Which Section of the CPA Exam Should I Take First?

July 31, 2019

Using Your Personal Preferences & Current Pass Rates to Determine the Best Order to Take the CPA Exam

According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (“AICPA”), there is not a “best” order; it’s entirely a matter of personal preference. There are, however, several factors to consider that can impact those preferences and allow each CPA candidate to make a logical plan for passing all four parts of the CPA exam.

So, which part of the CPA Exam should you take first?

“Easiest” Topics: Create a Sustainable Balance of Discomfort & Confidence 

What topics are easiest for you? The AICPA has a breakdown of topics tested for each section of the exam, and more detailed descriptions are in the Blueprints. Some topics show up more often on one portion of the exam than on others, such as economics in BEC and taxation in REG, so look for topics with which you are more comfortable or that you’ve studied more recently. 

After comparing the four parts of the exam for “easier” topics, the question you face is whether you should start with the easiest or most difficult part first.

CPA Exam Tips - which section of the exam to take first & which path to take

Choose Your Path:

  • Easiest First – Get one section out of the way and build up encouragement for the next section from your success.
  • Hardest First – The 18-month window doesn’t start “counting down” until you pass one section, so doing the hardest part first allows time to fail and retry, if necessary, while reducing the risk of running out of time/having a section expire.

Comfort with Writing: When to Take The BEC Section of the Exam

BEC is the only section of the CPA exam that has “written communication” questions. In each of these questions, information about the given situation, related documents and the form of written communication you need to produce are provided. If writing is a personal strength, starting with BEC may be a good idea. If not, taking another test first and improving your comfort with writing may be advised. Please note that the forms of written communication are typical business formats and not technical writing. 

To view the AICPA’s tutorial test video and to practice with actual CPA exam software, visit the AICPA’s practice tests.

Prevent CPA Exam Burnout

Pep Talk, Discouragement & Burn-Out: Tips for Taking the CPA Exam

How do you handle success, failure and endurance? Do you work better by getting the hardest section done first, or do you prefer to start with a less difficult test and work up to more challenging ones? The level of difficulty of the CPA exam, the time commitment required for studying, the costs involved, the ability to manage “real life” around studying, and the fact that there is an 18-month window for passing all four parts of the exam makes this a mission of endurance and good planning – including a backup plan in case of failure. 

Current CPA Exam Pass Rates

Should you use pass rates to choose the “easiest” test? 

For 1st quarter of 2019, the CPA exam pass rates were:

  • AUD – 48.56%
  • BEC – 58.00%
  • FAR – 44.43% 
  • REG – 50.23%

These pass rates make it appear as though BEC is the easiest portion of the exam to take, but according to the AICPA, “When reviewing these pass rates, you should remember that candidates are evaluated against an established standard of competence, and that the Exam is scored and scaled so that scores are comparable across test forms and over time. The Exam is not harder or easier to pass at different times. An increase in pass rates simply means that candidates are better prepared.”

Going In With Confidence & Proper CPA Exam Prep

After choosing where to start, getting help reviewing for the exam can increase both your scores and your personal pass rate. MDS CPA Review has great resources to assist you on your road to success!