Passing the Uniform CPA Exam is an essential step towards getting the coveted CPA license. But before studying, it’s a good idea for all candidates to familiarize themselves with what they are up against.
The exam consists of three core sections: AUD, FAR, and REG. Each of these focuses on separate subject areas. The exam also requires you to pass a fourth discipline section. CPA candidates must choose between one of the following: BAR, ISC or TCP.
Additionally, there are rules regarding the dates on which you can take the exam (CPA exam testing windows.) You must pass all sections within a specific timeframe. If you don’t, your exam credit for one or more sections could be invalidated.
Let’s review these topics by examining:
- The Core and Discipline sections of the CPA exam
- Testing windows and test validity information
Exam Format: The 3 Core Sections
The three core sections of the Uniform CPA exam are:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
Each section contains five testlets, which are smaller groups of test questions.
A testlet may comprise a number of multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. The CPA exam no longer includes written communication tasks.
Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) – each of the core sections contains two multiple-choice testlets.
Task-based simulations (TBSs) are case studies that replicate real-life situations. A TBS tests your understanding of practical accounting or business issues. There are either two or three TBS testlets in each section.
Now, let’s examine these sections to get an idea of the subject areas that each of them covers and look at some frequently asked questions!
Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
The Auditing and Attestation (AUD) exam is comprised of 72 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 8 Task-based simulations (TBSs) divided into five testlets. The 72 MCQs account for 50% of this section, while the 8 TBSs comprise the remaining part.
This section tests your ability to apply your auditing and attestation skills to solving problems.
You should know that of the 72 MCQs and 8 TBSs, only 60 MCQs and 7 TBSs will count towards your exam score. The remaining are “pretest items” that will not affect your score.
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
The Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) exam contains five testlets, of which the first two comprise 33 multiple-choice questions each. 54 of the 66 questions are operational and the remaining 12 are pretest items.
The third testlet contains two task-based simulations. Testlets #4 and #5 contain three TBSs each. Of the total of eight TBSs, seven are operational, and one is a pretest item.
As far as the item weighting is concerned, the multiple-choice questions account for 50% of the total possible score and the task-based simulations for the remaining 50%.
The Regulation (REG) exam contains five testlets:
- Testlet 1 – 38 Multiple-choice questions
- Testlet 2 – 38 Multiple-choice questions
- Testlet 3 – 2 Task-based simulations
- Testlet 4 – 3 Task-based simulations
- Testlet 5 – 3 Task-based simulations
The 76 MCQs (64 operational, 12 pretest items) and the eight TBSs (seven operational and one pretest item) account for 50% each of the total possible score.
Understanding multi-stage testing
Each of the three sections of the CPA Uniform Exam contains two multiple-choice question testlets. The first MCQ testlet is always a “medium” testlet. This means that its questions are of a medium level of difficulty.
If you score well in the first MCQ testlet, the second multiple-choice question testlet that you are given will be more difficult to solve. However, if you don’t do very well in the first testlet, you will receive another medium MCQ testlet.
Doesn’t this system imply that you are penalized if you score well in the first MCQ? Why should you have to answer a more difficult testlet if you have answered a greater number of multiple-choice questions correctly in the first MCQ testlet?
You shouldn’t be worried about this because the characteristics of the test questions are taken into account when your answers are being scored. The primary reason that multistage testing is used is that it allows your proficiency level to be determined with a higher degree of accuracy.
There is one testing window in each calendar quarter:
2024 CPA Core Section Test Dates
1st quarter: January 10 to March 26, 2024
2nd quarter: April 1 to June 25, 2024
3rd quarter: July 1 to September 25, 2024
4th quarter: October 1 to December 26, 2024
CPA Discipline Section Test Dates:
1st quarter: January 10 to February 6, 2024
2nd quarter: April 20 to May 19, 2024
3rd quarter: July 1 to July 31, 2024
4th quarter: October 1 to October 31, 2024
Remember the following points when you are scheduling your CPA exam:
- You will receive an NTS for every section of the Uniform CPA exam that you are eligible to take.
