Successful completion of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam is one of the requirements for a CPA license in the 50 states and five other U.S. districts – Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
The CPA exam ensures that accountants have the skills and professional qualifications necessary to perform the duties of an entry-level practitioner. CPA certification not only enhances an accountant’s career prospects, but it also may be necessary for an individual to perform certain accounting functions, such as auditing.
The CPA Exam
Candidates’ knowledge and skills in four different subject areas, Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation, are measured in the CPA exam. Candidates must pass all four sections in order to receive CPA certification. They may do so during any testing window and in any order they wish.
The CPA exam format includes testlets, which are groups of 24 or 30 multiple-choice questions, and condensed case studies called simulations. Three testlets and two simulations are included in each of these sections: Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. The Business Environment and Concepts section includes only three multiple-choice testlets. The simulations include research portions, for which CPA candidates have access to pertinent documents and resources for completing the task.
The CPA examination is conducted for 14 hours over a two-day period. Each section has the following time allocations:
- Auditing and Attestation - 4.5 hours
- Financial Accounting and Reporting - 4 hours
- Regulation - 3 hours
- Business Environment and Concepts - 2.5 hours
Each CPA exam section also includes a number of pretest questions , which help to measure the quality of questions that may appear on later versions of the exam. The pretest questions are not counted in scoring.
The CPA exam is computer-based. Candidates should be able to use a mouse and keyboard and should be familiar with basic spreadsheet and word processing functions that are similar, but not identical to, Microsoft Word and Excel. The use of a four-function online calculator also is required.
Prior to Taking the CPA Exam
Each state or district board of accountancy determines the application process for its jurisdiction. CPA candidates should obtain an application from NASBA’s CPA Examination Services or the state board of accountancy itself, depending on the jurisdiction’s process.
A list of all U.S. boards of accountancy is available at nasba.org, the website of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
Fees for the CPA test also differ by jurisdiction, but first-time candidates can expect to spend somewhere between $575 and $800 to take the complete exam.
After the state board of accountancy determines that a candidate has met the eligibility requirements, the candidate will receive a Notice to Schedule, which permits them to move forward with scheduling an appointment for the CPA exam. Eligible CPA candidates may only take the CPA exam during the specified two-month testing windows of January/February, April/May, July/August or October/November.
CPA candidates are advised to schedule their test appointments at least 45 days in advance so that they are able to get their preferred location, time and date. Test appointments must be scheduled at least six days prior to the exam.
The CPA exam is administered at 300 Prometric Test Center locations throughout the United States.
Retaking the CPA Exam
The scoring scale for the CPA exam is 0-99, and candidates must score a total score of at least 75 in order to pass each section. The multiple-choice questions count for 70 percent of the total score, while the simulations make up 20 percent, and the written communication accounts for the final 10 percent.
Candidates who fail one or more sections of the CPA exam may retake any failed sections, although they cannot take any section more than once in the same testing window
Although the exact timeframe is determined by each state’s board of accountancy, candidates generally have a maximum 18 months to achieve the goal of passing all four sections of the CPA exam.
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