CPA Exam Sections: Which CPA Section is Hardest?

Discovering the CPA Exam sections is very important in preparing for the CPA Exam. The CPA Exam follows a Core + Discipline model, and candidates must take 3 mandatory CPA sections (AUD, FAR, and REG) and 1 of 3 Discipline sections (BAR, ISC, and TCP). Plus, candidates must answer two kinds of questions, including multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. So in this post, I’ll explain the CPA Exam format and the types of CPA questions. I’ll give you a summary of the CPA Exam content, too.

(Please note: This post covers the 2024 CPA Exam after the CPA Evolution changes were implemented.)

CPA Exam Format – Number of CPA Exam Sections

How many sections are on the CPA Exam? And how many questions are on the CPA Exam? These are common questions, and I’m here to help you understand and pass the CPA Exam!

Core CPA Exam Sections

Candidates must pass four CPA Exam sections. First of all, everyone must take and pass three mandatory sections that are called the “Core” sections, which include AUD, FAR, and REG. Prior to 2024, candidates also had to take BEC (Business Environment and Concepts), but this section was eliminated at the end of 2023.

  • AUD: Auditing & Attestation – 4 Hours (78 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations)
  • FAR: Financial Accounting & Reporting – 4 Hours (50 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations)
  • REG: Regulation – 4 Hours (72 multiple-choice questions and 8 task-based simulations)

Discipline CPA Exam Sections

Starting at the beginning of 2024, CPA candidates must also choose one of three Discipline sections. But remember – you don’t have to pass all of the Discipline sections! Instead, you just need to pick one.

  • BAR: Business Analysis and Reporting – 4 Hours (50 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations)
  • ISC: Information Systems and Controls – 4 Hours (82 multiple-choice questions and 6 task-based simulations)
  • TCP: Tax Compliance and Planning – 4 Hours (68 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations)

CPA Exam Format – Question Types for Each Exam Section

You will encounter two types of questions on the CPA Exam:

  1. Multiple-choice questions – There will be multiple-choice questions on all four parts of the CPA Exam. They are based on the topics covered in the Content Specification Outlines (CSOs). Each exam section has three MCQ testlets (or groups of questions).
  2. Task-based simulations – These simulations use real-life work situations that you would face as a CPA to help test your in-depth knowledge and skills. The task-based simulations are presented after the MCQs testlets in the exam and are part of all CPA Exam sections.

CPA Exam Sections: Weights & Overview

Auditing & Attestation (AUD)

cpa exam auditingThis section is weighted as 50% MCQs and 50% task-based questions. As the name suggests, this section covers the entire audit process. It also includes other services like compilations, reviews and attestation engagements, and the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct.

If you already work in auditing or just took classes in auditing as a student, this might be a good part of the exam to take first. If not, many people like to take it after the FAR section is completed.

Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR)

cpa farThis section is also weighted as 50% MCQs and 50% task-based questions. Also, FAR encompasses the most significant volume of information in all the sections, and some people like to take it first. By completing FAR first, you’ll see some content overlap with the other CPA Exam sections, making FAR almost like a prerequisite to AUD and REG. Others save it for the last since it can be more challenging.

Since many students take several classes relevant to the Financial section of the exam prior to taking it, this could be still fresh for you. You should expect some questions in this section to be focused on key differences between financial statements prepared on U.S. GAAP versus IFRS.

Also, if you had courses in government accounting or non-profit accounting, it might give you an advantage in this section.

Regulation (REG)

cpa exam section regLike FAR and AUD, REG is weighted as 50% MCQs and 50% task-based questions. REG tests a combination of federal taxation and business law. REG also includes ethics and professional responsibilities. If you’re already familiar with tax or specialized in tax in an internship or job, this section might be a bit easier for you.

The areas covered within the business law portions are straight out of most core business law classes. Most CPA candidates find the business law section to be less challenging than the taxation portion. For the most part, you can rely on rote memorization for business law concepts. However, be prepared to apply all the taxation knowledge to very challenging questions and simulations.

