CPA Ethics Exam: Complete Guide on Procedure, FAQ and Tips

CPA Ethics Exam: Complete Guide on Procedure, FAQ and Tips

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cpa ethics exam

The CPA Ethics Exam is required by many (but not all) state boards for CPA licensing in the US. Most candidates take the exam after passing the Uniform CPA Exam.

Let me address a few frequently asked questions:

1. Who administers the CPA Ethics Exam?

While some states run their own ethics exam or courses, most state boards pick the Professional Ethics Exam administered by the AICPA.

2. Does every state require a CPA Ethics Exam?

No, only 35 or so state boards require their to-be-CPAs to take the ethics exam. Please double check and see if this exam is necessary.

3. Is the CPA Ethics Exam Difficult?

Not really. The exam is more like a self-study, open-book test. However, since the passing score is 90 you have to be careful when reading and selecting the correct answer for the questions.

4. Can I Take the Ethics Exam Before I Pass the Uniform CPA Exam?

Yes for most states, but I heard that a few (e.g. WA) don’t allow this.

In general I recommend that you focus on the “core” exam first. You can always tackle this at a later stage. The CPA ethics exam is a necessary evil — not difficult but something that needs to be done.

CPA Ethics Exam by AICPA: Overview

The AICPA Ethics Course is a self-study course that may be taken online or through correspondence.

They try to make it more interesting by adding interactive elements (slide shows) and real-life scenarios to explain the AICPA Code of Conduct, the concept of “independence” and new rules from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It feels a bit like a tiny version of REG.

All in all, you should be glad to get the CD version — I used to have this thick book with small font and I had to constantly pinch my arms to keep going.

What to expect:

  • An 11-hour course, which you can take via the text or online format
  • 40 multiple choice questions
  • You can choose to submit the test electronically or the traditional way (see below)
  • A score of 90 or above is required to pass the exam
  • Candidates are expected to pass the exam within 2 years of CPA license application
  • Depending on your state, the course *may* be able to count towards your CPE credit

How to Take and Pass the CPA Ethics Exam

1. Purchase the self-study course

If required, your state board will tell you how to take the exam after you pass the Uniform CPA Exam. You may also check it out at the AICPA website. The cost of the course ranges from $129-189, depending on whether you have their membership.

In case the link doesn’t work for you, the pack you should purchase is called “Professional Ethics: The AICPA’s Comprehensive Course On-Demand (For Licensure)“.

2. Study the Materials

You don’t need to spend the full 10+ hours on the course (what a torture), as long as you don’t skip around and miss some important points.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Take notes so the concepts can sink in (at least long enough for you to take the test)
  • When working on the multiple choice, read the question carefully — they can be tricky
  • Don’t pick the first answer you think it’s correct. Spend the time to read through all. Remember, with a 90 passing score you can’t afford to make careless mistakes.

3. Submit your Answers

(i) Submit electronically

The full instruction can be found in the package. You will find a serial number on the answer sheet (the number that starts with “CPE-“) that gives you the access online. You can get the results immediately upon submission.

I don’t know if this still applies, but just in case… don’t worry if you see the answer sheet with 240 slots — I don’t know why but I can reassure you that there are only 40 questions and not 240 questions for the CPA Ethics Exam.

(ii) Submit by mail

If you prefer the traditional way, fill in the bubbles and mail directly to the AICPA according to the instruction in the package. It may take up to 6 weeks to get your results using this method.

Tips for snail mail:

  • Mark the bubble that ask the AICPA to send the result directly to the state board (you will still get a copy of the result, no worries)
  • Make a copy of your answer sheet in case the mail got lost and you need to resubmit
  • Use certified mail and keep the receipt

* * * FAQ * * *

1. I need help! Is there any review course?

The WA Society of CPAs have closed their “Ask the Ethics Expert” service. For now, you can check out my tips on the ethics section for the CFA exam. Some of the strategies, such as how to develop your ethics intuition and how to think like a lawyer, should be relevant and helpful.

2. I bought the course a while back. Is it still good?

AICPA give you one full year to study and take the CPA Ethics Exam. If this is not enough, you can ask for a 30-day extension by contacting AICPA Grading Depart at 1-888-777-7077.

My advice though is that you should take the Ethics test as soon as possible (but after the Uniform CPA Exam) and get it done with. It’s not that difficult, especially compared to the CPA exam.

3. I failed the CPA Ethics Exam twice… is there a limit?

You are limited to 3 attempts for online submission. After that, you will have to mail the answer sheet to the AICPA.

4. I registered and passed the exam in State A, but will move to State B shortly. I am about to take the CPA ethics exam. Which state board should I send my score to?

If your plan of working in State B is quite permanent, you can request sending the score to State B directly and transfer your CPA exam credit from State A to B at the same time. You’ll need to have fulfilled State B’s education and experience requirements for licensing before the transfer. Generally speaking, if State A is a substantially equivalent state, there shouldn’t be any issue.

More Questions?

You can contact the AICPA Service Center Operations if you have questions concerning their Ethics Exam.

  • Email:
  • Phone: (888) 777-7077

Next Step: Time to Check Out the CPE Courses?

Here is my recommendation and why I like it:

CPA CPE course recommendation

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try.Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight.Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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