Since CPA testing windows have changed, I thought it would be nice to have a post to explain how they work.
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of confusion online about CPA Exam windows in 2021. After all, the CPA Exam windows from 2020 followed a different approach than the new 2021 CPA Exam windows with the introduction of CPA continuous testing. And unlike in the past, the CPA Exam blackout dates for 2021 have been eliminated.
So in this article, I’ll start with some context history about CPA Exam timing windows and how they’ve changed. Then, I’ll cover important the new concept of a CPA Exam window and address CPA Exam 2021 blackout dates and if you can retake a CPA Exam in the same window. And finally, I’ll give you the 2021 CPA Exam dates that scores will be released for 2021 CPA Exam windows.
The good news is that scheduling the exam is very flexible. It’s actually a little easier to schedule a CPA Exam now thanks to CPA continual testing. So before we go any further about CPA Exam test dates, let’s review how the idea of a CPA Exam testing window has changed.
Prior to the new rules in 2020, CPA candidates could only sit for the exam during “CPA testing windows.” Normally, the windows followed a predictable pattern. Basically, candidates could take the exam during the first two months of each quarter.
In other words, the CPA Exam test windows for 2020 and prior were:
Can you give an exam in the same testing window for the CPA? No, you cannot. Consequently, in the past, candidates had to wait until the next quarter open window for the CPA Exam to re-test if needed. For example, maybe you took AUD in Q2 but didn’t like your CPA Exam window 2 test scores. According to the old model, you had to wait until Q3 to re-take AUD.
In the list above, you’ll notice that the CPA Exam was not given during certain blackout periods. However, the CPA Exam date schedule used to have even more blackout times. For many years, the CPA Exam sitting dates were not offered in the blackout months of March, June, September, and December.
Eventually, these blackout months were shortened by 10 days. An extension of the CPA Exam testing windows went into effect in April 2016. At this time, the end of the CPA testing windows was pushed back 10 days into the CPA blackout months to meet the demand of increasing candidate numbers.
In the spring of 2020, NASBA, the AICPA, and Prometric made a big announcement about CPA testing windows. Here’s a direct quote from their press release:
“In response to numerous candidate requests, we are pleased to announce Continuous Testing for CPA Exam candidates will begin July 1, 2020. Under the new Continuous Testing model, candidates will have the ability to take the Exam year-round, without restriction, other than waiting to receive scores from prior attempts of the same section or when there is a major change to the Exam. Continuous Testing will replace the existing CPA Exam Testing Window model, which only permits candidates to test during designated time frames each calendar quarter.” – NASBA
Of course, this announcement was a major departure from the CPA Exam testing windows in 2020. So why the change?
The concept of CPA testing windows seems fine from the onset. However, candidates could only take an exam section once per window. If they failed, they had to wait until the next window to re-take that section.
For instance, if a candidate took a section in early January and failed, they couldn’t retake until April 1. As a result, candidates sometimes struggled to pass all four CPA Exam sections within 18 months as required for the license.
Since the start of continuous testing in July 2020, most jurisdictions have moved past the idea of CPA testing windows. So, when you start to search online for 2021 CPA Exam testing windows, you won’t find them!
Now, candidates can pick almost any date to take the exam. The continuous testing model really expands available dates to take the CPA Exam.
However, there are some exceptions. After all, you must take your exam at a Prometric testing center. Most Prometric sites are open Monday to Friday, and some sites are open on the weekend, too.
Most jurisdictions were ready for the new continuous testing model when it went into place on July 1, 2020. However, a few states had not yet completed the legislative process needed for the transition. NASBA has a color-coded map of each jurisdiction’s status here.
One jurisdiction—South Carolina—has announced that they will not be able to follow the continuous testing model until 2021. Until then, CPA candidates applying through South Carolina will still have to take exam sections within the quarterly windows that are listed above.
Even though the CPA Exam now has continuous testing, you still have plenty of CPA Exam dates, deadlines, and rules to follow. Consider the following tips when considering your CPA Exam test window and sign up.
Although the 2021 CPA Exam has continuous testing, you still have to follow a few guidelines.
The AICPA releases exam scores once or twice a month. However, the AICPA notes that when you take BEC, your scores might be delayed by about a week. The Written Communications portion of BEC can require additional time to analyze and score, hence the delay. For more info about score releases, hop over to CPA Score Release Dates.
Just because the CPA Exam testing dates are now continuous, please remember your other deadlines.
Once you start your CPA journey, you should mark down the day you pass the first part of your exam. After all, boards of accountancy require candidates to pass all four parts within 18 months. So, the 18-month deadline will start to tick as soon as you pass that first part.
Additionally, please note that it only starts to count once you PASS the first part, not when you TAKE the first part. For example, let’s assume you are planning to take FAR in January and REG the following February. You find out later that you failed FAR and passed REG. The 18-months start in February on the date of your exam, and you will have to complete all 4 parts by August the following year.
Even though the AICPA moved to continuous testing on July 1, 2020, readers still ask me “Can I take the CPA Exam twice in the same window?” Just keep in mind that although “CPA testing windows” have technically been eliminated, you still must wait for your score to be released before retaking any section you might have failed.
I’ve noticed many candidates choose to schedule their exams at the end of the period when their NTS (Notice to Schedule) are valid. This plan has two disadvantages:
If possible, try scheduling your exam section(s) at the beginning or middle of your NTS window. This way, you have the flexibility to postpone it without paying an extra fee.
Readers often wonder what part they should take first. There are two schools of thought — one is to take the toughest one first and get rid of that early on; the other is to take the easier one so you can build up your confidence.
I personally prefer the first option. But it really depends on your own style. Another common way is to go for the one you are most familiar with first (no matter whether that’s the easier or harder one). This works great for a lot of my readers as well.
To give you an example, Travis and Sumit have different views on how they planned the exam sections.
Status: passed all parts
AUD -> REG -> FAR -> BEC
Status: just started
AUD -> BEC -> REG -> FAR
My readers have most frequently messaged me about the CPA Exam dates in the following states. If your state isn’t listed, read CPA Requirements by State: Complete Guide to the CPA Exam Requirements.
With the exception of Michigan, Connecticut, and South Carolina, all jurisdictions follow the continuous testing model. So, therefore, the Alabama CPA Exam dates are the same as the Kansas CPA Exam dates and even the CPA Exam dates for Massachusetts. This way, all candidates have the same number of dates to choose from.
The CPA Exam followed the old model of testing windows and blackout dates within each quarter until July 1, 2020. So until the beginning of the CPA Exam Q3 window in 2020, the 2019 CPA Exam dates were the same as the 2018 CPA Exam dates.
Simply put, no. You must wait for scores to be released before re-scheduling a failed section. But as long as your NTS is still valid, you can go after that point.
You can schedule a section as many times as needed to pass, as long as your NTS remains valid and your previous scores have been released. However, remember the fees involved.
Jurisdictions expect candidates to pass the CPA Exam within 18 months because the exam content can change from time to time.
In most jurisdictions, the 18-month window starts when you pass the first of four sections of the CPA Exam.
I urge candidates to schedule their exams toward the beginning of their NTS period. This way, if you fail a section, you’ll have time to retake it before your NTS expires.
Today’s top CPA review courses help you plan your study schedule. Becker is our #1 rated course, but I’ve reviewed other top providers, too. For example, you can efficiently study for testing windows for the CPA Exam with Becker because of their high-quality learning modules mixed with personalized support. You can find even more study tips in this article.
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!