CPA Exam Schedule

cpa exam schedule

A proper planning of your CPA exam schedule and testing dates will make your life much easier, and greatly increase your chance to pass the CPA exam.

I am going to walk you through my recommended CPA exam schedule and explain the reasoning behind it.

Did You Know…

The passing rate of the CPA exam has been increasing. In 2018, we’ve seen some of the highest section pass rates ever, and the average is now 53%.

One of the reasons is that the computerized exam has allowed CPA candidates the flexibility to take the exam almost anytime during the year.

Then and Now

Prior to 2004, when the CPA Exam was still in the pen-and-paper format, the exam was held in specific dates twice a year. Candidates had no choice but to take multiple sections if they wanted to complete the exam within a year.

With the computerized format, CPA candidates can work around their own schedules and take the CPA Exam sections one at a time within the 18-month window.

How to Design Your CPA Exam Schedule

It depends on your work and family commitment. In general, I recommend taking the 4 parts one at a time, because:

  • You can focus 100% on one part of the exam.
  • You tend to do better after getting some exam-taking experience.
  • The CPA Exam fees are the same anyway (so why pay them all at once and torture yourself?)

An exception is for those who incur a lot of traveling and accommodation cost to get to the exam centers, e.g. international candidates who need to travel by air to the US.

The Strategy

1. Plan Ahead and Pick the Dates.

Even out your CPA exam schedule. Avoid possible crashes with important events in your (and your family’s) life, such as getting married, having a baby, or changing careers.

2. Aim to Complete All Sections within 12 Months

For most candidates, this is doable as long as you put in sufficient time and effort. Once you complete one part, you will only have 18 months to pass the rest of the exam or risk retaking the sections you have completed.

In other words, as soon as you pass the first part of the exam, the 18-month clock begins to tick.

I recommend spreading the 4 CPA exams somewhat evenly within 12 months instead of the full 18 months. You can

  • shorten the ordeal
  • build in some buffer in case of retakes or postponements

3. Take the Toughest CPA Sections First

Some people may disagree with this CPA Exam schedule strategy, but I prefer getting rid of the toughest beast first, because:

  • Your energy level and ability to focus is the highest at the beginning of the year-long study.
  • It feels so much better to have tackled the toughest part. This is the best motivation you can ever have to get done with the exam.

Along these lines, I recommend taking FAR first because:

  • FAR is the longest, but not necessarily the most difficult if you know accounting.
  • The exam questions are similar to the accounting coursework you have in school so you should take it when memory is still fresh.

Take AUD after FAR

AUD is closely related to FAR. It makes sense to take the two parts closely together.

Having said that, if you just started your work at an audit firm, you may consider taking AUD last. There will be so much you can pick up on the job that you can expect yourself to do much better if you take AUD a few months later.

REG vs BEC? Depends on Your Expertise

I find REG the most difficult myself (maybe I’m really not interested in the topic) so I also wanted to get it out of the way early.

BEC is the shortest and easiest CPA Exam in my opinion, and as far as I know, most CPA candidates agree with me (BEC can be tricky though, but it’s another topic). Since you must be sick of all the studying by then, you will appreciate the decision of saving the easiest one at the end of your CPA Exam journey.

One Last Note

Don’t blindly stick with my suggested CPA Exam schedule. If you are a tax accountant you might find REG the easiest, and FAR the most difficult. It depends on your background, and you should adjust your own CPA Exam schedule accordingly.

As long as you put in your thoughts and plan ahead, you will be able to optimize your time and energy to tackle this efficiently and effectively.

Two Different CPA Exam Schedules from My Bloggers

To give you an example, Travis and Sumit have different views on how they plan the exam sections:

Travis bioVSsumit-profile
TravisStatus: passed all partsAUD -> REG -> FAR -> BEC(In retrospect he would have taken FAR first)SumitStatus: just startedAUD -> BEC -> REG -> FAR(See why he takes FAR last)

For Your Further Reading

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites

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  • Vladimir says:

    Dear Stephanie,
    thank you for your great web site! It’s very helpful. I come from Germany and plan to take the CPA exam this year. I thought of splitting it into 2 parts. I would then have to fly twice in the US. Would you recommend to take FAR and BEC first and AUD and REG later on? Is this a good combination? To my background: I do not know much about the US GAAP but I have a pretty good knowledge of IFRS as I work for a public accounting firm. I would be very greatful for your advice!
    Many thanks!
    Best regards,

  • durga says:

    my question is similar to the above question but i am from India but from accounting background. however, i am very new to US GAAP and IFRS. In view of the 2011 changes, would it be right to start CPA with FAR and BEC as the first parts to appear for the first time in 2012?

  • emmersene says:

    Hello Stephanie, ;
    I want to be consider / apply for more than one state for the CPA exam. How do I proceed
    with that? Do I apply separately to each state?
    Do I choose the states that I want to set for
    during the scheduling?
    Please explain the process to me.
    Thank you.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hello, why would you want to apply for more than one state in the first place? It will be confusing at the Uniform CPA exam level.

  • Ravi says:

    Dear Stephanie

    Thank you for your advises and suggestions. I need to know if I have completed Enrolled Agent, is there any relief in educational credits ?

  • Chris says:

    Hello, Im from Philippines and I think I still have to take taxation courses for me to get the exam permits. Do you have any idea of any US based college or universities giving online taxation subjects? I am planning to take the exam in Texas. Thank You Very Much .

  • Shamie says:

    Hello,am Shamie. I have been an ACCA student before I came to USA. I am currently left with 3 professional papers to finish ACCA. But then I want to change and do CPA since am in the USA. Can I get an exemption of FAR since I had passed the ACCA corporate reporting paper P2. Or i have to do all the 4 CPA papers

  • Sneha says:

    Hello, I am Sneha. Thank you for this great insight. I am planning to give 2 sections in one Quarter each. FAR and BEC in 2018 Q3 and REG & AUD in Q4. My question is if I, lets say,don’t pass in FAR in Q3, can I still appear exams for REG & AUD in Q4. Do I have to clear each section I am taking first and then move to second or is it okay to take the REG and AUD in Q4 and then FAR (where I failed in my 1st sitting) in Q1 2019.

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