Which Section Of The CPA Exam Should I Take First?

I have received many emails asking which section of the CPA exam is the best to take first.  If you are not already familiar with the 4 sections of the exam, please visit my CPA Exam Sections page to learn about them before reading any further as you will need this information to make the best possible decision.

The CPA exam you decide to tackle first is a very important decision and can effect how well you perform on the remaining 3 sections.  Below I will give help you choose which section you should take first to give yourself the highest probability of passing all four sections your first time through.

Take The Hardest Section First Myth

The CPA exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Many people say to take the most difficult section first because once you get that one over with it will be smooth sailing from there.  I think this argument is ridiculous.

First off, just because you think a section will be the most “difficult” does not mean it will actually be.  I remember being nervous when I signed up for FAR because everyone told me it is the most difficult section but in reality it turned out to be my highest score.

Another myth I must deflate  is that there is not going to be any smooth sailing even after that first exam.  Each section is going to be challenging and require you to be disciplined. In contrast to my example above, I remember signing up for the BEC exam and thinking that it would be a piece of cake.  After I took the test I felt like I failed for sure and remember feeling foolish for underestimating it just because of my preconceived notions.

I promise you that no single section of the CPA exam is going to be immensely harder or easier than the others.  Even though you may have a particular skill in one area, that test will still require the same dedication and hard work as the others.

My biggest problem with this strategy is it defies common sense. If you choose the most difficult section first then you are giving yourself the greatest chance to fail! I respect the fact that you want to conquer the world on your first voyage but this logic is flawed and can be detrimental to your success.

 

First CPA Exam – Choose Your Strongest Section

Your first exam should be the section that you feel most confident about passing.  I chose Audit because I had just finished an audit class in my last semester and I still had all the terminology fresh in my memory.

If you have been out of college for a while then you should choose the area that is most relevant to your work.  If you are a bookkeeper then FAR would probably be your best bet, if you’ve been doing tax returns for the last 6 months then REG would most likely be your strong suit, and if you been working in the finance sector then BEC would likely be a good fit.

If you are coming straight out of college I would suggest taking a section that relates to a class that you did very well in or have a strong interest and desire to learn about. If no subject clearly stands out then you can always do what I did and choose a class that you just recently took because the information will still be fresh and easily retrievable.

Another option is to take one of the shorter exams first. BEC and REG are only 3 hours long and the study materials for these sections is smaller. This will allow you to digest the information much better and serves as a good stepping stone to prepare for one of the longer sections.  This is particularly true for anyone that has been out of school for a while and is not accustomed to taking longer more comprehensive tests like AUDIT and FAR.

 

Why Is This The Best Strategy?

Passing your first CPA exam will boost your confidence through the roof and that excitement and momentum will motivate you immensely for the tests to come.  I remember how much easier it was to stick to my study schedule after I found out I passed my first exam. The light at the end of the tunnel becomes much brighter as the reality of becoming a CPA in a matter of months sets in.

Turning down offers to go to parties and other fun activities that I was “missing out” on became much easier after that first exam because I was overwhelmed with a new energy, motivation, and focus that I previously didn’t have. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely indulged in my fair share of fun I just saved it for the weekends : )

Please,  don’t make this test harder than it has to be and let that first exam overwhelm and drown you in frustration. Play to your strengths and ease into it by taking the section you feel most confident about.  I promise you that the wave of energy you get from passing your first CPA exam will give you the motivation you need to CRUSH them all!

 

  • Michael D.

    Perfect timing CRUSH, just got my notice to schedule. Going to follow your strategy and take BEC first since I just finished a Finance and ECON class and did very well. Great Article BTW, I’ll stay tuned for your next!

  • Anna B.

    Your site is a great resource—very informative. Thank you!

    • Bryce

      Thanks Anna! Please let me know if you have any questions you can’t find the answers to on my site, always looking for ways to improve it.
      Cheers!
      Bryce

  • Stan

    I agree, play to your strengths and you will have the highest chance to pass them all the first try. Great Post!