CPA Discipline Sections (BAR, ISC, and TCP)

The CPA Discipline sections replaced the BEC section at the beginning of 2024. You don’t have to take all three sections – just one of them. Plus, you can choose to take the section that best fits your experience and career goals. BAR and TCP are weighed with 50% MCQs and 50% task-based simulations. ISC, however, is weighed with 60% multiple-choice questions and 40% task-based simulations.

Each of the CPA Discipline sections cover different content. For instance, BAR tests on business analysis and technical accounting and reporting. In contrast, ISC reviews information systems, data management, and privacy issues. And finally, TCP tests on tax compliance and planning as well as property transactions.

becker cpa exam discount code

Which Content Areas Are Tested on the CPA Exam?

Within each CPA Exam section, there are different content area allocations. These content allocations represent the number of content areas over all the various question types (MCQs and SIMs).

AUD Section 2024: Core

AUD Content Area Weight
Area I: Ethics, professional responsibilities, and general principles 15-25%
Area II: Assessing risk and developing a planned response 25-35%
Area III: Performing further procedures and obtaining evidence 30-40%
Area IV: Forming conclusions and reporting 10-20%

2024 FAR Exam: Core

FAR Content Area Weight
Area I: Financial reporting 30-40%
Area II: Select balance sheet accounts 30-40%
Area III: Select transactions 25-30%

REG Exam in 2024: Core

REG Content Area Weight
Area I: Ethics, professional responsibilities, and federal tax procedures 10-20%
Area II: Business law 15-25%
Area III: Federal taxation of property transactions 5-15%
Area IV: Federal taxation of individuals 22-32%


Area V: Federal taxation of entities, including tax preparation 23-33%

BAR 2024: Discipline

BAR Content Area Weight
Area I: Business analysis 40-50%
Area II: Technical accounting and reporting 35-45%
Area III: State and local governments 10-20%

2024 ISC Exam: Discipline

ISC Content Area Weight
Area I: Information systems and data management 35-45%
Area II: Security, confidentiality, and privacy 35-45%
Area III: Considerations for system and organization controls (SOC) engagements 15-25%

TCP Exam in 2024: Discipline

TCP Content Area Weight
Area I: Tax compliance and planning for individuals and personal financial planning 30-40%
Area II: Entity tax compliance 30-40%
Area III: Entity tax planning 10-20%
Area IV: Property transactions (disposition of assets) 10-20%

What Is the Total Testing Time for the CPA Exam?

The AICPA allows CPA candidates 4 hours for each section of the CPA Exam.

AUD: 4 hours

FAR: 4 hours

REG: 4 hours

CPA Discipline Section: 4 hours

On average, it should take four hours to complete each section or 16 hours total.

If you finish your exams before the 4 hours are up, you can end your exam early. However, if you do not complete your exam within 4 hours, your exam will end, and you will not have the opportunity to continue. So, pay careful attention and manage your time well.

What are the Pass Rates for the CPA Exam?

Historically, the average CPA exam pass rates for each section have been around 50 percent. According to the AICPA, at least half of the candidates who take the exam each quarter fail their exam part.

That can sound very discouraging, but don’t give up! Getting an excellent review course like Becker CPA gives you a much higher chance of passing.

Which is the Hardest Section of the CPA Exam?

The answer can vary based on your specialty areas and your strengths. What is hardest for you might be easier for someone else. We can, however, say that the FAR is the most comprehensive and covers the most information.

Many people find it easier to take the other sections when they take FAR first. However, some people are the opposite and will have a harder time with a more comprehensive test that covers a lot of material.

But we can lean on the CPA Exam pass rates to tell us which section candidates found to be most difficult. FAR had the lowest pass rates. AUD had the second-lowest pass rate, and REG had the second-highest pass rate. Therefore, the pass rates tell us that the hardest section of the CPA Exam is FAR. We don’t yet have the pass rates for the new CPA Discipline sections since they were just introduced at the beginning of 2024.

