” This [Business Environment and Concepts] section covers knowledge of general business environment and business concepts that candidates need to know in order to understand the underlying business reasons for and accounting implications of business transactions, and the skills needed to apply that knowledge in performing financial statement audit and attestation engagements and other functions normally performed by CPAs that affect the public interest.” – The Uniform CPA Exam Website
CPA BEC Exam: An Overview
Many CPA candidates find CPA BEC exam the easiest (or rather, least difficult) exam. It is certainly the shortest and comprises only 3 testlets of 24 multiple choice questions, i.e. 72 questions all-together, and 3 written communications. There is no task-based simulation in this exam section.
Given my background in Economics I also find BEC to be a more relaxing part of the exam. Having said that, for those who are fresh out of college or are unfamiliar to how businesses are run in real life, it could come as a nasty surprise… as shown below.
Historical CPA BEC Exam Pass Rate
BEC is historically one of the lowest performing parts in the CPA exam. Encouragingly, the pass rate has seen marked improvement and is the only part with pass rate above 50% in 2012.
What Does The CPA BEC Exam Cover?
It is a test of all the business concepts applicable to an accountant:
- Corporate Governance (16%-20%). Role of Board of Directors, audit committee and other stake holders in corporate governance.
- Economic Concepts and Analysis (16%-20%). Inflation, deflation, interest rates, exchange rates, foreign currencies and their impact to businesses.
- Financial Management (17%-23%). Financial modeling e.g. EVA, DCF, NPV, IRR, and financing options such as various cost of capital (debt vs equity) and derivatives, plus related concepts such as loan rates (fixed vs variable) and loan covenants.
- Information Systems and Communications (15%-19%). Role of business information system in terms of management reporting and transaction processing; roles within the IT functions, IT basics (e.g. operating system, security, file organization), disaster recovery and business continuity.
- Strategic Planning (10%-14%). Planning, projection, budgeting, performance measures, cost measures.
- Operations Management (12%-16%). Cost accounting.
CPA BEC Exam Tips
Tackle The Different Topics One By One
BEC is a basket of miscellaneous business, economics and financial concepts. They don’t relate to each other, which makes the materials difficult to retain for some candidates. It is best to tackle each topic one by one.
1. Corporate Governance
This is an important topic and it ties with other parts of the CPA exam, particularly AUD. Special attention should be paid on the role of Board of Directors and the Audit Committee. It is not a difficult topic but questions could be tricky.
If you’ve had course work in Economics, the questions should be straightforward because the exam covers only elementary micro and macro economics. Even if you’ve never seen it, the concepts shouldn’t be too difficult. Candidates can “guesstimate” by common sense.
The strategy is to go through the textbook or DVD fairly quickly and focus the time in practice tests. You will be surprised to see how many wrong answers you may get — yes, that’s how tricky the CPA exam can be, and how they manage to have such a low passing rate. Don’t get discouraged! Once you get used to the format of the questions you will do much better.
3. Financial Management
I work in the strategic planning department and this is easy topic for me, but I understand it could look very complex for people who haven’t done any financial modeling.
The trick is to really understand how the calculation works, and you should not memorize anything more than the basic formula. If you can’t figure it out, ask the instructor in your class, or call/email Cindy Simpson if you are taking Yaeger CPA review. She has never disappointed my readers when answering their questions.
4. Information Technology
IT is a huge topic, and no CPA review course can ever cover all the content. IT is important in real life though: accounting nowadays does involve a lot of IT — all the journal entries are posted to the “System” that generates everything from monthly statements to management reports. As a result of its importance, an accountant must learn how to maintain the integrity and security of this system.
Having said that, studying all these for the CPA exam is extremely boring… I know, I have been there, and the reading took forever…
The good news is that this IT section involves mostly facts and terminology, and therefore questions are rarely too tricky. Most candidates are fine after reading over the materials once and spend the rest of the time working on practice questions.
5. Strategic Planning and Operational Management (Cost Accounting)
Many of you may have learned cost accounting in college, but for those who haven’t, this could be a very difficult section. This could be an area where you need extra help, e.g. call up the instructor to really understand the concepts behind it.
I think I still don’t really “get” cost accounting, but I know it well enough to pass the exam. If you really can’t figure it out, work extra hard on the rest of the BEC section and you should be okay.
My Recommendation and Tips
1. Do NOT underestimate BEC. Some candidates pass the other 3 parts on first try but stuck with BEC forever. It is easier for most candidates but not all candidates.
2. Work on your weakest area(s), be it cost accounting or financial modeling, work on plenty of practice questions.
3. Don’t give up. Don’t panic if you think BEC is difficult while everybody seems to have a breeze with it. Did you know that BEC had the lowest passing rate back in 2009? It’s not supposed to be easy.
4. Get Prepared For The Written Communications tabs. You are going to face 3 questions, each asking you to write a business writing (a memo, a letter to the client for example). There is no need to write in flowery words and instead be relevant, concise and organized.
- For my 7 tips on how to ace your written communications in the CPA exam, please click on this link.
How Can I Get Help In Other Parts Of The Exam?
Need More BEC Study Tips and Exam Strategies?
An entire chapter is dedicated to CPA BEC exam taking strategies in my new “How to Pass the CPA Exam” book (Wiley, 2013). While this book is written with international candidates in mind, Chapter 13 on BEC, as well as most other chapters in this book, is relevant to every CPA exam candidate.
You will find the BEC chapter broken down into 8 sub-topics, each with a useful summary and a collection of tips from myself and my most successful readers.
“Here is the book for which we have been waiting… the best guidance to help accounting professionals get ready and pass the CPA exam” – Yan Tan, my reader and CPA exam candidate who passed all 4 parts in her first attempt with 80, 89, 91 and 91
Click here for a snapshot of the content of the book. It is available in all major online books store including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM and Wiley Online.