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There are 4 parts (sections) of the CPA exam. All 4 parts of the exam must be completed within an 18-month window. With continuous testing, you can now take any section of the CPA exam year-round without any scheduling restrictions helping you reach your goal of becoming a CPA easier than ever before.
The CPA exam schedule is now offered year-round, so you can sign up to take the exam as soon as you meet the eligibility requirements. If you’re currently in school, you will want to plan on taking the exam before you graduate (if your state allows) or as soon as possible after graduation.
Recent grads have the highest pass rates, so take advantage of your recent education and make a study plan ASAP.
Whether you’re a recent graduate or looking to advance your career, you can ease your anxiety about taking the CPA exam by mapping out your study plan.
Each section of the exam will require anywhere from 110 to 190 hours of studying (depending on the section), so it’s crucial to have a consistent plan of when you will fit in those study hours. It’s also helpful to study with a CPA exam test prep provider because most, like Wiley CPA, will give you a customized study plan with video lessons and practice exams.
If you have met all CPA exam requirements by state, you can request to take the exam by submitting an exam application to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) or directly to your State Board of Accountancy (depending on which state you decide to take the exam in).
As part of the CPA application process, you will need to submit your:
If you need a refresher on all the steps necessary to take the exam, review the full process of how to apply for the CPA exam.
You have an 18-month timeframe to take and pass all 4 parts of the CPA exam. This rolling 18-month window begins once you pass your first exam section.
So, once you pass your first section of the exam, you have 18 months to pass the other 3 CPA exam sections. If the 18 months goes by and you haven’t passed all 4 CPA exam parts, you lose credit for each section passed outside the 18-month period, and you will have to retake them within 18 months of your other exams.
There are 3 different types of questions you will encounter on the CPA exam. And each exam is broken down into five testlets (groups of questions) with one type of question. You can expect to see different content tested in each section of the exam.
The 3 types of CPA exam questions are:
Multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations are incorporated into all 4 CPA exam parts, but written communication tasks are only present on the BEC exam.
Each CPA exam section is divided into 5 testlets, with 2 testlets dedicated to MCQs and 3 testlets dedicated to TBSs (except for BEC, which has 2 TBS testlets and 1 WCT testlet).
There are four parts to the CPA exam and each part tests a different area of accounting. Each section of the exam is meant to prepare newly licensed Certified Public Accountants to have the specialized skills and knowledge needed to contribute to the modern-day accounting industry at a high level.
Here is an overview of how long you have to take each exam, what question types you will see on the exams, and the skills you will be tested on for each exam.
CPA Exam Time and Questions Type by Section
CPA Exam Skills Tested by Section
|AUD||25% – 35%||30% – 40%||20% – 30%||5% – 15%|
|BEC||15% – 25%||50% – 60%||20% – 30%||–|
|FAR||10% – 20%||50% – 60%||25% – 35%||–|
|REG||25% – 35%||35% – 45%||25% – 35%||–|
Now let’s break down each exam section to review the content they cover and the number and types of questions you will encounter in each testlet.
The AUD section of the CPA exam requires you to demonstrate your skills in auditing and attestation to solve, in total, 72 MCQs and 8 TBSs, which are equally weighted in terms of scoring. That is, the MCQ testlets account for 50% of this section’s score while the TBSs make up the remaining 50%.
These questions cover exam content surrounding auditing, attestation, planning and reviewing engagements, internal controls, compliance, regulations, ethics, and more.
As far as topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the AUD section of the CPA exam in terms of what it covers:
For a more in-depth look at AUD, including a breakdown of each exam topic and study tips, view our article on How To Prepare For & Pass The CPA AUD Exam.
The BEC section of the CPA exam has you demonstrate that you have mastered the business core which is foundational to success in an accounting career. It is the only section that includes written communication tasks (WTSs).
The first 2 testlets of the BEC exam contain 62 MCQs. Testlets 3 and 4 of the BEC exam contain 4 TBSs in total. And the fifth testlet contains 3 WCTs. In general, 50% of your score comes from MCQ testlets, 35% from TBS testlets, and 15% from the WCT testlet.
