CPA Exam Sections and Testing Windows

CPA Exam Sections and Testing Windows

Updated:December 11, 2018
Bryce Welker, CPA

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 four sections. Each of these focuses on separate subject areas. You should spend some time in understanding the manner in which you will be tested and the structure of the individual exams.

Additionally, there are rules regarding the dates on which you can take the exam. You must pass all four 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 4 sections of the CPA exam and
  • The implication of the “testing windows” that are available to take the exam

Exam Format: The 4 Sections

The four sections of the Uniform CPA exam are:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • 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, Task-based simulations, or Written communication tasks:

Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) – each of the four sections contains two multiple-choice testlets.

Task-based simulations (TBSs) – these 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.

Written communication tasks – these are restricted to the Business Environment and Concepts sections. The other three sections do not contain written communication tasks. You will be asked to read an outline of a business-related situation and then write an appropriate response. This response could be in the form of a letter or a memo.

Now, let’s examine the four sections and get an idea of the subject areas that each of them covers.

The following tables describe the examination content and the respective weight of the content matter within the sections. Keep reading for some additional answers to frequently asked questions!

Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

Content area allocationWeight
I.Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and General Principles15-25%
II.Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response20-30%
III.Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence30-40%
IV.Forming Conclusions and Reporting15-25%

 

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.

Q: What is a pretest item?

A: A pretest item is used to create questions for subsequent CPA exams. These are not scored.

Q: How can you tell if a question is operational or just a pretest item?

A: You can’t. That’s why you must attempt each part of the exam. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a particular question is a pretest item and ignore it.

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

Content area allocationWeight
I.Corporate Governance17-27%
II.Economic Concepts and Analysis17-27%
III.Financial Management11-21%
IV.Information Technology15-25%
V.Operations Management15-25%

The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) exam contains five testlets:

  • Testlet 1 – 31 Multiple-choice questions
  • Testlet 2 – 31 Multiple-choice questions
  • Testlet 3 – 2 Task-based simulations
  • Testlet 4 – 2 Task-based simulations
  • Testlet 5 – 3 Written communication tasks

This section also contains several pretest items. Of the 62 MCQs, 12 are pretests, and there is one pretest TBS. The Business Environment and Concepts section is the only one to contain a testlet on written communication. Only two of the written communication questions are operational; one is a pretest item.

Q: How important are each of the testlets in the BEC section?

A:The two Multiple-choice testlets account for 50% of the total possible score while the Task-based simulations carry a 35% weight. The remaining 15% of your score will be based on the written communication testlet.

Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

Content area allocationWeight
I.Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting and Financial Reporting25-35%
II.Select Financial Statement Accounts30-40%
III.Select Transactions20-30%
IV.State and Local Governments5-15%

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%.

Understanding multi-stage testing

Each of the four 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.

You should also know that the multi-stage approach is adopted only for Multiple-choice question testlets. The difficulty level of your Task-based simulation testlets and written communication testlets is not determined by how well you did in the MCQs.

Regulation (REG)

Content area allocationWeight
I.Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and Federal Tax Procedures10-20%
II.Business Law10-20%
III.Federal Taxation of Property Transactions12-22%
IV.Federal Taxation of Individuals15-25%
V.Federal Taxation of Entities28-38%

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.

Testing windows

The CPA Uniform exam is held four times a year and the dates on which it is offered are called “testing windows.” There is one testing window in each calendar quarter:

Quarter 1: January 1 to March 10

Quarter 2: April 1 to June 10

Quarter 3: July 1 to September 10

Quarter 4: October 1 to December 10

The exam is not held on the dates that fall outside these testing windows. Consequently, you cannot take the Uniform CPA exam in the period from March 11 to March 31, June 11 to June 30, September 11 to September 30, and December 11 to December 31.

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.

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 four 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

You must pass all four 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.

This rule can result in the examination credit for one or more sections expiring if you exceed the 18-month validity period.

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 four 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.

Getting your scores

Q: How soon after you take the exam can you expect your scores?

A: Typically, your scores will be released on a rolling basis.

However, there is a score hold for the fourth quarter of 2018. If you take your exam in the period from October 1 to November 30, 2018, your target score release date is December 11, 2018. That’s the date on which the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) will release scores to the individual Boards of Accountancy. Your Board of Accountancy may then take another day to process and release the score.

The score release dates for the exam taken from December 1 to December 10, 2018, is December 19.

The rolling system for score release will resume from the first quarter of 2019.

If you take the exam in the testing window that is available in the first quarter of 2019, your score release dates will be:

 

Exam taken on/before:Score release date
January 20, 2019February 5
February 14, 2019February 26
February 28, 2019March 8
March 10, 2019March 19

The Bottom Line

Passing the Uniform CPA exam isn’t easy. You need to score a minimum of 75 in each section and you must also pass all four sections within an 18-month rolling period. This requires hard work and preparation; it also requires a certain amount of planning.

