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How to Choose Your CPA Exam Discipline

Not sure which exam to take? Follow our guide to choosing your Discipline!

As a CPA candidate, you’re required to take your choice of one of the three CPA Exam Discipline sections in addition to all three Core exam sections. The Discipline exams are designed to focus on the knowledge and in-demand skills that newly licensed CPAs need for their careers in the real world.

As you consider which Discipline to take, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you feel more confident about passing one of the exams?
2. Are there any topics you’re already more knowledgeable about?
3. Do any of the topics require skills you already have or want to develop?
4. Do you have a certain area you’d like to specialize in for your career?

Remember, no matter which Discipline you choose you’ll be able to practice professionally in any area. Try not to put too much pressure on this decision. You can treat it as an opportunity to test out a career path without being forced to commit to that specific area for your entire career. The most important thing is that you pass your exam, so pick whichever Discipline you feel confident about and interested in.

Keep reading for our overview of each CPA Discipline, or select a Discipline below to get started!

Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)

The CPA BAR Discipline exam section tests business analysis, technical accounting and reporting, and state and local governments. The exam content may have a data analytics focus and assess topics such as financial risk management and financial planning techniques, including projections.

Content Area Allocation

Business Analysis


Technical Accounting and Reporting


State and Local Governments


As you’re weighing your options, it’s worth considering how each Discipline tests you and how the exams are graded. BAR has 50 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations, and they’re scored with equal weighting (50% for each). Candidates are assessed at three skill levels that rise in difficulty: Remembering and Understanding, Application, and Analysis. BAR assesses candidates most heavily in the Application skill level, followed by Analysis, and then Remembering and Understanding. 

Choose the BAR Discipline if:

You have a background in financial accounting

If you’re already working in the financial accounting field, the BAR content would be similar to the topics you’re already working with, plus it could help you bolster your knowledge and specialization in those areas. 

You recently took Advanced Financial Accounting classes

If you’re a recent college student, BAR aligns with what you learned in your Advanced Financial Accounting classes, so you already have a leg up on preparing for the BAR exam.

FAR is your strongest Core exam

The BAR exam tests advanced Financial Accounting topics similar to the content tested on the Financial Analysis and Reporting (FAR) Core CPA Exam, so if you’ve already taken FAR and scored well, it’s a good idea to select BAR as your Discipline. You should also plan to sit for BAR immediately after passing FAR while the related content is still fresh in your memory.

BAR is probably a good choice for you if you’re interested in the topics and potential careers listed below.

Topic Areas

  • Assurance or advisory services
  • Technical accounting
  • Financial risk management
  • Data analytics
  • Financial operations management
  • Technical accounting and reporting
  • State and local government accounting
  • Financial statement analysis and reporting

Potential Careers

  • Auditor in public accounting firm
  • Corporate accountant
  • Controller
  • Chief accountant

Information Systems and Controls (ISC)

The CPA ISC Discipline Exam tests candidates on information systems, data management, SOC engagements, security, confidentiality, and privacy. 

Content Area Allocation

Information Systems and Data Management


Security, Confidentiality and Privacy


Considerations for System and Organization
Controls (SOC) Engagements


It’s also important to note that the ISC exam differs from the other two Disciplines in the amount of questions and how they are weighted for scoring. ISC has 82 MCQs worth 60% and 6 TBSs worth 40%. The ISC exam also assesses candidates more in the Remembering and Understanding skill level, whereas BAR and TCP assess more heavily in the Application skill level.

Choose the ISC Discipline if:

You have a background in information systems and data management

If you’re an accounting professional already working in these areas, the ISC exam is a good fit for you since you already have hands-on experience with the topics tested. 

You recently took Information Systems, Advanced Auditing, or IT classes

If you’re a recent graduate and enjoyed these classes, you’ll also enjoy the content tested in the ISC exam. Plus, you already have foundational knowledge that will help you pass!

AUD is your strongest Core exam

The ISC exam tests topics that are similar to the Auditing & Attestation (AUD) exam, so if AUD is your best scoring area or covers the content you’re the most interested in, ISC would be a good fit for you. It’s also a good idea to plan to sit for ISC right after you pass AUD since you’ll already be familiar with the related content tested on both exams. 

