There are four CPA Exam sections you must pass to complete the Uniform CPA Examination, divided by major topics: Auditing & Attestation (AUD), Business Environment & Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Each section is tested separately in its own four-hour exam.
The CPA Exam is a major hurdle for everyone who wants to become a CPA. In fact, it’s the only step that is uniform and accepted by all state boards for CPA licensure. The other three requirements—education, experience, and ethics exam—vary slightly by state. (See: requirements to become a CPA.) Passing the CPA Exam takes a significant investment of time, money, and effort, but it’s an investment that will pay large dividends for your career.
This guide will give you an overview of the four parts of the CPA Exam, commonly referred to as “sections.” You can also find in-depth information about each sections here:
Candidates must sit for and pass each of these four sections in order to pass the CPA Exam. The total testing time for each section is four hours.
The CPA Exam is designed to measure professional competence in auditing, business law, taxation, and accounting. The AICPA’s goal is for every candidate who passes the exam with the minimum passing score of 75 to reflect positively on the profession. (Learn more about how the CPA Exam is scored.)
To that end, the exam also tests related business skills, the ability to conduct oneself skillfully and with good judgment, and understanding of professional responsibilities and ethics. Passing this exam confirms you have the competence to practice in a highly specialized field. To gauge this, the CPA Exam sections test on the following major topics using specific types of questions.
The four sections of the CPA Exam each cover different areas of accounting. The AICPA defines these areas in its regularly updated CPA Exam Blueprints. (See our guide on how to use the CPA Exam Blueprints.) Here are the major topics that make up the structure of each of the CPA Exam sections.
Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and General Principles…..15-25%
Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response…..20-30%
Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence…..30-40%
Forming Conclusions and Reporting…..15-25%
Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting and Financial Reporting…..25-35%
Select Financial Statement Accounts…..30-40%
State and Local Governments…..5-15%
Economic Concepts and Analysis…..17-27%
Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and Federal Tax Procedures…..10-20%
Federal Taxation of Property Transactions…..12-22%
Federal Taxation of Individuals…..15-25%
Federal Taxation of Entities…..28-38%
Among the four sections, FAR has a reputation for being the hardest. It typically has the lowest pass rate. BEC is often thought to be the easiest. It has the highest pass rate. AUD and REG tend to be middle of the road.
The CPA Exam is difficult. Overall pass rates hover around 50%, largely because the CPA Exam tests candidates at advanced levels of skill. The four levels of skill tested in the CPA Exam sections include:
You can see here how much each section tests the different skill levels. FAR and BEC test heavily on application, while AUD tests remembering and understanding more than other sections. AUD is also the only section that tests evaluation skills. REG tests your remembering and understanding, application, and analysis skills evenly.
|CPA Exam Section Skills|
|Section||Remembering & Understanding||Application||Analysis||Evaluation|
To test these skill levels, each four-hour exam section is divided into five testlets. Each testlet contains one type of CPA Exam question.
There are three types of CPA Exam questions:
Different CPA Exam sections contain different amounts of these question types. Written communications only appear on the BEC section of the CPA Exam.
The following table breaks down the number of exam questions by section and testlet.
|Question Types by Section|
(12 pretest/60 operational)
(12 pretest/50 operational)
(12 pretest/54 operational)
(12 pretest/64 operational)
(1 pretest/7 operational)
(1 pretest/3 operational)
(1 pretest/7 operational)
(1 pretest/7 operational)
|Testlet 5||3||3 WCs (1 pretest/2 operational)||3||3|
The different types of questions are weighted differently. In each section, the two MCQ testlets contribute to half of your exam score. For AUD, FAR, and REG, the remaining three TBS testlets affect the other half of your score, and in BEC, the two TBS testlets and the one WC testlet supply the rest of your score.
|Scoring Weights by Section|
Based on decades of experience helping candidates pass, Gleim strongly suggests that students take the exam immediately after graduation (or while in your last semester if permitted by your chosen state board).
Candidates already in the workforce should start studying now, because the sooner you earn your CPA certification, the sooner you can begin enjoying the benefits it brings. Make a CPA Exam study plan and get going!
Short answer: it depends. Determine which section’s content you’re most familiar with and what subject appeals to you most. Think about your recent accounting classes or work experience. Then, read more about each exam section in detail for more specific advice, and play to your strengths!
For an exam this difficult, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all study plan. That’s why Gleim Premium Review Systems come with an interactive study planner and access to Personal Counselors, exam experts who will work with you to develop a personalized plan that will help you pass the CPA Exam on your first attempt.
If you’re already studying, check out our free sample CPA Exam questions or demo. And if you’re in the market for a review course to help you pass the CPA Exam on your first try, take a look at how Gleim CPA Review stacks up against the rest.