Pass the CPA Exam on Your First Attempt!

Hi, future CPA! My name is Stephanie. I'm a CPA Exam guide author and the person behind this site. I have been answering questions on how to best prepare for the Certified Public Accountant Exam since 2010. I'm excited to help you pass the CPA Exam!

CPA exam guide by Stephanie

Pass the CPA Exam with My CPA Exam Guide

Follow my CPA Exam guide to learn about the application process, the educational and experience requirements, the 150 credit hour rule, study tips, and testing strategies. I'll even help you compare your CPA review course options, choose the best course for you, and save money on your CPA Exam prep! When you use this free information and guidance to prepare for the CPA Exam, you can pass the first time!

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Your mini course was very useful and I am sad to see it end. I looked forward to reading your daily emails and getting a lot of useful info about the exam and how to study for it. I think your site/emails inspire me more and because of that, I've become a lot more focused and organized. I've even create a spreadsheet to help manage my time with my studies. You make learning about the CPA an easy and pleasant experience, and I actually LIKE reading about it. Keep up the great work!!


J

You have been an absolute great help so far and I feel so lucky to have your support, I truly appreciate it. Your detailed insight of 4 sections is really useful in determining what to sit first so we don't face any disappointment as these little decisions do make a difference in the end.

I am truly very grateful to you, you are absolutely wonderful.

Thanks heaps once again, and God bless you.


Neha

"I just want to thank you for all the great help that you and your site provide me with. If I had to know your site at the beginning, I would not have to google multiple sites to gather all the information that I need. I especially like the article where you compare different CPA review courses. I am also impressed by how quickly you responded to my questions and comments.

Thank you again for your help. You are a very nice person and I wish you and your family all the best!


Nguyen

I haven't taken the test yet, but everything looks good so far. You have helped me to know what to expect.

I know I'll take a prep course, and you helped me to pick out the one I want.

You also helped me with picking the test order. I was going to let FAR wait, but since it has the most material, I know to do that first. BEC includes some IT questions (I hate it), so I know to get that out of the way early. I'm also relieved to know that REG is mostly tax since that's where I'm already working.

However it goes, I know you've pointed me in the right direction.


Paul

Thank you so much for sending the tips. I just found your website the other day and it is really inspiring. I took the FAR exam one year ago and miserably failed... I thought that I understood the concept. It was really devastating to find out the score... One week ago, I purchased the DVD again. I am not sure how long it will take... but I just want to keep trying. I just started studying again from scratch... I am already having so much trouble focusing on the DVD.. but I really do hope that I will be a CPA one day. Thanks again!!


Mutsuko

Thank you so much for your reviews on the CPA review courses. It’s been nearly a year and a half since my last accounting course, and I was very tentative about which review to choose. Your advice makes me feel beyond relieved about investing thousands of my very hard earned dollars on the right study material. Thanks again.


Frank

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Kitty

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Karthik

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Teena

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Carrie

Thank you so much for the effort you have taken to help me out! It was fabulous! I have found it very useful since I could compare the different course providers, their way of teaching and like you mentioned Yaeger CPA is the best. Moreover, I am able to plan out in which order I could take my exams.


Judie J.

Excellent source of information. Thanks for pulling the information together.


Vinayak

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Marwan

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Sami

Thanks for your surgical assessment of this qualification of high profile ( CPA). Your notes and treatment of each of the four parts made understanding of different parts of those papers quite understandable and would go a long way in helping to create a successful plan of study. I really appreciate the time and effort you spent on putting this together. It is great people like you who give people like me needed inspiration and support to move forward.


Michael

This is exactly what I was looking for!! I wish I read this article before I started studying. But lucky for me I didn’t purchase all 4 courses. Thank you very much!


Emma

Thanks a lot for these notes. I truly and greatly appreciate all your time and generosity.