If you’re curious if the CPA Exam or Bar exam is harder, it may surprise you to know that pass rates for the Bar exam are higher than that of the CPA Exam, but only slightly.

What is the Best Order for the CPA Exam Sections?

The CPA Exam section order will vary for CPA candidates. However, I highly recommend taking FAR first because the content overlaps with the other 3 sections. I would advise taking either AUD or REG second, based on which one feels more comfortable to you. It’s up to you when you want to take the CPA Discipline section.

Here are some guidelines to help you do that:

  1. Play to your strengths – For example, if you’re currently working in a tax office, you may take REG first since that info will be familiar to you.
  2. Go in a logical order – If you want to go in the most logical order based on the information that is provided on each section of the CPA exam, then you should take FAR first, then AUD, REG, and finally the Discipline section.

How Long Should You Study for Each CPA Exam Section?

In general, it’s recommended that CPA candidates study for 300-400 hours for the CPA exam in total to ensure they pass.

The overall CPA study hours equates to about 80-100 hours of study time for each CPA exam section.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. However, it’s essential to ensure that you will pass. You can break the studying down into sections, use comprehensive study guides, and even join a study group to help you.

If you study while you’re still in college or right after you’ve graduated, you’re likely to need fewer study hours overall. You don’t want to re-learn all the CPA Exam content, so I advise that you take the CPA Exam no more than 6 months after graduation.

So, while taking the exam long after graduation isn’t advised, it is still doable. But you’ll need a top-notch review course that will give you more hand-holding if you’re going to pass all 4 on your first attempt.

What is the CPA Exam Section ID?

When you have completed your application and you’re ready to schedule the test, you need to get your CPA Exam Section ID.

Also, your section ID is the Launch Code on NTS. It is essentially how you register to take the CPA Exam and how you are tracked within the system. The NTS means you have met all of the requirements for taking the CPA Exam, and you must take your tests while you have an active NTS.

Where to get your NTS

You get your NTS from your state Board of Accountancy. Each state has a different set of CPA Exam requirements that you must meet before you can get your NTS and take the exam.

While you may be tempted to register for all the exams at once, this isn’t always a good idea. Most states have an expiration on each NTS, which is usually 6 months (although it could be shorter or longer in your state).

If you register for all 4 sections on 1 NTS and then cannot take all of the CPA Exam sections in the window allotted, you’ll forfeit your exam fees and need to apply for a new NTS.

How Many CPA Exam Sections Can You Take in Six Months?

Only register for as many CPA Exam sections as you feel you can realistically take in a six-month period. When in doubt, I recommend aiming lower.

You can always come back and add on a section later, but not being prepared for a section you’ve already paid for will create stress, and you may lose money on exam fees.

This is especially important to remember if you’re registering around the CPA Exam blackout dates. Part of your six-month window will always include a blackout period, and you will not be able to schedule an appointment to take the exam during the blackout dates.

Additional Tips for Scheduling the CPA Exam

Here are some other notes about scheduling your CPA Exam with Prometric.

  • There is no walk-in testing offered.
  • Appointments are always first-come, first-served. (Weekends tend to fill up very quickly.)
  • You can’t schedule with fewer than 6 days out.
  • You cannot take the exam during blackout dates

What is the CPA Cost Per CPA Exam Section?

After all of that studying and prep work, you might also be interested in knowing the financial investment to take this exam.

The cost of the CPA exam varies by state, but most states charge about $250-$350 per section.

cpa exam cost


With all of these details about the CPA Exam format and structure, you have the information you need to study for, register for, and take the four parts of the CPA Exam.

And some of these details, like the granular level of the content tested on each section, won’t matter if you use a CPA review course. It’s not worth the time to study the AICPA Blueprints (the outline of all the topics tested on the CPA Exam) because the best review course will cover all the content you need to know.

Want This Info in Video Form?

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!

follow me on:

Leave a Comment:

Add Your Reply