It’s advisable to schedule your exam as soon as possible after receiving your NTS. Doing this will increase the chances of receiving your choice of exam date and location. Once you know your schedule, you can devote your time and energy to the essential task of studying for the exam.

Now get out there and CRUSH the CPA exam!

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47 Comments
  • Jing
    Posted at 23 May, 2016 04:39 AM Reply

    Hi, if I apply for the exams and paid the exam fees, does that mean I can no longer change which sections I want to take? The NTS is valid for only 6 months? Does the 6 months start when you receive it or when you begin to apply for it? Thanks.

    • BWelk
      Posted at 1 June, 2016 04:20 AM Reply

      Hi Jing,From my understanding, you can't change the sections you want to take but you can reschedule the ones you've paid for anytime within the 6 month window. Does anyone else here know something different? The six months starts from the date the NTS was issued.Cheers,Bryce

    • Samyu K
      Posted at 22 May, 2016 14:51 PM Reply

      Hi Bryce,I am planning to take the Arizona CPA exam. In my initial application form, I have the option to apply for all 4 sections or fewer. What is the advantage of applying for all 4 sections? If I do apply for all 4 sections is there a time limit within which I should take those 4 sections? If I apply for only 2 , then do I have to pay an additional application fee when I apply for the other 2 sections?Would appreciate your insight on this. Thanks a lot.

      • BWelk
        Posted at 7 June, 2016 22:03 PM Reply

        Hi Samyu,Yes you would have to pay an additional application fee if you applied for 2 sections each time. Personally I like signing up for all 4 sections at once because I knew I would have to take all of them within the 9 month time period California state gives candidates on their NTS.Cheers,Bryce

      • Melissa
        Posted at 25 March, 2016 01:45 AM Reply

        Hello,I am looking to apply soon for the exam. Can I register for 2 sections now and take them in separate testing windows or both sections has to be taken in the same test window?

        • BWelk
          Posted at 31 March, 2016 19:35 PM Reply

          You can take each section once per testing window, so you can take all four sections in one window or you could take 1 section per window it doesn't matter.

        • spotlover
          Posted at 15 March, 2016 02:32 AM Reply

          Hi, I just found out I have to schedule all sections of the exam I want to take in the first 9 months up front. What is your recommendation in terms of the # of sections to schedule initailly? All 4, or just one or two, see how I do, then reapply again?

          • BWelk
            Posted at 31 March, 2016 19:49 PM Reply

            I scheduled all 4 sections at once because I new it would light a fire under me to stick to a consistent study schedule and knock them all out (and it worked)! I would suggest to do the same if you have a similar type of goal-oriented personality.Cheers,Bryce

          • robert
            Posted at 9 March, 2016 18:36 PM Reply

            Hi, i realize my AUD NTS expires on 4/1, if i don't take my exam, can i reapply for another NTS to take the AUD exam in the same window? do i need to do anything to ensure that i can take the exam in that same window because I need to take AUD in that window or i lose Reg.

            • BWelk
              Posted at 31 March, 2016 19:56 PM Reply

              Hi Robert,Ya pretty sure that isn't an issue if they can get the NTS to you in time. Definitely give them a call and find out the details though.

            • Landy
              Posted at 18 February, 2016 03:55 AM Reply

              Hi - I have taken AUD in 13 Feb 2016 and there is a big possibility not to pass, so in case not passing can I retake it again end of Feb 2016? Thanks

              • BWelk
                Posted at 19 February, 2016 07:32 AM Reply

                No you can only take the same section one time per testing window so you will have to wait until April 1st to retake it.

              • Ana
                Posted at 1 February, 2016 02:52 AM Reply

                I have the becker materials from 2013 can I still use that material to take the exams this year (2016)?

                • BWelk
                  Posted at 1 February, 2016 21:23 PM Reply

                  Hi Ana, I would highly suggest getting some updated study materials. It's not worth studying for hundreds of hours and run the risk of failing because you studied things no longer on the exam and miss out on learning about the new content added to the exams over the last 3 years.Cheers,Bryce

                • Ahmed Mahmoud
                  Posted at 24 October, 2015 04:27 AM Reply

                  My BEC score credit is going to expire on 11/30/2015 and i want to take my last CPA examination (FAR) on November 25 but the exam results will be on December 2015, so in this case my BEC credit will be expired and i have to retake it again ? or as far as i took my FAR exam before the expiry date i will be fine even if the results were on December?

