exam after Financial and Audit because issues related to auditing (e.g., internal controls) and financial accounting (e.g., IFRS, working capital, and debt/equity financing) may be tested as part of the corporate governance, economics and financial management sections. A significant component of the BEC exam is the three written communication tasks; 15% of your score will be based on your ability to effectively communicate in writing. If you are a capable writer, this may prove a great advantage in succeeding on this part of the exam.