    • Bryce

      Thanks Stan!

  • Mohammad

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I will be taking regulations class this semester, so I think it will be a good idea to take REG. My teacher will be using Gleim, in your opinion do you think this should be enough to pass the exam or do I need to use other resources like Becker?

    Thanks

    • Bryce

      Hi Mohammad,
      Good strategy to take REG first however I wouldn’t buy Becker. I would suggest Yaeger CPA Review for REG since it is the most thorough course and will cover anything that your teacher misses with Gleim. It is also less than half the price of Becker.
      Cheers!
      Bryce

      • TANVEER

        I am planning to take REG in July 2013 I am looking for study partner I am based in Queens New York City Please contact me at tanveer5050@yahoo.com

  • Alex

    I found your blog and its fascinating! I like the way you crushed this mindset (difficult or easy exam) into peices. In my opinion I think a CPA exam candidate needs to approach every part of the CPA test module equally important.
    I got my NTS from Delaware and im planning to take BEC and REG in may, I have started burning the midnight candle already and I think the contents of these courses is far beyond what I studied in both undergrad and grad school.
    One needs to be determined and very disciplined to nail the CPA exam and im leaving no stone unturned.
    Wish me well folks!

    • Bryce

      Thanks Alex, with that attitude you won’t any luck to pass man! You are way ahead of the game by already preparing, keep it up!

  • Bryan

    I graduate Dec 2013 and was wondering whether its possible to schedule a test in the first window sometime in Feb?

    I heard it can take 8wks to get your NTS and don’t want to jump in too early. I must pass in 2014 or have the dreaded 150 hr law creep up on me in 2015.

    • Bryce

      Hey Bryan,

      Have you sent in all the required documents yet? If not do this TODAY and you still have a shot at being able to take the test in February. My NTS took just under 6 weeks to get so it’s definitely possible. The bigger question is do you have enough time in your work/life schedule to be prepared in 1.5 months? If you do then I would definitely jump on this now and start studying today.
      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • Bryan

    This was concerning next December not currently.

  • Alex

    Bryan,
    My advise is to make sure you have 150 semesters hours before you start throwing money at this process. The rules have changed since 2012 but it depends on which state you are applying for.
    There was a little bit of technicalities in mine due to the fact that I had a foreign education which was equivalent to a regionally accreditation over here in the US, and then my graduate school was nationally accredited.
    I did extensive research and realised that most states do not accept national accreditation, so I chose Delaware which fits perfectly for me, because in Delaware your courses can only be accepted In the case of two-year institutions, where the accreditation is issued by the Accrediting Commission for Independent Colleges and Schools is also acceptable.
    That provision alone decided my fate, lol.

    • Bryce

      Thanks for all the good info Alex! I’m sure a lot of international students will find this very useful.
      Cheers!
      -Bryce

    • Josh

      Hi Alex

      Thanks for spilling so much wisdom! I actually have a foreign degree for my bachelors. I am currently in a Master’s Program at a top 20 prog. I am looking for a board which doesn’t have the requirement of getting courses evaluated. You said something about Delaware but I believe they require you to get the evaluations done. So far I have stumbled across Texas which have a policy leaning to not asking for those expense and time consuming evaluations. However, Texas board said they may if the need arises get evaluation work done via help of UT Austin. Do you happen to know of any board which don’t require evaluations? I wish to take AUD before May 31st.

      • alex

        Hi,
        Texas, unlike most state boards chose to use UT for evaluation services other than the traditional evaluation services.
        Your evaluation with UT might come out succesfully but the bad news is that you can not use that evaluation for many of the state board of accountancy since each of them are very specific about the evaluation service they require.
        If you attended a school abroad, there is absolutely no way you can escape evaluation services, I think the evaluation services were easy but they turn out be a laborious task especially when you are evaluating for the purpose of CPA, they charge high fees, the process is really slow and just a little bit frustrating.
        It took 6 weeks for FACS to finish my evaluation for delaware and I kept thinking about it everyday till I was cleared.
        Most state board of accountancy provides in-house evaluation services which is even more expensive that the traditional ones, but they are little bit fast with the evaluation service.
        NASBA have their own transcript evaluation services for most states.