                  • BWelk
                    Posted at 27 October, 2015 18:41 PM Reply

                    As long as you take your exam before the expiration date then you will be fine.Cheers,Bryce

                  • Stephanie
                    Posted at 25 November, 2014 17:06 PM Reply

                    I was able to schedule a CPA exam in the first week of Exam, but understood no testing in any third month. Is this an error on prometric's part? The first full week of December 2014 is available.

                    • BWelk
                      Posted at 26 November, 2014 12:34 PM Reply

                      I haven't heard anything like this before, probably best to contact Prometric and double check.

                      • Stephanie
                        Posted at 1 December, 2014 13:52 PM Reply

                        OBviously the exam is on my mind - I intended to type - first week of December. :) Me neither. I was waiting until my test time Saturday to see what they do. My first one expires 12/31/13 so I really wanted to get this one in. Thanks for your response.

                        • lindsey
                          Posted at 26 February, 2015 23:32 PM Reply

                          Hi there, I just witnessed something like this for the month of March. Was it an error or did they let you take the exam?

                    • David
                      Posted at 9 November, 2014 04:17 AM Reply

                      Hi Bryce, I was wondering; I have the Becker 2013 Review program and still have several months left on it as I managed to have the license extended. I have heard there have been changes to the exam though since 2013. Are those changes significant? On which sections? Thanks!

                      • BWelk
                        Posted at 9 November, 2014 21:19 PM Reply

                        Since then the biggest change was to the Audit section. The other sections had only very minor changes to my knowledge.Cheers,Bryce

                      • Irene
                        Posted at 15 September, 2014 02:21 AM Reply

                        Hi, I have a question.... just past all 4 exams, however, I received the first score on 2/23/13 ( expiration date on it was 9/30/14), and received my last score on 9/9/14. Does it mean I complete it, or not?... sorry for the silly question.

                        • BWelk
                          Posted at 17 September, 2014 01:48 AM Reply

                          Congrats! If the expiration date said 9/30/14 then yes you should be fine. I would call your state board of accountancy if you have any doubts though.Cheers,Bryce

                        • Silena
                          Posted at 15 July, 2014 17:11 PM Reply

                          Hi, I am a little confused as I thought the CPA exam had been changed into two parts instead of four.

                          • BWelk
                            Posted at 17 July, 2014 22:20 PM Reply

                            Silena, no it's always been four sections and I haven't heard anything different for the future.-Bryce

                            • paul
                              Posted at 23 August, 2014 13:10 PM Reply

                              CMA used to be 4 sections but was recently changed to 2 sections. Maybe this is what you are thinking of?

                          • Myron Jones
                            Posted at 24 December, 2013 23:36 PM Reply

                            Hi I have all the 2013 Becker CPA Review material & I was wondering can I use this material to take the 2014 Becker CPA Review exam . What changes & updates are going to made. Thanks in advance

                            • Bryce
                              Posted at 25 December, 2013 00:08 AM Reply

                              I know the FAR exam is going to have updated material but that doesn't go into effect until June 2014. That was the only major change that I am aware of.Cheers,Bryce

                            • Wilson
                              Posted at 21 November, 2013 10:25 AM Reply

                              Hi, BryceI hope that everything goes well!I want to ask whether there will be big changes of FAR section in 2014? because the AICPA says there will be changes as shown below, and I don't know whether it means the FAR will change a lot.(1) Change “IFRS Framework” to “The IASB Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting”.(2) Change “AU Section 623, Special Reports” to “AU-C Section 800, Special Considerations – Audits of Financial Statements Prepared in Accordance with Special Purpose Frameworks”.Can you help me with this?Best regards,

                              • Bryce
                                Posted at 21 November, 2013 22:28 PM Reply

                                Hi,I've heard that the changes won't take place until June 1st, 2014 so I would try and take FAR before then if you can. I haven't looked into any of the changes yet as it's pretty far away from now, but I will do some research and see if I can find some more detailed information.Cheers,Bryce

                              • Rai
                                Posted at 14 November, 2013 07:07 AM Reply

                                Hi Bryce,I have filed application with Guam board and expect approval in Dec 2013. I am planning to appear in Jan/Feb 2014. However confused whether i should wait for 2014 course material or buy 2013. I understood new rules particular for Reg is application from July 01, 2014thanks for help

                                • Bryce
                                  Posted at 14 November, 2013 16:08 PM Reply

                                  Hi Rai,Buying a 2013 course shouldn't be a problem since most CPA Reviews include free updates for new course material. I am not of any major exam changes until July 2014 as you said. I would get started right away and begin your CPA journey!Cheers,Bryce

                                • Nancy
                                  Posted at 27 October, 2013 04:21 AM Reply

                                  Hi, if you are saying becker is expensive then which one you recommend that is better than becker? One more thing, I don't pass last 3 or 2 within 18 months will I loss all credits from 1st test and I have to start all over again?

