What are the 4 Parts of the CPA Exam?

The four sections of the CPA exam are:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

Each section contains five testlets which is a set of questions. In all 4 sections, the first two testlets contain Multiple-Choice Questions and the next two testlets contain Task-Based Simulations (TBSs) which reproduce real-world scenarios. The last testlet in AUD, FAR, and REG contain more TBSs and three Written Communication tasks in BEC.

CPA sections

AUD section of the CPA Exam

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%.

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:

  1. Ethics Professionals Responsibilities & General Principles – At least 15% and up to 25%
  2. Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response – 20% to 30%
  3. Performing Further Procedures & Obtaining Evidence – 30% to 40%
  4. Forming Conclusions & Reporting – 15% to 25%

BEC section of the CPA Exam

The BEC section of the CPA Exam is designed to have 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 tasks (3) in the last of its five testlets. The first two testlets of the BEC examcontain 62 MCQs. Testlets 3 and 4 of the BEC exam contain 4 TBSs in total. In general, 50% of your score comes from MCQ testlets, 35% from TBS testlets, and 15% from the Written Communication testlet.

For topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the BEC section of the CPA Exam:

  1. Corporate Governance – 17% to 27%
  2. Economic Concepts & Analysis – 17% to 27%
  3. Financial Management – 11% to 21%
  4. Information Technology – 15% to 25%
  5. Operations Management – 15% to 25%

FAR section of the CPA 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 the accounting for governmental entities. Its five testlets are broken into two with 33 MCQs apiece (66 total) and three with a total of 8 TBSs. In general, 50% of your score comes from MCQs and 50% from TBSs.

For topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the FAR section of the CPA Exam:

  1. Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting & Financial Reporting – 25% to 35%
  2. Select Financial Statement Accounts – 30% to 40%
  3. Select Transactions – 20% to 30%
  4. State & Local Governments – 5% to 15%

REG section of the CPA Exam

The REG section of the CPA Exam is heavily focused on taxation. Its five testlets are broken into two testlets with 76 MCQs between them and another 8 TBSs split among the remaining three testlets. Like AUD and FAR, 50% of your score comes from MCQs and 50% from TBSs in the REG section of the CPA Exam.

For topics and weighting, here’s how the AICPA breaks down the REG section of the CPA Exam:

  1. Ethics, Professional Responsibilities & Federal Tax Procedures – 10% to 20%
  2. Business Law – 10% to 20%
  3. Federal Taxation of Property Transactions – 12% to 22%
  4. Federal Taxation of Individuals – 15% to 25%
  5. Federal Taxation of Entities – 28% to 38%

What are “pretest” questions and do they count toward my score?

Testlets contain operational and pretest questions. Operational questions are scored, while pretest questions are not. Each section of the CPA Exam includes 12 pretest MCQs and 1 pretest TBS. BEC also includes 1 pretest written communication task. Pretest questions are indistinguishable from operational questions and may be used as operational questions on future examinations.

While pretest questions are not labeled and do not count toward your score, you should complete all questions as if they do.

CPA MCQ TBS

Which part of the CPA Exam should I take first?

This is one of the most common questions CPA candidates have when deciding to register for the exam. The answer differs by individual and by how the exam content can change in January or July. For example, in 2018, it was a popular strategy to take the REG section of the CPA Exam first, as so much of it was to change on January 1, 2019.

So, consider how much content you’ll need to learn when deciding in 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 #1 or #2 choices.

CPA order

What is the easiest part of the CPA Exam?

The easiest part of the CPA Exam is BEC based on the pass rates being the highest of the 4 sections of CPA Exam. Enrollments in the BEC are lower than the other section and that is probably because many choose to take BEC last. So, those who are still passing the other three sections are not sitting for BEC. If this is true, then it could be true that the smaller number of exam takers enrolling in BEC have already proven themselves to be exam passers.

What is the hardest part of the CPA Exam?

The hardest part of the CPA Exam is FAR. Overall, the FAR section requires you to tackle and master a HUGE amount of information and concepts, far more than REG or BEC, so many elect to tackle it first rather than last. The old adage of “get the hard part of the way” absolutely applies to the CPA Exam, as most people choose to take FAR as their first section of the CPA Exam. A minority elect to take AUD first, thinking it is harder than FAR.

When does my 18-Month window to pass begin?

You may take each section of the CPA Exam individually and in any order, but are required to pass all four sections within 18-months. The clocks starts on the date you pass your first exam section. Credit for any section passed is valid for 18 months from the date the section was taken. You will lose credit for each section passed outside the 18-month period, and will have to retake that section(s).

CPA pathway

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