Marie

Thanks a lot for your 10 day mini e-course. You have explained each subject in such a simple language. Also, this website is of great help for the people like us who are actually confused and have no idea of how to become a CPA. Thanks a ton, Stephanie.


Mita

Hi Stephanie, just found your website and thanks so much for the useful information on CPA, it helps a lot.


Kelvin

Hi Stephanie, while browsing through various CPA stuff, I came across your very informative and helpful site. Its really a good effort put in by you for the candidates seeking CPA. I really wonder the way you have gathered all the information and put it in a very user-friendly manner. This e-course has helped me to have general as well as a specific lookout at the CPA exam. I really appreciate the efforts taken by you. Keep up the great work.


MSMG

Thank you for your 10 days tips for CPA exam preparation and the notes. It is really worth [it].


George

Thanks, your recommendations are very helpful.


Joelle

I’m very interested in becoming a CPA to enhance my credentials. Your site was so informative and well laid out and has answered so many questions that I have been desperately searching for!


Dave

Hi Stephanie, I have not yet begun studying for the exam. I plan on taking BEC in the July 2010 window. I would like to take this time to thank you for the book you wrote as well as these study notes. I found the tips and study plan options particularly helpful. Thank you for all you do!


Angela

With the help of this site and a little bit of luck, I’m now a certified CPA in IL. Woohoo!!

THANK YOU, STEPHANIE! Keep up the good work, what you are doing in here is awesome.


David

Thank you so much for your thorough response! Your interpersonal site could really encourage and comfort the people like me. I feel you do care. Thank you!


Sab

I have a Bachelor’s in Accounting but I graduated in 1995 in a foreign but accredited university. I am planning to take BEC because I still don’t have the motivation to study. It just bores me to death! I can’t even finish Chapter one of the first review book. I have postponed taking the test since I graduated because I just don’t have the interest to study some more. I may be working in accounting all this time but I concentrated in one area and one type of industry… I am not so motivated but then I realized that I will never get paid well if I don’t have my CPA especially now that I am working in an environment of people who have CPA or Masters in Accounting. I feel so little compared to this people. So I want to prove to myself I can be like them and also the review will serve as my refresher course in Accounting.

Thanks for your time. You’re now my inspiration!


Melody

Get Answers to All Your CPA Exam Questions

I have all the CPA Exam information you need. You can find answers to the most popular CPA Exam questions right here, and if you have any other questions, feel free to contact me

What Is a CPA?

CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. What is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA?)

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accounting professional who has earned the CPA license from a state board of accountancy. The 55 United States jurisdictions grant the CPA license after an individual has satisfied a series of education, experience, and examination requirements.

With the CPA license, a Certified Public Accountant serves as a trusted financial advisor that helps businesses thrive. A CPA is equipped with expertise in such accounting areas as tax preparation, financial statements, financial planning, internal auditing, income tax, and more. Therefore, the CPA license symbolizes that an accountant has mastered the most important elements of the accounting profession. For this reason, all sorts of professional organizations seek the assistance of CPAs.

What Does a CPA Do?

A CPA can hold all kinds of financial positions. They maintain high standards of accounting knowledge and ethics, so they can act as auditors, accounting consultants, business advisers, decision makers, tax accountants, and more.

Just a few of the industries in which CPAs are qualified to operate include:

  • Assurance services
  • Consulting services
  • Business valuation
  • Education
  • Environmental accounting
  • Financial planning
  • Forensic accounting
  • Government
  • Information Technology (IT) services
  • International accounting
  • Litigation services
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Taxation services

Furthermore, CPAs are competent enough to serve as company management and hold executive positions such as:

  • Accounting Vice President
  • Assistant Director of Finance
  • Assistant Director of Financial Operations
  • Chief Accounting Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Controller
  • Director of Financial Operations

Why Become a CPA?

