What is the CPA Exam Like?

The CPA exam is the official test, given by the American Institute of CPAs, to qualify those who want to become certified public accountants. Upon passing this exam, you are able to practice as a licensed public accountant in the United States. The CPA designation is the only qualification of its kind in the accounting field and incorporates not only the exam, but also a certain amount of education and experience. Read on to learn more about the structure, content, and administration of the CPA exam.

Exam StructureCPA Exam

The exam to become a CPA lasts a total of 14 hours, divided into four separate content sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Candidates must pass each section with a score of at least 75 on a scale of 0-99 to become certified as a public accountant. During specific sections of the test, candidates can access certain reference materials, including AICPA Professional Standards (in the Auditing and Attestation section), FASB Codification (in the Financial Accounting and Reporting section), and Tax Code (in the Regulation section.

Exam Content

The CPA test is divided up into several different types of questions; multiple-choice, written communication and task based simulations. Task-based simulations refers to case studies where you must respond independently rather than selecting from pre-determined answer choices. The four-hour Auditing and Attestation section covers planning the engagement; gathering the information; documenting the findings; and preparing communications. The three-hour Business Environments and Concepts section covers business structure; economic concepts; financial management; and information technology. The four-hour Financial Accounting and Reporting section covers standards for financial statements; typical items in financial statements; types of accounting transactions; and reporting for governmental, non-governmental, and not-for-profit organizations. The three-hour Regulation section covers ethics and professional responsibility; business law; federal tax procedures; and taxation of individuals, property, and business entities. Preparation courses are available for the exam, and most of these topics are also covered in graduate level accounting programs.

Exam Administration

The CPA test is given during predefined exam windows. Throughout the year, there are four “exam windows”, each lasting two months. To take the exam, you must select an exam window, during which you are able to take each of the four test sections. Each test is given between five and six days per week. The sections may be taken in any order you like, but can only be taken once during each exam window. Eligibility to take the test varies by state. In most states, there is some combination of citizenship and residency requirements.

If you are considering becoming a certified public accountant, you must first meet the minimum education and experience requirements for your state. Because each state has slightly different requirements, it is important that you check with your state board once you have decided to become a CPA. The accounting profession can provide many career opportunities, especially for those with a CPA license.

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