Once you decide to take the CPA Exam in order to experience the benefits of becoming a CPA, you must make a few more decisions before you can achieve CPA Exam success. First, you must choose to which CPA state board of accountancy you will apply. Then, you must determine the order in which you will take the CPA Exam sections. You can use the information provided here to help you make that decision.
CPA Exam Schedule: Number of CPA Exam Sections
The structure of the CPA Exam includes these four sections:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Business Environments and Concepts (BEC)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
In order to pass the entire CPA Exam and earn the CPA certification, you must sit for each of these 4 sections and secure the CPA passing score of 75 on each of them.
CPA Exam Schedule: Recommended Approach to Scheduling
To establish your CPA Exam schedule, we recommend that you determine which section appeals to you most and start with that. While surveying the content of each section, you can ascertain their appeal by asking yourself which section you are most conversant with based on recent classes or work experience. If you sit the CPA Exam while you’re finishing the 150-hour education requirement, you could decide which section to take first based on the classes you are currently taking. If you commence the exam right after you graduate, you may intend to start with the section that covers the material of the last accounting class you took or of the accounting class in which you performed the best. If you have been out of school for a few years, you should consider the section that is most relevant to your career history. For example, if you’ve been working in the audit practice of your firm, kicking the exam off with AUD may be most advantageous for you. If you’ve been filing tax returns every working hour of busy season, you could begin by channeling your active knowledge of taxation toward REG.
The disadvantages to this approach are practically non-existent, and the benefits are quite numerous. If you begin with a section that is already familiar and interesting to you,
- You will have an easier time developing your study habits and mastering the review process quickly.
- You will be more likely to have a good experience for the first section you take.
- You will not feel as frustrated or tempted to procrastinate your studies for later sections.
- You will be more likely to pass your first section on the first try.
- The experience of passing will build your confidence going forward.
Chances are that the most appealing section is the one for which you are most prepared. Therefore, following this approach for your CPA Exam schedule is sure to set your exam journey off on the right foot.
CPA Exam Schedule: Tips for Specific Exam Sections
If more than one CPA Exam section appeals to you at first, additional information about the sections can help you narrow down your options. There are pros and cons of scheduling certain sections of the exam in a particular order, so you may want to consider these details as you make your scheduling decisions:
In the past, pass rates have suggested that AUD is one of the hardest sections, and the fact that AUD is the only section to test at the evaluation skill level also supports this conclusion. If you have just studied auditing in college or have already been working as an auditor, you may be equipped to take AUD first. If you are not in one of these situations, you may want to leave AUD until later in your CPA Exam schedule so that you have a chance to see how the exam tests the other skill levels on the other sections. Another reason to delay AUD is that AUD shares content commonalities with FAR, so you’ll be able to prepare for AUD faster and more easily if you schedule it after FAR.
BEC has the reputation for being the easiest exam section due to its consistently high pass rates. Knowing that it is easy could convince you to start with BEC if you want a confidence boost or end with BEC if you want a breezy final leg of the exam journey. More rational for broaching BEC earlier lies in the fact that the BEC Written Communications (WCs) occasionally need humans to grade them, and this process can push your BEC score release back a week or so. If you’re nearing the end of your 18-month window, you may not have the time to wait for your BEC score to know if you need to retake that section. On the other hand, the BEC WCs often require you to interact with content from AUD, FAR, and REG, so you may want to wait to take BEC until after you’ve studied for those sections.
With a history of some of the lowest CPA Exam pass rates, FAR seems to be fighting for the title of hardest CPA Exam section. If you don’t feel like taking on the toughest section any sooner than necessary, you may want to back-burner FAR. In addition, FAR’s content covers the widest range of accounting information and overlaps with the content of the other three sections. This could support the idea to postpone FAR, or it may persuade you to push FAR to the front because while studying for FAR, you will also be learning some material applicable to the other sections. FAR demands at least 100 hours of studying, and if you take FAR first, you won’t have to incorporate all of that study time into your 18-month testing window. Finally, the FAR content best reflects much of the material addressed in your college accounting classes, so coming to FAR straight from the classroom can be effective.
REG is another section that has put up some pretty high pass rates in the past, and its content is fairly straightforward. If you’ve completed an accounting internship or worked in a public tax practice, REG will be relevant enough to you that you may want to start with it.
