Cheating on the CPA Exam: Bad Idea or Worst Idea?

CPA Exam cheating is serious business. Prometric testing centers have strict policies and procedures to prevent cheating. Additionally, the various State Boards of Accountancy hand out heavy penalties for cheating or attempts to cheat. Here’s what you need to know to avoid being accused of any cheating or misconduct.

How to Cheat on the CPA Exam

Does that heading surprise you? Well, consider this less of a “how-to” and more of a “this is what CPA Exam cheating looks like.” As usual, what counts as cheating is decided by each state and jurisdiction’s Board of Accountancy, but most follow very similar standards. Here are the major categories of CPA Exam cheating:

  • Falsifying or misrepresenting educational credentials to be able to sit for the exam in the first place
  • Communicating with other testing candidates about the content of the exam, or copying another candidate’s answers
  • Communicating with anyone but test center staff while the exam is in progress
  • Sending in another person to take the test in your name
  • Bringing a CPA Exam cheat sheet, textbooks, or any other print or digital media into the testing area
  • A certified CPA retaking a section of the exam (unless specially authorized to do so)
  • Violating the non-disclosure agreement or helping someone else do so

The Non-Disclosure Policy

Before you even begin your test, you must read and sign a policy statement about exam confidentiality, also known as a non-disclosure exam agreement. In order to take the exam, you must promise not to do any of the following:

  • Tell anyone about the “nature or content” of the CPA Exam
  • Try to communicate with anyone during the exam itself
  • Refer to unauthorized materials or use unauthorized equipment during the exam
  • Try to remove any notes, materials, or other content from the exam room

Essentially, not only must you refrain from cheating during the exam, but you must also refrain from telling anyone else what’s on the exam. This ensures that future candidates will not have an unfair advantage towards cheating on the CPA Exam. It boils down to this:

Any reproduction and/or distribution of examination materials, including memorization, without the express written authorization of the AICPA is prohibited.

CPA Exam Misconduct

There are also a few activities that NASBA considers to be “misconduct” – that is, not necessarily cheating, but enough of a problem to merit negative consequences.

  • Reading any of the test material aloud
  • Summarizing or taking notes on test material on anything but the provided noteboard
  • Tampering with the computer or attempting to use the computer for any purpose other than taking the test
  • Interfering with the administration of the exam or disrupting other test-takers
  • Refusing to comply with instructions from the test center staff
  • Threatening harm to other people or destruction of property

How CPA Exam Cheating is Handled

With all that in mind, what would happen if you actually tried to cheat? According to NASBA’s most recent Candidate Bulletin, the first line of defense is the Prometric testing center staff. If they note any behavior that might constitute cheating or misconduct, they’ll first issue you a warning. If you attempt to bring any prohibited items into the testing room, the staff will confiscate those items, issue a warning, and prepare a written incident report.

Should the offense be severe enough, the staff may dismiss you from the test altogether. However, if it could conceivably be a misunderstanding, the staff may choose to reseat you elsewhere in the room and/or watch you more closely. For example, if you were to begin to read questions aloud without meaning to, the staff could issue a warning and move you farther away from the other candidates. Of course, it’s best to avoid doing anything that might look like cheating or misconduct.

If there is reason to believe a candidate is cheating, the State Board will conduct an investigation. There will most likely be a hearing, at which NASBA can use any information from or about the candidate, including any confiscated items or testing history. Depending on the situation and the jurisdiction, cheaters may face invalidated test scores, disqualification from future exams, and even civil or criminal punishments. Since the test is the intellectual property of the AICPA, you can be sued or prosecuted for distributing it. Even if no one discovers the cheating until after the candidate receives a CPA license, the State Board can easily rescind a license.

The Bottom Line: It’s Very Hard to Cheat

The CPA Exam has been around for over a century now, and the testing company Prometric administers thousands of standardized tests a year. Thus, it’s very hard to pull one over on the testing center or a Board of Accountancy. Of course, various digital devices, which get smaller all the time, introduced a new challenge in recent years, but testing centers have adapted exam security measures appropriately.

Additionally, you may only take a break between testlets. This means you’ll have no way to consult outside resources between the time you read the question and the time you must answer the question. Staff strictly monitors break times, and all testing centers make audio and video recordings of each exam. There’s even a fingerprint system to ensure that the right person is taking the test.

Ultimately, the easiest way to pass the CPA Exam is to prepare yourself as well as possible with a review course. I’ve given my recommendations for the best CPA review courses many times on this site, and there’s something for nearly every price point. Why waste time trying to circumvent anti-cheating policies and procedures when you could simply study the material? It’s just not worth it. After all, this is all knowledge you’ll need to do your job as a CPA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Has anyone cheated on the CPA Exam?

If an exam exists, then at least one person has tried to cheat on it. Most stories of cheating seem to come third-hand from Reddit and other forums, where someone knows a test center employee who swears they saw, for example, a candidate come in with a camera on a necklace. However, according to the accounting website Going Concern, CPA Exam cheating stories do occasionally pop up in a State Board of Accountancy’s official minutes.

What happens when you cheat on the CPA Exam?

According to the NASBA Candidate Bulletin, “If a Board of Accountancy determines that a candidate is culpable of misconduct or has cheated, the candidate will be subject to a variety of penalties including, but not limited to, invalidation of grades, disqualification from subsequent examination administrations, and civil and criminal penalties.” Takers of the CPA Exam caught cheating typically have their scores dismissed and are prohibited from taking the exam again for a number of years.

Can I have a cheat sheet for the CPA Exam?

Simply put: no. You may not bring any written, printed, or digital material into the testing room. This includes books, phones, tablets, notebooks, recordings, or even plain paper.

Are there legitimate ways to cheat on the CPA Exam?

This is a difficult question to answer, because if something is “legitimate,” does it still count as cheating? Given the strictness of the testing conditions and the non-disclosure policy, there is no legitimate way to cheat.

How about a CPA Exam ethics portion cheat?

If you cheat on the separate ethics exam that you must pass to become a CPA in some states, you truly have no sense of irony. Most states use a standardized exam developed by the AICPA, which is an open-book test anyway. That means you may have your study materials with you as you take the exam.

About the Author R Bax

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