What is the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam is a professional credentialing examination composed of four distinct sections designed to test your competency and understanding of various accounting principles. Once you pass the CPA Exam and meet any additional licensure requirements from the state you live in, you may qualify to become a Certified Public Accountant.

The exam itself consists of four separate sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG).

If you're looking to take the CPA Exam or are simply interested in learning more about it, we're here to help! In this article, we'll answer the question "What is the CPA Exam" and explain how you can prepare in the following sections (jump to):

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How Difficult is the CPA Exam?

As with any exam, the level of difficulty will vary from person to person. You might also find that you struggle with specific exam parts more than others. While some may consider the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section of the CPA Exam to be the hardest due to its comprehensive nature, you may find that you are more challenged by other topic areas.

Ultimately, how difficult the CPA Exam will be for you depends on your level of preparation and the amount of time you’ve given yourself to study. You may find it helpful to enroll in a CPA Exam preparation program, such as our Graduate Certificate in CPA Preparation at DeVry, which offers resources such knowledgeable teaching staff and elements of Becker’s CPA Exam Prep built into the curriculum that may help make studying for the exam easier.

Prerequisites for Taking the Exam

In order to take the CPA Exam, there are a few requirements that you must meet. Keep in mind that these requirements may vary from state to state.

The first and most notable requirement involves education. In most states, a candidate must have completed a minimum of 150 credit hours of coursework, often achieved while earning a bachelor's degree in accounting or in another relevant program. In certain cases, some states may allow candidates to take the exam once they reach 120 hours, so long as they meet their 150-hour requirement before obtaining their license.

Some states may require students to take specific classes in order to sit for the CPA Exam, such as an ethics course. If your state does require an ethics course, you typically must complete it within one to two years after taking the CPA Exam.

Depending on the number of credit hours built into your bachelor’s degree, you may need to pursue additional education to reach the 150-credit hour minimum for taking the CPA Exam. You may decide to earn an MBA with an Accounting Specialization, a Master's in Accounting or another accounting-related degree such as a Master's in Accounting and Financial Management to close the gap.

Preparation for the CPA Exam

Preparing for the CPA Exam is a unique experience for everyone. Different techniques and study methods work for different people, so you will likely need to do some experimenting in order to find the best approach for your learning style.

That said, here are a few universal tips that may help as you begin to prepare for the CPA Exam:

  1. Take a CPA Exam review course: A CPA Exam review program can help you refresh your understanding of concepts and may provide more insight as to what may be covered by the exam. If you need to earn additional credit hours, our CPA Preparation Graduate Certificate or Graduate Certificate in Accounting may be a good fit. Both can provide you with the opportunity to learn from knowledgeable faculty who can help you better understand and apply accounting concepts to real-world situations.

  2. Study outside of your review program: If you’re in school it might seem like you’re covering a lot already, but you'll most likely need to take some time to study outside of whatever prep course or program you take. Starting the review process early will give you extra time to help reinforce your understanding of the concepts you’re going over.

  3. Use a practice exam to simulate the test: Timed, lengthy tests like the CPA Exam may fluster some candidates. Using a practice exam can not only help you become more familiar with concepts that may be included on the exam, but can also give you a chance to practice pacing yourself for the real test.

  4. Study with regularity: Avoid long cram sessions when studying. Instead, set aside some time a few times a week to study at a reasonable pace. This way, you’ll give yourself more time to discover what challenges you are facing and what areas might require more preparation. Spending more time studying leading up to the CPA Exam may help the information stick in your head better.

Types of Questions and Scoring

There are four sections, or individual tests, that make up the CPA Exam. While you can take the tests in any order you prefer, they must each be scheduled separately and passed within an 18 month window. Each section is broken down into five smaller “testlets” which contain a range of questions, including task-based, written communication and multiple-choice, which must be completed within a four-hour timeframe.

Each part is scored individually, and you need to score a minimum of 75 or higher (out of 99) to pass the exam. Your score is calculated through a weighted combination of scaled scores from each exam portion taking into account both the difficulty of the question and whether or not you answered it correctly.

Start Preparing for the CPA Exam Today

If you're ready to prepare for the CPA Exam, we can help. Get started by taking a look at our CPA Preparation Graduate Certificate Program, or if you’re looking to continue your education, check out our various accounting degree programs.