When you earn the CPA, you’ll experience many major career benefits, including:

  • Higher Income

With the CPA, you’ll experience an elevated earning potential. That’s because CPAs earn better salaries than regular accountants do. In fact, you can make about 10-15% more than unlicensed accountants. Many companies give their employees bonuses for becoming CPAs. Moreover, with those 3 letters behind your name, you can charge more for your services.

  • More Job Opportunities

As the list of positions CPAs can hold proves, you’ll have a wealth of job opportunities available to you once you become a CPA. CPAs can work for private companies, government agencies, educational institutions, non-profits, international firms, and more. Additionally, CPAs can take on niche roles and thereby experience extensive job flexibility. With the CPA, you don’t ever have to get bored: you can enjoy enough job variety to last until retirement.

  • Greater Job Security

With the CPA, not only can you hold a whole host of jobs, but you can also expect to keep those jobs for about as long as you want. The CPA profession affords super job security because the skills and abilities of CPAs are always in demand. And of course, you’ll maintain the advantage over non-CPAs. The need for Certified Public Accountants is projected to increase in the coming years, so plenty of companies will be hiring. Or, you could always work for yourself to ramp up your career security and flexibility even more.  

  • Increased Skills and Abilities

In order to qualify for the license, CPA candidates must confirm that they’ve been well-educated in matters of accounting. Then, they must refine and demonstrate their accounting knowledge and skill through intense examination. They also must acquire years of professional experience. Finally, once they’ve secured the certification, CPAs must participate in annual continuing education to maintain the license. This thorough certification process strengthens your understanding and competence in accounting and increases your professional value and marketability.

  • Heightened Respect and Admiration

As you can see, becoming a CPA can lead to holding enviable titles and endless prestige. A CPA is the highest level of accountant, so once you get to the top, everyone else will be looking up to you. Clients, employers, coworkers, friends, and non-professional acquaintances alike will all hold you in high regard for your notable achievement. What’s more, they will see your dedication to the profession and reward you with chances to do better work and land better jobs. Finally, the fact that you’ve completed such a rigorous qualification process will boost your confidence and self-esteem, which will make you more attractive in the industry.

What Are the CPA Requirements?

To become a CPA, you must meet the specific CPA requirements of your state board. Each state board has slightly different expectations for candidates applying for the CPA license from their state, but almost every state board has a variation of these 3 requirements, known as the 3 Es:

  • Education: Candidates must earn 150 credit hours of higher education (a bachelor’s degree + 30 additional credits including accounting and business courses)
  • Experience: Candidates must acquire 1-2 years of professional accounting experience
  • Examination: Candidates must pass the entire Uniform CPA Exam, which includes 4 sections

Many state boards also have a fourth requirement, which is Ethics. To meet the CPA ethics requirement, candidates must pass the ethics exam chosen by the state.

These 4 requirements determine qualification for the CPA license, but there are also requirements for taking the CPA Exam.

What are the requirements to take the CPA Exam? Usually, the state boards want candidates to have 120 credit hours (a bachelor’s degree) in order to sit for the CPA Exam. Therefore, candidates can sometimes sit for the exam while still in college, depending on how many credits they have earned.

How Long Does It Take to Become a CPA?

Because some of the CPA requirements take a few years to complete, the process of becoming a CPA can last for several years.

If you earn the 150 credit hours, take the CPA exam, and then accumulate 1-2 years of accounting experience, this entire procedure can take anywhere from 6-9 years. However, if you tackle several requirements at once, you can pass faster.

For example, if you prepare for and pass the CPA Exam immediately after graduation and before you get your 1-2 years of experience, then meeting the requirements can take just 5-7 years. You could also sit for the CPA Exam while working full-time, which would shorten the process to just 5-7 years as well.

You must pass the entire CPA Exam in 18 months. However, you could finish the exam in just 3-6 months if you wanted. Many candidates have. Alternatively, if you fail a section, passing could take longer than 18 months. Failing even one section of the exam can set your CPA schedule back by at least a month, but sometimes longer, depending on when you sat for that section.