                                  • Bryce
                                    Posted at 27 October, 2013 22:16 PM Reply

                                    I would recommend CPAexcel, Yaeger CPA Review, and Roger CPA Review (all better than Becker!) This will help you choose the right one, Yes, you will lose credit for all exams that are over the 18 month window.

                                  • Andrea
                                    Posted at 19 October, 2013 05:41 AM Reply

                                    Hi!Do the 18 months begin the date you received your passing score, or the date you took the test?Thank you!

                                    • Bryce
                                      Posted at 21 October, 2013 14:24 PM Reply

                                      Hi Andrea,The 18 months starts the day you pass your 1st exam.

                                    • ben
                                      Posted at 31 July, 2013 05:24 AM Reply

                                      Once you pass one section of the CPA exam, how much time will we have to pass the rest of the eaxm?

                                      • Bryce
                                        Posted at 31 July, 2013 14:28 PM Reply

                                        Hi Ben,You have 18 months after you pass your first exam to pass the remaining 3.

                                      • Ann
                                        Posted at 8 July, 2013 08:48 AM Reply

                                        How long did you have before you took the exam? I only have a few months and find it daunting.

                                        • Bryce
                                          Posted at 8 July, 2013 13:05 PM Reply

                                          Hi Ann,I studied for about 2 months before each exam, closer to 3 for FAR. A few months is plenty of time if you are consistent, just 1.5 hours a day is enough if you stick to your study plan and want it bad enough. You're on the right track, keep at it!Cheers,Bryce

                                        • Vicky
                                          Posted at 25 April, 2013 02:25 AM Reply

                                          HiI've been comparing the different review options and have a question stemming from the Becker package. In their options, they distinguish between 2013 and 2014 packages. Is there a large change in testing format/knowledge between years that I should be concerned about when choosing? I am sure that I will have at least one exam that will swing into 2014.Also, I have been approved by an "approved" transcript evaluation company that I can write the exams without any additional semester hours. I still however have to wait for final approval from the California Board before I receive my authorization to test. Currently they are running behind schedule and have advised of a 6 week turn around from when they receive applications and payments to decisions on authorization. I am also feeling a little disappointed that I may also have to wait an addition 5 weeks for my NTS! Is it wise to purchase a package now to begin studying? I would really like to write an exam by the end of May!Many thanks,

                                          • Bryce
                                            Posted at 26 April, 2013 21:16 PM Reply

                                            Hi Vicky, The only section, to my knowledge, that is going to be adding new material in 2013 is Audit. This will take place in June of 2013 and you can read about the additional information that will be covered on the NASBA website. Many review courses will automatically update their materials for these changes and give them to you for free, however, I am not sure about Becker's policy so you should contact them directly if you're heart is set on them (very overpriced in my opinion).For your second question, my advice is to absolutely start studying now!! I also had to deal with the California Board of Accountancy and by the time I got my NTS I was already halfway through studying for my first exam. There is no reason to procrastinate your studies unless you feel like there is a very large chance that your application will be rejected. One of my favorite quotes comes from Abraham Lincoln, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Go get em Vicky!Bryce

                                            • Aanchal
                                              Posted at 21 May, 2013 03:38 AM Reply

                                              Dear Bryce,Thanks for sharing all the valuable info on CPA. I had taken the CPA back in 2003 and missed by 1 or 2 points in the subjects. I had been using Becker at that time. I took Aud again and missed by 1 point. I kind of got disheartened then and quit studying for the CPA. Recently I feel the need to complete my CPA mainly to free my mind from this twinge of regret of not finishing my commitment and also to develop more confidence in my career. I need some advise and was wondering if I could possibly talk to you over the phone. Would that be ok? I want your opinion on a couple of things and that would make it a long comment on this website.

                                              • Bryce
                                                Posted at 21 May, 2013 16:35 PM Reply

                                                Hi Aanchal,I am currently living in Bangkok but if you send me an email with your questions at [email protected] I will help you out as much as I can.Cheers,Bryce

                                                • richa
                                                  Posted at 27 March, 2014 13:34 PM Reply

                                                  Hello Bryce, I am an indian, who lives in bangkok.i am graduated in arts but done masters in finance and control.i want to crack CPA exams. so, can you guide me that from where i can start.Regards,Richa

                                                  • Bryce
                                                    Posted at 27 March, 2014 14:53 PM Reply

                                                    Hi,So are you going to fly back the US to take the exams or where are you going to take them? Check out my blog to learn more about getting started,