The CPA Exam: A Candidate's Guide

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The CPA exam is hard enough—finding information on it shouldn't be! Choose from the dropdown menu to explore need-to-know info on the big test.

Overview

The Uniform CPA Examination (the exam) protects the public interest by helping to ensure that only qualified Individuals become licensed as U.S. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Individuals seeking to qualify as CPAs-the only licensed qualification in accounting-are required to pass the exam. The exam is one of the "Four Es"- education, experience, ethics and examination - that constitute the requirements for CPA licensure.

Since 1917, the Uniform CPA Examination has proven to be a highly valid and reliable measure of candidate abilities. The focus on quality has made it possible for all U.S. Jurisdictions to rely on the results in determining who is competent to practice public accounting in order to protect the public. It stands to reason, then, that the exam should be a comprehensive and challenging test that requires dedication, preparation and - for many - perserverance!

TEST TIP!

Don't rush into an exam you're not ready for - all candidates have a rolling 18-month window to successfully pass all four parts of the exam.

How to Apply

Follow these steps to apply and submit your application for the exam.

  1. All candidates will apply to take the exam online, but where you go to do that depends on where you live. Some states require that you apply through their jurisdiction's Board of Accountancy (BOA), while others require you to apply through NASBA CPA Examination Services. Go here to find out where you should apply. You will choose your jurisdiction, pay the associated fees and submit your educational transcripts.
  2. After that, your jurisdiction's BOA will send your application information to the National Candidate Database (NCD) for processing. This packet of application information is known as the Authorization to Test (ATT).
  3. Once the NCD has processed your ATT, you will receive your Notice to schedule (NTS) and can go ahead and schedule your testing appointment through Prometric.
    • Some jurisdictions require that you utilize a Payment Coupon to pay remaining fees associated with the exam. You can submit your examination fees online using NASBA's Payment Coupon service. It's also possible to reprint a Payment Coupon online if it is not previously paid or expired.
    • Once you have submitted your Payment Coupon to NASBA, the NCD will send you your NTS and you can schedule your testing appointment through Prometric.
TEST TIP!

It's important to note that all NTSs have expiration dates that range from 90 days to one year—after that time period is up, your NTS is no longer valid and you have to reapply to take the exam—and re-pay the fees! Check with your state's BOA to find out how long your NTS is valid.

Scheduling

The easiest way to schedule your exam is online through Prometric. Prometric is a third-party testing service that operates a network of computer-based test centers around the world. They offer assessment services for information technology certification, academic and professional licensure and certifications.

The CPA exam is offered the first two months of each quarter of the calendar year, called "Testing Windows." The third month of every quarter is considered a "Blackout Month," in which no exams are administered. The Blackout Months are always March, June, September and December. Candidates are allowed to take all four sections of the exam during any one testing window. However, you may not take the same section more than once during any single testing window.

TEST TIP!

You must schedule your exam appointment at least five days in advance of the test date. However, to increase your chances of receiving your first choice of date, time and location, aim to schedule at least 65 days in advance.

Scoring

Exam is comprised of four sections that are all scored independently of one another. Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). All four sections contain multiple-choice questions (MCQs), while only BEC has a portion for written communication questions.

AUD, FAR, and REG each have 3 TBS testlets, while BEC has only 2.

Each section of the exam is scored from 0-99. A total reported score of 75 or better is required to pass each section. However, that number, 75, isn't a percentage, meaning that getting 75% of the questions correct doesn't translate to a score of 75. There are many factors that go into your score, including:

  • Exam Structure and Weight Allocation
  • Pretested Questions
  • Varying Difficulty and Scoring of Questions
  • Multi-Stage Testing

One factor that doesn't go into your score? Anyone else's score. The CPA Examination is not curved. Every candidate's score is entirely independent of other candidates' results.

To best understand the ins-and-outs of scoring, the AICPA breaks it down for your here.

TEST TIP!

Keep up to date on testable materials, exam updates and official announcements.

You can read about them here.

Resources

The following sites will help you as you begin your journey towards taking the exam.

Your state's Board of Accountancy and Society of CPAs are also great resources that will give you area-specific info about licensing requirements, fees and more. Find Yours

TEST TIP!

NASBA has put out a Candidate Bulletin that should be required reading for all test-takers. Check it out!

Exam Changes

Find FAQs about the recent changes to the test.

How to Become a CPA

Everything you need know about CPA Lincensure.

State Boards of Accountancy

Understand the BOA regulations in your jurisdiction.

Real test-takers share how MDS helped them conquer the exam.

Learn about MDS's view on pass rate statistics.

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