If any of the topics and potential careers listed below interest you, ISC may be the best Discipline for you!

Topic Areas

  • Information systems
  • Information security
  • Business processes
  • IT audits
  • SOC engagements
  • Cybersecurity

Potential Careers

  • IT auditor
  • Data manager
  • Data engineer/Data scientist

Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)

The CPA TCP Discipline exam assesses your knowledge of tax compliance and planning for individuals and businesses, personal financial planning, and property transactions. It ensures you’re prepared with the knowledge you would need as a newly licensed CPA working in the tax field.

Content Area Allocation

Tax Compliance and Planning for Individuals and Personal Financial Planning


Entity Tax Compliance


 Entity Tax Planning


Property Transactions (disposition of assets)


The TCP exam is structured and graded similarly to BAR, but it has more multiple-choice questions. TCP has 68 MCQs and 7 TBSs which are scored with equal weighting at 50% each. For TCP, candidates are assessed most heavily at the Application level, followed by Analysis, and then Remembering and Understanding. 

Choose the TCP Discipline if:

You have a tax background

If you already have solid foundational knowledge in tax or already work in the tax field, you’re already ahead of the game!

You recently took Advanced Tax classes

If you’re a recent college grad who took Advanced Tax classes, you’re already familiar with topics that will be tested on TCP.

REG is your strongest Core exam

TCP tests advanced tax topics similar to the content in the Regulation (REG) exam, so if REG is your strongest Core exam topic, it’s a good idea to take the TCP exam. You should plan on sitting for TCP immediately after passing REG while the tax content is still fresh for you. 

Plus, if you’re interested in any of the topics and career paths listed below, it would be a good fit for you personally!

Topic Areas

  • Personal financial planning
  • Property transactions
  • Advanced entity tax compliance/planning
  • Advanced individual tax compliance

Potential Careers

  • Tax analyst
  • Tax compliance officer
  • Corporate tax manager
  • Tax practice entrepreneur

Read our infographic breaking down the Disciplines and how to choose yours!

CPA Exam Disciplines Comparison

When considering which CPA Discipline exam you want to take, make sure you know how each exam is structured, scored, and what skill levels will be tested. The testing time for each exam is four hours, but the amount of MCQs and TBSs and the degree to which each skill level is assessed varies per section. 

  Exam Structure Score Weighting Skill Levels Assessed
MCQs TBSs MCQs TBSs Remembering
& Understanding
Application Analysis
BAR 4 hours 50 7 50% 50% 10-20% 45-55% 30-40%
ISC 4 hours 82 6 60% 40% 55-65% 20-30% 10-20%
TCP 4 hours 68 7 50% 50% 5-15% 55-65% 25-35%


Frequently Asked Questions
About the CPA Exam Disciplines

Do I have to pass all three Core exams before taking my Discipline exam?

No, you’re not required to pass all of the Core sections before your chosen Discipline section. You can take the CPA Exam sections in any order. 

When is the best time to take my Discipline exam?

Each Discipline exam tests content that aligns with one of the Core exams, so it’s a good idea to take your chosen Discipline next after you pass the related Core exam. 

  • Take BAR right after you pass FAR
  • Take TCP right after you pass REG
  • Take ISC right after you pass AUD

Can I switch Disciplines?

If you fail a Discipline exam, you can switch Disciplines when you sit again. You’ll only be allowed to have credit for passing one Discipline though, so once you pass you can’t take a different Discipline exam. 

Do I have to practice in the area of my Discipline in my career?

No, passing a certain Discipline exam does not mean you’ll be restricted to practicing in that area. 

Does my Discipline determine my rights to practice?

The Discipline you choose won’t limit your rights to practice professionally. You’ll have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as any other licensed CPA.

Is one Discipline easier than the others?

NASBA Opens in new window and the AICPA Opens in new window crafted all three discipline exams to be equally challenging. But depending on your personal background, knowledge, and existing skills, you might have a head start on the topics covered in a particular Discipline section.