- The NTS has limited validity; once it expires, it cannot be reused.
- You can choose to take one or more sections of the CPA exam during a particular testing window. You can even take all sections during the same testing window if you are eligible.
- However, you are not allowed to take the same section more than once in the same testing window.
Your exam credit has an 18-month validity
Currently, all states require you to pass all sections of the Uniform CPA exam in an 18-month rolling period. The actual date of the examination section will be considered to determine this period. You will lose credit for any section that you passed outside the 18-month period.
However, it is important to note that in 2023, the NASBA changed its recommendation from 18 to 30 months. CPA aspirants will have a 30-month timeframe starting from the date they successfully complete the first segment of the exam to clear the remaining three sections. This extension is applicable to individuals who have previously completed one or more sections of the exam and those who will be taking the exam in the future.
Some states, like New Jersey, have already updated their validity requirements for the 30-month extension. However, many are still upholding the 18th-month standard. So, make sure to check with your state board.
Critical Warning for CPA Candidates: Navigating the Retesting Dilemma
Embarking on the path to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is no small feat, with the 2024 testing windows introducing significant hurdles for many aspirants. A particularly daunting challenge that future CPA candidates must be acutely aware of is the prolonged wait and subsequent knowledge decay associated with retaking exams after failing a section. As one Reddit user poignantly expressed, “Can you imagine waiting that long only to find out you need to retest? At that point, you’ve forgotten all the material!”
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) enforces an 18-month window within which candidates must pass all four sections of the CPA exam. However, it’s a sobering fact that the average test-taker fails two sections before successfully passing all four. This reality, within the constraints of the 18-month window, can significantly derail one’s CPA journey. Failing two sections not only sets you back but, as the Reddit user warns, “You’re toast! You’re in the gerbil wheel for 30 months.”
This predicament is alarmingly detrimental to the already shrinking pool of CPA candidates. The stringent 18-month window, coupled with the exams’ inherent difficulty, may deter many from achieving their CPA certification. The Reddit user’s astonishment that “this isn’t talked about more often” underscores the critical need for heightened awareness among prospective CPAs. The risk of underestimating the impact of failing sections is too great to ignore.
Prospective CPA candidates should heed this firsthand cautionary advice. It’s imperative to approach the CPA exam with strategic preparation, efficient time management, and a deep understanding of the testing window’s implications. Recognizing the potential “gerbil wheel” of retesting can empower candidates to navigate their CPA exam journey more effectively, avoiding common pitfalls and steering clear of the cycle of constant studying and retesting.
Q: How do you go about making a request to take the exam?
A: The first step is to apply to the Board of Accountancy. If you are found to be eligible, you will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS). The NTS has a validity period of six months. You can use your NTS to schedule your exam.
Q: Can I take the CPA Exam outside of these testing windows?
A: No, the CPA Exam can only be taken during the designated testing windows. It’s important to schedule your exam within these periods to ensure you can take the test.
Q: What can I do if I let one or more of my exam credits expire?
A: Unfortunately, your only option is to retake the relevant section or sections.
It’s crucial that you keep this issue in mind when you are preparing for the exam. You must ensure that you pass all sections within the 18-month validity period. Failing to do so can set you back by several months, and it could mean spending far more time on preparing for the exam than necessary.
Q: How soon after you take the exam can you expect your scores?
A: Typically, your scores will be released on a rolling basis.
Q: How will I receive my CPA Exam scores?
A: Your CPA Exam scores will be made available to you through the official website of the Board of Accountancy or the designated examination portal, where you can securely access and review your results.
Bryce Welker is a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.com, YEC and Business Insider. After graduating from San Diego State University he went on to earn his Certified Public Accountant license and created CrushTheCPAexam.com to share his knowledge and experience to help other accountants become CPAs too. Bryce was named one of Accounting Today’s “Accountants To Watch” among other accolades. As Seen On Forbes