It seems that the fastest you could become a CPA is 4-6 years if you include the time needed to earn 150 credit hours.

How Do I Become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

If you’re interested in the CPA certification, you must follow these steps to becoming a CPA:

  1. Learn everything you need to know about the CPA journey
  2. Select a state board of accountancy
  3. Earn the 150 credit hours with the appropriate amount of accounting and business courses
  4. Apply to a state board of accountancy to sit for the CPA Exam
  5. Pay the CPA Exam fees 
  6. Study for the CPA Exam
  7. Schedule your testing appointments
  8. Sit for and pass all 4 sections of the CPA Exam
  9. Pass the ethics exam (if applicable)
  10. Earn 1-2 years of professional accounting experience
  11. Apply to your state board of accountancy for the CPA license
  12. Celebrate your CPA status (!) and update your resume
  13. Maintain your CPA license by fulfilling the continuing education (CPE) requirements

What Is the CPA Exam?

As mentioned, the CPA Exam, officially called the Uniform CPA Examination, is an exam all candidates must pass in order to earn the CPA certification. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) creates the CPA Exam, and while the other CPA requirements vary from state to state, every state board has adopted the AICPA’s CPA Exam for the examination requirement.

What is the CPA Exam like? The CPA Exam has 4 sections covering a vast range of accounting topics. The exam tests candidates’ knowledge of this information via different types of questions. CPA Exam question types include multiple-choice questions (MCQs), task-based simulations (TBSs), and written communications (WCs). Every exam section presents its questions in a series of smaller sections called testlets. Each exam section has 5 total testlets.

What Are the 4 Parts of the CPA Exam?

The 4 sections of the CPA Exam are:

These sections contain the following amounts and types of exam questions.

Question Type

AUD

BEC

FAR

REG

Multiple-Choice

72

62

66

76

TBS

8

4

8

8

WC

0

3

0

0

What Is on the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam covers accounting information related to auditing, attestation, business, financial reporting, and regulation. Specifically, the exam features a lot of topics in each of these content areas.

The CPA Exam Blueprints outline all of the topics the exam addresses in each section.  The content areas and coverage percentages of each exam section are as follows:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
    • Area I: Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principles (15-25%)
    • Area II: Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response (20-30%)
    • Area III: Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence (30-40%)
    • Area IV: Forming Conclusions and Reporting (15-25%)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
    • Area I: Corporate Governance (17-27%)
    • Area II: Economic Concepts and Analysis (17-27%)
    • Area III: Financial Management (11-21%)
    • Area IV: Information Technology (15-25%)
    • Area V: Operations Management (15-25%)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
    • Area I: Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting (25-35%)
    • Area II: Select Financial Statement Accounts (30-40%)
    • Area III: Select Transactions (20-30%)
    • Area IV: State and Local Governments (5-15%)
  • Regulation (REG)
    • Area I: Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and Federal Tax Procedures (10-20%)
    • Area II: Business Law (10-20%)
    • Area III: Federal Taxation of Property Transactions (12-22%)
    • Area IV: Federal Taxation of Individuals (15-25%)
    • Area V: Federal Taxation of Entities (28-38%)

How Long Is the CPA Exam?

Candidates have 4 hours of total testing time to complete each section of the exam. Therefore, the entire exam lasts for 16 hours.

And as mentioned, you must also pass all 4 exam sections within an 18-month rolling window. This 18-month period begins as soon as you pass your first CPA Exam section. If you fail to pass the remaining 3 exam sections within that 18 months, you will lose credit for the first section you passed.

If you fail multiple CPA Exam sections, the beginning of the 18-month window will continue to move back to the earliest section pass date, and you will continue to lose credit for the earliest passed section.

One characteristic about the CPA Exam that makes passing within 18 months a little trickier is the exam availability. Candidates can only sit for the exam during the 4 annual testing windows. The testing windows include the first 2 months of a quarter and the first 10 days of the third month of the quarter.