        IL is the only state (to the best of my knowledge) that evaluates foreign transcript internally without involving any outside evaluation firms.
        Please be advised that the CPA system is very complicated for most states, and it is therefore your responsibility to do extensive research if you really want to chart that path.
        Hope this helps:)

  • Bryan

    Thanks Alex for the suggestion.

    I was figuring that I would need another $7000-10,000 to get the 150 credit hours and if I could pass without spending that I would be set, but I also knew that failure to pass in time meant that I would be spending that amount guaranteed. I’m in Colorado where 120 hrs will allow you to sit until July 2015. That is a large time window to at least attempt to pass and then just worry about gaining experience and passing the ethics exam instead of fighting through the school and work grind for another year or two and then starting the CPA process.

    I feel its a difficult task, but it sounds like it takes a rigorously dedicated study path for a 6-12 months span and you can have success. I’m just at a point where attending classes and dealing with a teacher’s syllabus needs to be past me at this stage.

    Something I did as prep for the 120 hr requirement was take extra accounting classes in my open electives so that I could have 30hrs of completed Accounting already so if I needed 150hrs I could utilize it towards a different degree or individual classes that I feel could broaden my abilities in unique areas (sign language, Spanish, Web Design) were just a few classes I felt I would like to take if need be to get to 150hrs.

    • Alex

      Bryan,
      That is a smart decision! I admire your flexibility in approaching this process.
      Its interesting to know you are in Colorado, I live in Colorado and completed a small graduate university in Colorado which was not regionally accredited, I tried the Colorado route but I was bounced due to the accreditation of my grad school.
      I still cant understand why Colorado of all states would be so selective in terms of accreditation, but what they forgot is I can transfer my CPA license (and that is if im able to pass through the entire exams succesfully) to any state of my choice under the reciprocity rule.
      Its funny how these state board of accountancy operates.

  • Bryan

    I actually have had nearly all my teachers do that same thing pass and pay to bring the CPA license to Colorado instead.

  • Keisha

    This site is extremely helpful as I am preparing to apply for the CPA exam! Is it possible you can give a brief description of each section? Not sure if that’s possible…

  • Aanchal

    Hi

    I am looking for a study partner/group in Mountain view, bay area CA for taking the CPA exams in 2013. Please email me if you are interested.

    Thanks

  • tehseen

    I have a BS degree in Finance and have been planning to do CPA for such a long time. I am planing to take all accounting courses prior to take the exam and it will refresh my knowledge and memory but i have 3 kids, do you think i would be able to handle all this, my two children are going to school.

    • Bryce

      I don’t have any children so I’m not sure how time consuming that is, however, I have talked to dozens of other parents who do and were able to study and pass the CPA exam. If you want it bad enough, you will succeed Tehseen!

  • Amanda

    Very helpful in choosing my first section!

  • Tara

    Thanks for all of the useful information. I currently work in auditing, but it’s governmental auditing. Based on the information above do you still recommend that I start with AUD?

    • Bryce

      Hey Tara,
      Yeah, sounds like that would be a good one to start with.
      -Bryce

  • roula helou

    hii im a syrian girl i like to know what the conditions to help me to do the cpa exam….

    • Bryce

      The first step is to decide what state you want to get your license in, they all have different education and work experience requirements. Check out http://crushthecpaexam.com/cpa-license-requirements/ to see all the individual state requirements.

      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • Pat E

    This discussion is very, very helpful.

    QUESTION: Does anyone know of an online diagnostic site where you can try the different sections and see how well you’re doing at the start? I’m thinking that would be a great way to priortize time and allocate study resources.

    THANK YOU!

