CPA Exam Format

The CPA Exam is a computer-based test comprised of four sections. The current exam—administered by the AICPA —takes a total of 16 hours for all four-parts.

  1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD) — 4 Hours (72 questions and eight task-based simulations)

  2. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) — 4 Hours (62 questions, four task-based simulations and three written communications tasks)

  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) — 4 Hours (66 questions and eight task-based simulations)

  4. Regulation (REG) — 4 Hours (76 questions and eight task-based simulations)

You may take each part in any order you choose, as long as you complete all four-parts within 18 months. Scroll down to find tips for which order to take the CPA Exam.

Information on how you'll be tested.

The CPA Exam consists of the following testing components:

Multiple-choice questions

These questions appear on all four-parts of the CPA Exam and are based on the topics described in the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs). Each exam section includes three multiple-choice testlests or groups of questions.

Task-based simulations

Simulations use real-life work situations to test your in-depth knowledge and skills in a particular subject area. Some tasks you may be asked to perform include searching databases or working with spreadsheets and forms. Task-based simulations are presented after multiple-choice questions and appear on three of the exam parts: Financial Accounting and Reporting, Auditing and Attestation, and Regulation.

Written communications tasks

Appearing only in the Business Environment and Concepts exam part, 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.

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 the CPA Exam.

To become a certified public accountant, you must pass all four-parts of the Uniform CPA Examination. Each of the four-parts of the examination 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.

Exam Update Schedule

Exam Part Audit Business Financial Regulation
CPA Exam Review June
CPA Final Review June

Insight and tips to help you pass.

Knowing what to expect on the CPA Exam can go a long way in helping you prepare.

For detailed descriptions of the specific testable content of each section, see the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) published by the AICPA.

Which part of the exam should I sit for first?

There are two popular schools of thought to address this question.

  • One is that you should start with the part with which you are most comfortable.  In this way, you are able to start off the exam on solid footing and gain experience with the computer-based exam format while being tested on the content of greatest comfort.
  • The other is that you should start with the part you feel will be most difficult for you. Remember that you have 18 months to pass the other three parts of the exam, so if you don't pass your most difficult section, the 18 month clock will not start. Moreover, once you do pass your most difficult section, you can continue with the confidence that the remaining sections will be comparatively easier for you.

In either case, it is critical to understand the content of each part of the exam in order to assess which will be most or least difficult for you.

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 and/or non-for-profit accounting, that will be an advantage in taking this section.
Auditing (AUD): Auditing encompasses the entire audit process, 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 and/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 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 3 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.
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