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Introduction to the CPA Exam

The official name of the CPA Exam is the Uniform CPA Examination. The exam is computer-based and comprised of questions developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), a national organization. Passing the CPA Exam meets one of several requirements for becoming a licensed certified public accountant.

Most state boards of accountancy require candidates to complete (or be close to completing) 150 semester credits before they can take the exam. Within the 150 credits there must be a minimum of a bachelor's degree along with specified accounting and business courses from a college that the board recognizes as being accredited.

Learn more about CPA Requirements

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Difficulty of the CPA Exam

The CPA Exam is considered to be one of the most difficult of professional licensing tests. Even though candidates are allowed to take just one section at a time, the CPA Exam is so rigorous that nearly half of the candidates sitting for any given section will receive a failing score.

View recent CPA Exam pass rates

To fully appreciate the difficulty of the CPA Exam, remember that it is a select group of bright accountants who are receiving these low scores. In any given testing section, consider this:

  • The candidates are near to completing 150 college credits that include very challenging accounting courses with high grading standards.
  • The candidates most likely have a keen aptitude for and a strong interest in accounting.
  • The candidates prepared themselves for the exam by taking formal CPA Exam review courses and/or studying review materials.

It is a sobering statistic that nationally only 50% of candidates who attempt any given section of the CPA Exam will achieve a passing score. If your goal is to become a certified public accountant, this statistic stresses how critical it is that you enroll in a rigorous, high-quality, college accounting program. See our discussion under Accounting Degrees.

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CPA Exam Facts

Some facts about the CPA Exam:

  1. The official title of the CPA Exam is the Uniform CPA Examination. The official name reflects the fact that the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) develops the exam questions.

  2. Even though the CPA Exam is developed by the AICPA, each state's board of accountancy (and each of the five jurisdictions listed below in item 3) determines who is eligible to sit for the CPA Exam and who can be licensed as a CPA.

  3. The CPA Exam is available only in English and is offered only in testing centers in the 50 U.S. states and four of the five additional jurisdictions—Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands. (The exam is not yet offered in the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands). People who live outside the U.S. must apply through one of the U.S. states or jurisdictions.
    See State Boards of Accountancy

  4. Only candidates approved by a state board of accountancy may sit for one or more of the four sections of the CPA Exam. The sections may be attempted in any sequence.

  5. Since the year 2004, the CPA Exam has been a computer-based exam consisting of four sections that can be taken one at a time and in any sequence. The sections and their allotted times are:
    • Auditing and Attestation - 4.5 hours
    • Business Environment and Concepts - 2.5 hours
    • Financial Accounting and Reporting - 4 hours
    • Regulation - 3 hours
  6. The sections of the CPA Exam are administered in testing centers during the first two months of each calendar quarter. For example, in the first calendar quarter of the year, approved candidates can sit for the CPA Exam at one of the testing centers during January and February, but not during March. During the two-month window of January and February, a candidate may not attempt any section that was already attempted during January or February. The candidate must wait until the next two-month window of April and May in order to repeat a section that was attempted in January and February.

  7. As a general rule, it is best to attempt several sections of the CPA Exam as soon as your state's academic requirements have been met. Your recall of the accounting material learned in your college courses will be more helpful to you than the information you learn in your first accounting job.

  8. Necessary reading for the CPA Exam:
    The Uniform CPA Examination Candidate Bulletin

  9. Additional information on the CPA Exam is available from:
    National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)
    The Uniform CPA Examination (AICPA)
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CPA Exam Review Courses and Materials

A strategy for attaining a passing score on each section of the CPA Exam must include a disciplined and aggressive study plan. Decide which CPA Exam review you will use.

CPA Exam review courses and materials will help you develop:

  • A timetable for reviewing accounting material learned over the past several years
  • A structuring for organizing various topics in a logical manner
  • Helpful exam-taking techniques
  • A focus on important topics

We compiled the following list of links for some of the CPA exam review courses and materials that are available:

CPA Review Courses

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