These questions cover content surrounding business structure, corporate governance, financial management, strategic planning, information technology, economic concepts, ethics, and more.
For specific topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the BEC section of the CPA exam:
BEC is the only CPA exam section with WCTs. Some students find this makes the exam easier, but some do find WCTs to be harder than TBSs. Either way, BEC is considered the easiest part of the CPA exam because it has the highest pass rate.
The AICPA highlights one reason BEC is higher is because it is the section most commonly taken last, giving students more experience with test-taking after taking other sections.
For a more in-depth look at BEC, including a breakdown of each exam topic, question types, and study tips, view our article on How To Prepare For & Pass The CPA BEC Exam.
The FAR section of the CPA exam is heavily focused on financial accounting and reporting of for-profit entities.
You will also have questions over accounting for not-for-profit entities and approximately 1 out of every 10 questions will be over accounting for governmental entities. FAR’s 5 testlets are broken into 2 with 33 MCQs apiece (66 total) and 3 with a total of 8 TBSs. In general, 50% of your score comes from MCQs and 50% from TBSs.
These questions cover content surrounding financial statements, select accounts and transactions, financial reporting for state and local governments, non-profits, and for-profit entities, and more.
For specific topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the FAR section of the CPA exam:
If you’ve wondered, “What are the hardest CPA exam sections?”, FAR has the lowest pass rate of the 4 CPA exam sections, followed by AUD in 2021. This is because FAR is regarded as the most comprehensive of the 4 exams.
For a more in-depth look at FAR, including a breakdown of each exam topic and study tips, view our article on How To Prepare For & Pass The CPA FAR Exam.
The REG section of the CPA exam is heavily focused on taxation. Its 5 testlets are broken into 2 testlets with 76 MCQs between them and another 8 TBSs split among the remaining 3 testlets. Like AUD and FAR, 50% of your score comes from MCQs and 50% from TBSs in the REG section of the CPA Exam.
These questions cover content surrounding ethics, business law, property transactions, taxation of individual and entities, and more.
For specific topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the REG section of the CPA Exam:
For a more in-depth look at REG, including a breakdown of each exam topic and study tips, view our article on How To Prepare For & Pass The CPA REG Exam.
CPA exam scoring is a bit complicated but knowing how the exam is graded can help you create an appropriate study plan.
Each section of the CPA exam has a possible score of 0 to 99. And you need to score a minimum of 75 to pass.
It’s important to note that these scores are not percentages, and final scores are not graded on a curve.
Instead, your CPA exam score is determined by a weighted combination of your MCQ score and your TBS score (and WCT score for the BEC exam). Here are how scores are weighted for each section of the CPA exam:
CPA Exam Scoring by Section and Question Type:
It can take a couple weeks or over a month to receive your CPA exam score. CPA exam scores are released on specific dates throughout the year, and you can view the CPA exam score release dates online.
The cumulative pass rates for the CPA exam in 2021 ranged between 45-63% for the four different sections of the exam with BEC having the highest pass rate and FAR having the lowest. The highest pass rate recorded between 2017-2020 was 63.04% for Q3 of 2019 of the BEC section—and the lowest was a 40.57% for Q4 2019 FAR section.
For a more specific look at the pass rates for each section of the exam, be sure to check out our CPA exam pass rates resource page.
According to the AICPA CPA Exam Pass Rates in 2021, the cumulative CPA exam pass rate averaged between 45-63% across the four sections of the exam.
However, 9 out of 10 students who used Wiley CPA Exam Review Courses passed all 4 sections of their CPA exam—that’s 90% and way above the average.
Wiley’s CPA Review Courses are taught by expert instructors and come with more CPA practice questions and task-based simulations than any other course provider. Our CPA review material is always fully aligned to the latest AICPA blueprint, mimics the actual exam, and provides unique, customized questions to improve your scores.
When you’re ready, be sure to check out our CPA Review Course options to find the one that best fits your study style and budget.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the different CPA exam parts.