CPA Exam Guide

Whether you're an accounting student, or a working professional looking to earn your CPA license, chances are that you've heard of the CPA Exam. This test is a rigorous four-part examination that covers a variety of accounting competencies and is an essential step in becoming a licensed CPA, or Certified Public Accountant.

Passing the CPA exam can take a significant amount of preparation, but with the right approach and ample study time, you can set yourself up to take the first step toward making tackling the CPA Exam a positive experience.

To help you, we've created this CPA Exam guide as an overview of various study methods, programs and tips that may help you as you prepare to take the test. We'll cover all of these topics and more in the following sections (jump to):

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CPA Exam Breakdown

The CPA Exam consists of four different sections, Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG) and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Each section contains five miniature tests, known as “testlets.” The first two testlets in each section are multiple-choice, ranging from 30 to 40 questions each. The remaining three testlets are task-based simulations that require you to apply accounting principles in a real-world simulation. The exception to this format is the BEC section, which trades out one set of task-based simulations for a set of written communication questions. Each section is scored individually, and you need to score at least a 75 (out of 99) in order to pass the exam. While you can take the tests in any order, they must each be scheduled separately and passed within an 18 month window.

What You Need to Know Before You Get Started

Before you get started preparing for the exam, there are a few things you should know. To take the CPA Exam, you must have completed 150 credit hours of relevant accounting coursework, which is typically earned through a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting. Depending on the number of credits built into your bachelor’s program, you may need to pursue additional schooling, like a graduate or other accounting degree in order to meet the 150 credit hour requirement. Some CPA Exam candidates may pursue a Master's Degree in Accounting and Financial Management, a Master's Degree in Accounting or an MBA with a Specialization in Accounting

It's also worth keeping in mind that some states have additional requirements for their CPA Exam candidates, such as ethics courses, or may allow you to take the exam having completed 120 credit hours, though you won’t be able to apply for your CPA license until the 150 credit hour requirement has been reached. Make sure to check your state’s requirements before you schedule your test.

Studying and Preparation

Once you have met all the education requirements for your state and have the first section of the exam scheduled, you need to sit down and start studying. CPA Exam guides can be a great resource that can help you outline a plan for how you will approach studying.

There is no one way to study for the CPA Exam. Because everyone learns differently, you may have to try a few different routines to find what works best for you and your learning style. That said, here are a few useful general study tips to help you as you start preparing to tackle the test.

One strategy for studying for the CPA Exam is to get an early start on reviewing the material. Getting an early start not only gives you the chance to study the material for longer, it gives you the opportunity to study with less stress and avoid late-night cram sessions. While more intense study sessions can certainly help you learn, they may be less effective than consistent, relaxed study over a longer period of time. Studying consistently can also help reinforce concepts in your brain better than an all-nighter, since you have longer to process the information.

Beyond starting early, another study method we recommend is taking practice exams. Practice exams can help you get comfortable with the format of the test and allow you to see which areas you have a good grasp of and which areas could use additional study time. You can use a practice exam at any point in your study, but they may prove even more valuable as the exam date gets closer.

Each section of the CPA Exam is four hours long. Taking practice exams in the weeks leading up to the test, you can time yourself in order to simulate the actual exam experience and figure out your pacing. Doing so might help shake off any nerves and increase your confidence in your abilities to perform in a timed setting.

Programs Designed to Prepare for the CPA Exam

When you study for the CPA Exam, you don't have to do it alone! In addition to using a CPA Exam study guide, you might also want to consider enrolling in a CPA Exam preparation program. There are several different CPA Exam preparation programs, like DeVry’s Graduate Certificate in CPA Preparation, that can help you reinforce your understanding of accounting principles and may even help you learn new ones1. Both CPA study guides and exam preparation programs are encouraged, because they give you an opportunity to review material with fellow students and learn from knowledgeable faculty who can answer your questions and provide some insight into subjects that are likely to be covered on the exam.

Additionally, some programs, like our Graduate Certificate in CPA Preparation or our Graduate Certificate in Accounting, may be able help you meet the 150 credit hour minimum requirement for the CPA Exam itself.

If you're interested in preparing to take CPA Exam, DeVry can help. Some of our various accounting programs, including our Graduate Certificate in CPA Preparation program1, integrate elements of Becker Professional Education's CPA Exam Prep material right into the coursework2.

Contact us to see how DeVry can help you get started.


1Credits and degrees earned from this institution do not automatically qualify the holder to participate in professional licensing exams to practice certain professions. Persons interested in practicing a regulated profession must contact the appropriate state regulatory agency for their field of interest. For instance, typically 150 credit hours or education are required to meet state regulatory agency education requirements for CPA licensure.
2Becker's CPA Exam Review courses are provided as options in the following programs: CPA Preparation certificate, Master of Accounting and Master of Accounting and Financial Management degree programs.