CPA Exam Schedule: Other Approaches to Scheduling
In addition to our recommended approach for planning your section schedule, there are a variety of other approaches that offer their own unique pros and cons.
- Starting with the hardest section
Candidates occasionally elect to tackle the section they feel will be their greatest foe first so that they can get it out of the way and enjoy a more downhill exam journey thereafter. Some of these candidates determine which section is the hardest by referring to the current CPA Exam pass rates. Others utilize the CPA Exam blueprints to discover more about the content of each section and then pinpoint the section that focuses on the accounting principles with which they struggle most. Still others use free CPA Exam questions to assess which section seems to be their weakest. This strategy can be beneficial due to the fact that you will probably need to commit the most amount of study time to the CPA Exam section you find the hardest, and taking that section first lets you leave that extended study time out of your 18-month window. However, one of the downsides of this plan is that if you do not pass your most trying CPA Exam section on your first attempt, you may have to suppress feelings of discouragement in order to maintain your motivation for the exam.
- Starting with the easiest section
This approach is, of course, the reverse of the previous approach. In hopes that they will be able to finish at least one section of the CPA Exam without much trouble and thereby boost their confidence for the rest of the exam, some candidates start with the section they believe to be the easiest. Again, they check the pass rates to gauge which section has been the least challenging for others or review the CPA Exam content to find out which section features their preferred accounting topics. The confidence that comes from passing an exam section can obviously help them press on to CPA Exam success, so this strategy has its merits. Yet, the self-assurance candidates feel after passing one section without much difficulty may prevent them from studying as much as necessary for the more challenging sections they must take next.
- Starting with the section that will not be experiencing many or any changes
Not infrequently, some, or all, of the CPA Exam sections are changed to incorporate new accounting and auditing pronouncements or to achieve new CPA Exam goals. An example of changes to one exam section is the new revenue recognition standards that came to FAR on January 1, 2018. The April 1, 2017, launch of a new version of the exam serves as an example of changes applied to all four sections. When the AICPA schedules these sorts of exam changes, it informs candidates in advance, so candidates can use the news to decide if they would like to take the current version of the exam section(s) or the upcoming version. Candidates can then adjust their CPA Exam schedule accordingly in order to take the version that best suits them. One pro of this plan is that candidates won’t have to relearn specific accounting information, while one con is that they may be tempted to rush to take an exam section and not have enough time to adequately prepare.
CPA Exam Schedule: Best Time to Take the Exam
Set yourself up to have the most ideal CPA Exam schedule by taking the CPA Exam at the most ideal time. Based on years of experience helping candidates pass, Gleim advises that you to take the CPA Exam immediately after graduation (or while you are in your last semester of school, if permitted by your chosen state board) because your knowledge still will be fresh. However, candidates taking the exam later in life don’t need to panic. When you combine your real-world experience with comprehensive and convenient CPA study materials, you’ll be sure to pass the exam.
CPA Exam Schedule: Testing Window Timeline
While you’re deciding which CPA Exam section to sit for first, you should know when you can take the exam. You can only sit for the CPA Exam during its four testing windows per calendar year. Each testing window includes the first two months of the quarter (i.e., January/February, April/May, July/August, October/November) and the first ten days of the third month in the quarter.
CPA Exam Schedule: 18-Month Time Frame
As you’re scheduling your exam sections, you must also keep the exam time limit in mind. You have to pass all four sections of the CPA Exam within a period of 18 months. Essentially, if you pass your first section but do not pass the next three sections within 18 months, you will lose credit for the first section. For example, if you took and passed AUD on November 15, 2016, REG on February 15, 2017, and FAR on April 15, 2017, you would then have until May 14, 2018, to pass BEC before you would lose credit for AUD. On August 14, 2018, if you have still not yet passed all four sections, you would lose credit for REG as well.
CPA Exam Schedule: CPA Study Planner
Before you schedule your first section of the CPA Exam, you’ll need to formulate your CPA Exam study plan. You can undertake this process on your own, or you can get help from a CPA review that includes an interactive study planner. Gleim CPA Review features a user-friendly study planner that highlights your accomplishments and simplifies your agenda. As our intuitive planner presents you with a clear and digestible course of action for CPA Exam success, you’ll be motivated to keep moving forward. Test-drive the CPA review that contains this and other study essentials by accessing our free CPA demo today!