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CPA Exam – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)



When should I take a CPA exam?

The recommendation of virtually everyone in the business – is to begin preparing for the exam as soon as you graduate from college. You generally have the summer after graduation free, and the longer you wait, the harder it will be to motivate yourself to study. When you graduate, all of your accounting friends will be studying, too. If you do it together, it will most likely be a lot less painful. So, if you graduate in June, you might want to begin taking a preparation class (see below) in July. If you’re working in public accounting, the firm will likely expect you to take the exam the first time it’s offered after you start.



Will I get hired without it?

Firms will hire you without your CPA, but the public accounting firms will expect you to pass the CPA before you can get promoted to manager, which typically comes around five years.


What happens if I fail?

The exam is designed to be a rigorous challenge. Most people will tell you that, while the content of the exam is not unreasonably complicated, the sheer volume of knowledge that is tested makes the exam quite an ordeal. The numbers back this up: historically, only approximately 10 percent pass all four parts on the first try. Approximately 50 percent of the people who are sitting for the exam have taken it before. In other words, at least half the people who take the exam will fail at least one part of the exam on their first try. If you don’t pass all four parts on the first try, don’t worry; it’s not the end of the world. Take a look at your score and figure out what areas are your weaknesses. Focus your additional studying for the next exam on those areas. But no matter what, never give up. Each time you take the exam, you’ll be able to identify areas of weakness, and if you take the time to brush up on those areas, without losing your existing strengths, you’ll be more likely to pass.


When is the exam given?

The exam is offered up to six days a week during January, February, April, May, July, August, October and November each year. Each two month testing period is called a window. Candidates make appointments for specific dates and times during a window at a regional testing center. After the state board determines a candidate is eligible to sit for specific sections of the CPA Examination, the candidate will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS). The candidate can then register directly with their local test center.


What is the format?

The exam is a combination of multiple-choice questions with four options, and condensed case studies called simulations. The format of each of the sections is as follows:

The content of the exam is governed by the Content Specification Outlines.

A summary of each section is as follows:

Business Environment and Concepts:

  1. Business structure (17-23%)
  2. Economic concepts (8-12%)
  3. Financial management (17-23%)
  4. Information technology (22-28%)
  5. Planning and measurement (22-28%)


Auditing and Attestation:

  1. Planning the engagement (22-28%)
  2. Internal controls (12-18%)
  3. Obtain and document information (32-35%)
  4. Review engagement and evaluate information (8-12%)
  5. Prepare communications (12-18%)



  1. Your national taxation entities (22-28%)
  2. Your national taxation of property transactions (8-12%)
  3. Your national procedures and accounting issue (8-12%)
  4. Ethics and professional responsibilities (15-20%)
  5. Business law (20-25%)


Financial Accounting & Reporting – Business Enterprises:

  1. Concepts and standards for financial statements (17-23%)
  2. Typical items in financial statements (27-33%)
  3. Specific types of transactions and events (27-33%)
  4. Accounting and reporting for governmental entities (8-12%)
  5. Accounting and reporting for non-governmental entities and not–for–profit organizations (8-12%)


How are the written sections evaluated?

In place of essays, an assessment of written communication skills will be incorporated into the simulation portion of the revised examination. According to the CPA exam’s website, the testing of written communication skills was identified by the most recent accounting practice analysis and supported by a special task force consisting of CPAs, psychometricians, and writing experts. In this portion of the exam, candidates must read a situation description and then write an appropriate document (“constructed response”) relating to the situation. The instructions will state what form the document should take (such as a memo or letter) and its focus. The candidate’s response should provide the correct information in writing that is clear, complete and professional. Constructed responses will be scored holistically, based on three general writing criteria: organization, development, and expression.


Is there an ethics component to the test?

Some states require an ethics exam prior to certification, but this is an area of the test that is continuing to evolve. The regulation section of the CPA exam (formerly known as “Accounting and Reporting”) now includes material on ethics and professional responsibility. And some states are adding a separate section on ethics to the CPA exam. Check the board of accountancy of your country in which you’ll practice for ethics exam requirements.


Should I bring a calculator?

You will be able to use the online calculator to perform standard financial calculations. Be sure you understand how to move the calculator on the screen.


How is the exam graded?

The exam is graded on a scale from 0 to 99, and the passing standard remains 75. Conditional status may be granted to candidates who receive a passing grade on some but not all sections. Grades are released to the state boards after each two-month window of testing, and it is up to the state boards when to release those grades to the people who took the exam. You can sit for each section of the computerized exam individually, and in any order. You must pass all four sections within a rolling, 18-month period, which begins the day the first section is passed.

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