The first thing you need to understand is how to schedule your CPA exam:
After your application is approved by your respective state board of accountancy or NASBA (as some states contract NASBA to process applications), you’ll receive your Authorization to Test (ATT) in the mail. You now have 90 days to pick which CPA exam section/s to sit for and when. Note that some states will send your ATT directly to NASBA so be aware of this because your 90 days to choose your section/s will have begun. Once you decide, you then register and pay your exam fees on the NASBA website.
Between three and six weeks later, you’ll receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS), which allows you to sit for a section of the CPA exam in the United States or at an international testing center. This is the document that legally allows you to sit for a section of the CPA exam in the United States. After you receive this document, you will be able to schedule a testing date and time with a Prometric testing center.
Now, you can schedule a testing date and time with a Prometric testing center. But know that your NTS is valid for six months only (in most states, see below for exceptions to this rule), so don’t wait to make your plans or risk paying more exam fees.
Exceptions to the six-month NTS window include:
Scheduling your Exam obviously takes some time to carry out, so be smart in planning your studies and CPA exam schedule. You will need to obtain a separate NTS for each of the four CPA exam sections.
As mentioned above, most states will issue you a Notice to Schedule (NTS) that is valid for six months—but some states issue an NTS that’s valid for only 90 days, and a few are 9 months or 12 months. That means if you don’t schedule and take an exam section during the prescribed period, you forfeit your exam fees. The circumstances of work and/or school can change so it is best to be strategic with the timing of your Notice to Schedule. It is advisable to put two exam sections on your first NTS instead of all four so that you will have flexibility with the prescribed NTS period. You will then need to reapply with your state board/NASBA to get another NTS.
Also, you don’t have to wait for your first NTS to end before applying to obtain another one—they can overlap. If you apply for each of the four tests individually, you will have to pay a re-application or registration fee each time in addition to the exam fee.
Starting July 1, 2020, NASBA begins continuous testing for the CPA exam, eliminating blackout dates. According to the revised Rule, this will allow for a candidate to retake a CPA exam section as soon as their score for any previous attempt of that section is released.
Use the exam section ID from your NTS and locate the testing center of choice on the Prometric website. They’ve made it remarkably easy to find and select a testing center.
You can search for the nearest testing center from your location and then use Prometric’s Use our Seat Availability Tool to quickly check for appointment availability at that testing center. You don’t need an Exam Section ID to use this tool!
If you want a specific date, schedule it well in advance (45 days is recommended) as openings may fill quickly. Be sure to save your confirmation number, just in case.
You are not required to sit for the exam in the state you applied. You are also not required to live in the state in which you applied. So if you are going to school in New Mexico, but plan to move to Colorado, you can apply in Colorado and physically sit for the exam in New Mexico (or any other Prometric Testing Center) if you so desire. Remember, you must follow the requirements of the state where you apply, regardless of where you physically sit to take the test.
If you prefer to have a handheld calculator, you can request one from the testing center. Be advised that this will be a very simple device and if you plan to use this on test day then you should be using one very similar while studying.
You may reschedule your CPA testing date 30 or more days in advance at no cost, but you will incur a $35 change fee reschedule your exam between 29 and six days prior. If your test scheduled five or fewer days away, you aren’t able to reschedule.
Prometric also makes it easy to reschedule or cancel your CPA testing date, using their Proscheduler tool. You will need your confirmation number to reschedule your exam date.
The option to reschedule is valuable. As mentioned above, if you put two exam sections on one NTS, as advised above, you will have more flexibility with the timing on your NTS if you should desire to postpone/reschedule an exam section.
Going through a walk-through, or test drive, of the CPA testing process, can help you avoid mistakes on your actual exam date. This 30-minute “dry run” allows CPA candidates to walk through all check-in and testing procedures.
Costing $30, the test drive includes check-in, ID confirmation, documentation checking, image capture, seating, tutorial, a generic sample test, a survey of the experience, an end-of-test report, and check-out, including access to lockers for your personal items.
Also be aware of the parking situation at the testing center, location of the bathroom, drinking fountain, and paid parking meter, if applicable. You likely will utilize your 15-minute break between the 3rd and 4th testlets to use the restroom, so use that time wisely and know where they are in advance. These are all things that have the potential to slow you down on exam day!
Depending on where you live and where your Prometric testing center is located, you may have to travel some distance to get to your test location. If you need to rent a car, your AICPA membership offers you a range of car rental discounts to help lower the cost, if in the U.S.
If you need lodging, you will need to do so as you would for any personal trip, though some accounting firms may reimburse or cover your travel costs if you are taking the CPA exam as part of your career development plan. Your best option to save on costs is to use a travel website such as Expedia or Kayak. Airbnb has also become a slightly lower-cost option in some instances. Just be sure to book lodging that is near your testing location to reduce the likelihood of delays or being late on your test date.
Eligible international candidates can take the CPA exam at Prometric testing centers in Bahrain, Brazil, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Scotland, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This process allows non-U.S. citizens to purse the U.S. CPA license. The Exam and licensure process is the same for international candidates as for U.S. CPA candidates.
Please visit the NASBA website for international candidate information and application.
With the NASBA rule change, CPA candidates who fail a section will no longer have to wait until the next testing window to retake the exam.
From NASBA’s May 2019 State Board Report: “According to the revised Rule [Uniform Accountancy Act Model Rule 5-7(a)(2)], when system changes have eliminated the need for test window limitations ‘a Candidate can retake a Test Section once their grade for any previous attempt of the same Test Section has been released.”
That means, for those who take the exam early in the testing window and just barely miss a passing score, they have the option to quickly retake (and presumedly pass) the exam and still maintain their planned exam schedule.
This is one of the most common questions CPA candidates have when deciding to register for the exam. Choosing between the four sections of the CPA exam differs by individual and by how the exam content can change each year. Consider how much content you’ll need to learn when deciding which order to take the CPA exam. In general, when considering which part of the CPA exam to take first, most people choose to do FAR or AUD as their first or second choices.
To learn more about all four parts of the CPA exam, including which is the hardest and easiest section, please read our Guide to CPA Exam sections.