  • Q1 Testing Window: January 1-March 10
  • Q2 Testing Window: April 1-June 10
  • Q3 Testing Window: July 1-September 10
  • Q4 Testing Window: October 1-December 10

You can sit for as many exam sections as you want during a testing window, but you can’t sit for the same section twice in a testing window. Therefore, if you fail a section, you must wait until the next testing window to retake that section.

How Hard Is the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam has a reputation for being very challenging. Several features communicate the difficulty of the CPA Exam.

The first feature is the CPA Exam pass rates. What is the pass rate for the CPA Exam? Most recently, the average CPA Exam pass rate is a bit above 50%. Generally, the pass rates for each exam section fall within the 40-60% range. With such low pass rates, this exam clearly isn’t a walk in the park. And though the pass rates for some exam sections have been rising, there is still about a 50% chance that you’ll fail the exam. So, now is definitely not the time to start slacking in your studies. The CPA Exam pass rates prove that this exam is hard.

Another aspect of the exam that contributes to its difficulty is the fact that the exam tests candidates for deep levels of knowledge and skill. The exam does so in order to verify that candidates have the abilities necessary to fulfill the duties of a Certified Public Accountant. The AICPA has identified approximately 600 representative tasks critical for a newly-licensed CPA to have in their role of protecting the public interest. The AICPA has then assigned one of these 4 skill levels to each of these tasks.  

CPA Exam Skill Levels (from highest to lowest)

Evaluation

 The examination or assessment of problems, and the use of judgment to draw conclusions.

Analysis

The examination and study of the interrelationships of separate areas in order to identify causes and find evidence to support inferences.

Application

The use or demonstration of knowledge, concepts, or techniques.

Remembering and Understanding

The perception and comprehension of the significance of an area utilizing knowledge gained.

The CPA Exam evaluates candidates for these levels of skill to varying degrees in each CPA Exam section.

Section

Remembering & Understanding

Application

Analysis

Evaluation

AUD

30-40%

30-40%

15-25%

5-15%

BEC

15-25%

50-60%*

20-30%

FAR

10-20%

50-60%

25-35%

REG

25-35%

35-45%

25-35%

*includes written communication

So, as the CPA Exam sets such high expectations for candidates and has such low pass rates historically, it’s clearly a difficult, though not unpassable, exam.

What Is a Passing Score on the CPA Exam?

The range for a CPA Exam score is 0-99, and the passing score is 75.

These numbers do not represent the percentage of questions you answered correctly. Instead, your CPA Exam score is a scaled score that the AICPA reaches by discovering your scaled score from the MCQs, TBSs, and WCs (for BEC), assigning them the appropriate weight, and combining them.

For AUD, FAR, and REG, the MCQs and TBSs have a total scoring weight of 50% each. For BEC, the MCQs are worth 50%, the TBSs 35%, and the WCs 15%.

What Time Are CPA Scores Released?

When you sit for the CPA Exam, you will not receive your score right away. Instead, you’ll get your score on one of the predetermined target CPA Exam score release dates.

These dates vary every year, but generally, there are 5 score release dates per quarter. Typically, the AICPA schedules the first score release date for a testing window in the first week of the second month in that quarter. Then, the proceeding score release dates occur every 2 weeks after the first release.

Yet, on some occasions, such as when the CPA Exam has experienced significant changes, the AICPA will hold the scores for standard-setting. In these instances, fewer score release dates take place within each quarter.

What to Do After Passing the CPA Exam?

Depending on the order in which you complete the CPA requirements, you may need to finish fulfilling the experience requirement or education requirement after you pass the CPA Exam. But once you meet all of the requirements, you must apply to your state board for the license. After that, you will need to meet your state’s CPE requirements, so you can sustain the CPA license. The longer you keep your CPA license up to date, the longer you’ll experience the benefits of the CPA!

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