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Which of the Four CPA Exam Parts Should I Take First?

By DeVry University

November 22, 2021

5 min read

If you’re currently pursuing or have recently completed your accounting degree, you may be thinking about taking the CPA Exam. Passing each of the four CPA Exam parts is a requirement for becoming a Certified Public Accountant, making it an important step in pursuing career growth opportunities. To accomplish this pivotal step, you need a solid strategy.

The Four Parts of the CPA Exam

The CPA Exam is a computer-based exam comprised of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG). The four parts of the CPA Exam can be taken in any order, but they all must be taken and passed within an 18-month window in most states. The minimum passing grade for each of the four parts is a score of 75 out of 99. Before you define your test-taking strategy, you should familiarize yourself with what may be covered in each section of the CPA Exam. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and enable you to prepare your strategy wisely.

    • AUD:
    • This section is focused on problem-solving auditing and attestation-related issues, applying compliance protocols, gathering evidence and developing reports of financial statements.
    • BEC:
    • This section covers areas ranging from corporate governance to financial management, operations management and beyond.
    • FAR:
    • This section goes over the foundations of financial reporting, as well as select financial statements and select transactions. Requirements based on state and local government are also covered.
    • REG:

    This section covers business law, ethics, taxable income and tax procedures. This includes knowledge of contracts, individual income tax, retirement plans and taxable items.

Which Section of the CPA Should I Start With?

There are varying strategies for trying to pass the exam, including ones for which section to take first. While there is no single solution, there are multiple strategies you can consider as you determine your own exam schedule.

Strategy 1: Start with the Hardest Exam

One method is to start with your most challenging section of the exam before tackling the rest. This will allow you to feel accomplished that the biggest challenge is out of the way. This theory also makes sense when it comes to studying. The hardest part of the exam will likely require the most time and effort on your part. If you take on your most challenging section of the exam first, you may have more time available to study for the rest of the sections during the 18-month period.

Of the four CPA Exam parts, FAR tends to have a reputation for being the most difficult section due to its length and the scope of information it covers. It also has the lowest pass rate across the four sections. The FAR section tests broad yet foundational knowledge, some of which overlaps with the AUD section of the exam. It’s sometimes suggested that you take AUD after passing FAR.

However, while some sections have reputations of being more difficult than others, that does not mean your experience with the CPA Exam will be the same. For example, you may think that AUD will be harder than BEC based on what others have said, but your own personal experience and interests will play a role in which sections may pose more of a challenge and which may be easier for you to tackle.

Strategy 2: Start with the Easiest Exam

If you would rather start with something that feels more manageable and save the challenging sections for last, consider beginning with the easiest exam. This may be an ideal strategy if you need the confidence of an accomplishment before moving on to the more difficult subject areas. This can also be a worthwhile strategy as you begin the CPA Exam study process but cannot immediately devote as much time to exam preparation.

As there is no universally defined "easiest" exam section, you may need to determine which one to begin with based on your own strengths and preferences. If you have no strong preference, you may want to pick a section that was recently covered in your CPA Exam preparation courses. The course material may be fresh in your mind, making it an easier subject to approach. Alternatively, you could also choose a section that aligns with subjects you excelled at while in school.

Consider these tips for identifying which section may be the easiest for you:

    • AUD:
    • You have experience as an auditor.
    • BEC:
    • You prefer the shortest exam section, or you are good at written communication tasks – something unique to this exam section.
    • FAR:
    • You have experience as an auditor, or you just finished a degree covering the fundamentals of accounting.
    • REG:

    You have experience in tax accounting.

Strategy 3: Complete Them Quickly

Another strategy for the determined individual is to immerse yourself in test prep and then knock out taking all four tests within a few months. Though this strategy will not be a good fit for everyone, it can be extremely rewarding for those who are willing to put in the extra effort.

If you are a fast test-taker, you may be able to take two sections during the same testing window. For example, you might consider taking FAR and AUD at the same time, since they are related. But before choosing this course of action, consider how much time you are able to commit to studying each week or if you have other commitments that will take priority.

Test Preparation Takeaways

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for preparing for the CPA Exam. The four parts of the CPA Exam will pose different challenges for different individuals. The key is determining what strategy works best for you. Whether you choose to work your way from difficult to easy or the other way around, tackling the CPA Exam is about knowledge and perseverance. Study hard, stick to your strategy and you’ll see the results of your hard work.

Explore Accounting at DeVry

Preparing to take the CPA Exam starts with your education. At DeVry, we offer a variety of online accounting degrees that can give you the opportunity to learn from knowledgeable faculty, and help you work toward reaching your goals.

Classes start every 8 weeks. Call or chat with us to find out more.

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