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The optimal CPA Exam testing order

CPA Exam Testing Order. What is best?

Which CPA Exam section to take first (and last)

One of the most common questions we receive from accountants and accounting majors preparing for their CPA Exam is: “which CPA Exam section should I take first?” Right now, the answer is BEC, based on nearly 50 years of CPA experience and what we’ve learned from navigating several major CPA Exam changes.

CPA Evolution changed our longstanding recommendation to take FAR first and BEC last. Here’s why.

Why our recommendation is changing

Up until this year, the right CPA Exam testing order for most people was taking FAR first and BEC last, for a few reasons.

For starters, FAR is considered to be the most difficult CPA Exam section of the bunch. Since the 18-month rolling window you have to pass all 4 CPA Exam sections doesn’t begin until you pass your first section, by taking FAR first, you could have all the time you needed to study stress-free.

Additionally, BEC is considered the easiest CPA Exam section. Passing all 4 sections is hard and takes many people several months to a year to complete. If you front-load the more difficult CPA Exam sections and pass them while you’re fresh, you’re making future-you a whole lot less stressed.

This advice helped thousands pass, but the CPA Exam is changing in January 2024. CPA Evolution is changing the structure of the exam, removing BEC and adding 3 brand new “discipline” sections, among other things.

We’re changing our recommendation to account for the CPA transition policy to make your choice clear and your studies as simple as possible. 

CPA Evolution: the CPA Exam reborn

CPA Evolution is coming January 10, 2024, and BEC is going away. In its place will be three new, untested “discipline” sections:

  • Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)
  • Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
  • Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)

Candidates taking the evolved CPA Exam will be required to pass one discipline of their choice in addition to the three core exam sections, which are AUD, FAR, and REG from the current format with some minor updates.

While the core Exams will see minor content shifts but otherwise keep the same theme, the disciplines contain new content designed to keep the CPA license competitive. And given BEC was perceived to be the easiest CPA Exam section, the CPA Exam in 2024 is probably going to be more difficult.

Gleim CPA Product Manager, Valerie Wendt, has been meeting with the AICPA and NASBA and our team of accounting experts has examined every CPA blueprint update, so we’re sure our new recommendation will see you through the exam changes with the least possible stress (and the best possible score).

The best order to sit for CPA Exam sections in

1. BEC

Passing BEC in 2023 will get you credit for any of the three disciplines once the change goes into effect. That’s right, you can test on the easiest section this year and not worry about the new sections.

2. AUD

CPA Evolution will change AUD content the least.. Passing it in 2023 will provide credit for its core counterpart post-evolution.

3. REG

Passing REG in 2023 will give you credit for its core counterpart, but if you can’t finish studying in time or have to retake it in 2024, there is actually less material on the new REG core exam. Studying for the 2023 version will more than prepare you for the new version in 2024.

4. FAR

FAR is thought to be the most difficult section right now and it takes most candidates the longest to study for. Additionally, the CPA Exam blueprints show that it’s shrinking under CPA Evolution, so it could actually be easier in 2024, especially in relation to some of the new disciplines. To make the most of the limited time you have before the CPA Exam changes, we seriously suggest not focusing on FAR this year (unless you’ve already passed the others). 

Good news—there’s a new credit extension policy

According to the rules, candidates have 18 months to pass all 4 sections of the CPA Exam. But to help you with the transition to the new CPA Exam,beginning with the launch of CPA Evolution, State Boards of Accountancy are extending the validity of everyone’s currently-valid credit to June 30, 2025.

There will be limited testing days and delayed score releases while a standard is being established for the new exam, so this is a huge benefit to CPA candidates.

However, don’t rely on the credit extension policy to save you. Get started today, and pass as much as you can in 2023!

Testers, start your engines

Starting your exams in 2023 will give you an advantage, and we’re here to help. It’s important to create a study plan and strategy that you will stick to as you prepare for each exam.

Get started with our free CPA Exam study materials or check out our tips to avoid burnout and mitigate stress

Remember, we’re here to help you along your CPA journey! Our team of Personal Counselors are ready to guide you through the exam process and our Accounting Experts are already hard at work making sure our materials are ready to prepare you to pass no matter which version of the CPA Exam you take.