  • Darshit

    Hello,
    I will have to do all 4 parts in 1 testing window as I am an Indian, and have to come to US for exam, I have about 9-12 months for preparation, how i should plan my study, part wise or simultaneously doing for all parts.

    • Bryce

      Hi Darshit,

      That’s hard for me to answer since I didn’t have to take all 4 in 1 testing window, however, I would definitely focus on one section at a time. If you study multiple sections simultaneously I think that will make it much harder to grasp the concepts and remember the information.

      Cheers,
      Bryce

      • Darshit

        Thank You so much, SO i think as per your opinion I should first complete all sections 1 by 1…and than revise all simultaneously before 1 month of exam…or i should arrange my exam in 2 months window to give enough time for study for each sections before the exam..

        • Bryce

          I would recommend taking the exams over a 2 month window to give you more time to study and review for each section.
          -Bryce

  • Darivette Miranda

    Hi I schedule my FAR exam for February 6, 2014, and want to find a study partner or partners that either lives in manhattan NY or Jersey City, pls write a email if you are interested is best to study in groups and have that study support

    Thanks a lot
    Darivette Miranda
    darivette@gmail.com

    • Darivette Miranda

      I am taking Yaeger review

  • Anahit

    Bryce, your explanation about taking CPA exams is very reasonable and logical, thank you. I will try to keep up reading your articles so soon I can start getting into CPA exam preparation mode.

  • Yann

    Thank you providing this blog! It is exactly what I was looking for as I am preparing to take the CPA exam during the testing window in July and August.

    I am currently set to graduate in May 2014, and will not begin working full-time until October 2014. Do you think it is possible to take two sections in July and two sections in August? My last semester will be relatively light, and I really want to pass all the sections of the CPA exam before I begin working.

    Thank you again for your insights as well as those from other responders!

    • Bryce

      Hi Yann,

      Thanks for your support! It is going to be incredibly difficult to pass all 4 sections within 2 months. I think taking 1 section per month is much more reasonable and will increase your chances of passing all of them on your first try. Best of luck on your CPA journey,
      Bryce

  • Tee

    Hi I recently graduated last year, but took some time of from studying and I am currently not employed. The plan was to begin studying and taking the exam this year. However, I use to think FAR was my strong point, but the last exam I attempted was BEC three years ago and scored a 74. At this point I really do not know where to begin, would appreciate any suggestions you can provide.

    • Bryce

      Hi Tee,
      If you think FAR is your strong point (or use to be) then I would take that first. It has more study material to cover than some of the others (BEC, REG) but if you can commit to studying a little everyday then you should be fine.

      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • Nikki

    Hi
    i graduated over 5 years ago, and i’m now planning on taking the CPA, which one of the review would you recommend that would help me refresh my memories and learn quite fast. i have a toddler and a very demanding job, but i’m willing to sacrifice one year for this exam, so i need one of the best review that will support my lifestyle.
    thanks so mu for this

    • Bryce

      Hi Nikki,

      That depends, Do you learn better from watching an instructor give lectures and work problems, or do you prefer to self-study and learn from reading the text and working the problems yourself? Yaeger and Roger are both good options for watching video lectures and CPAexcel is your best option if you prefer to self-study.

      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • Chris

    Bryce,

    I am a lawyer having graduated from law school in 2011 and studied tax. I graduated from college in 2007, majoring in business and finance. I already passed REG as my first exam on my first try which I’m happy about. I was originally set to take FAR next, but now I’m leaning toward getting BEC and AUD out of the way first so I can focus on FAR. I majored in Finance in college. I also took an auditing course last year to become eligible to take the exam so I’m guessing BEC and AUD would be more fresh in my memory compared to FAR. However, I hear a lot of people saying that info learned in FAR helps for BEC and AUD.

    • Bryce

      Chris,
      I took BEC and AUD before FAR too and passed. I don’t remember there being a lot of overlap with those 2 sections and FAR so you should be fine. I like your strategy to go after the ones that are fresh in your mind, go crush it!
      -Bryce

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