Which Section Of The CPA Exam Should I Take First?

Which Section Of The CPA Exam Should I Take First?

Updated:December 9, 2018
Bryce Welker, CPA

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 help you choose which section you should take first to give yourself the highest probability of passing all four sections your first time through.

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 (AUD) 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 have 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 if you have 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!

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205 Comments
  • Timothy Tyler
    Posted at 31 October, 2018 02:42 AM Reply

    I started an MBA program and took few courses However, I have been out of school for a year now without completing the MBA degree. On the other hand, I do have an interest in taking the CPA Exams since I had my undergrad degree in Accounting. Do you recommend that I continue my MBA program that could be completed in a year, or start preparing for the CPA since it is possible that the Exams can be done in some months? If the CPA is recommended, what section or order of the Exam do you recommend that start to prepare for ? I will also do appreciate your take or suggestion on the right CPA study materials that I can use in my preparation for the Exams. Thanks

    • Bryce Welker, CPA
      Posted at 2 November, 2018 15:53 PM Reply

      Hi Tyler, I would definitely recommend focusing on finishing your MBA program before taking on the CPA exam. The CPA exam will typically takes people 12-18 months to study for and pass all four sections so I'd suggest knocking out the MBA first and then start your CPA exam studies afterwards. Cheers, Bryce

    • Jill
      Posted at 4 July, 2018 13:37 PM Reply

      Which study materials would you recommend for someone who has been out of college for 20 years and learns best by self study and not videos or classrooms?

      • Bryce Welker, CPA
        Posted at 10 July, 2018 10:52 AM Reply

        Hi Jill, the CPA courses I'd recommend for self-studiers would be Wiley CPAexcel or Gleim. Both are very comprehensive and offer the most practice questions and simulations which self-studiers tend to learn best from (like me!) Cheers, Bryce

      • Kenyatta
        Posted at 22 March, 2018 11:04 AM Reply

        Hi Bryce, I am a tax auditor and I want to start studying for the CPA exam what test would you suggest I take first??

        • Bryce Welker, CPA
          Posted at 5 April, 2018 22:50 PM Reply

          Hi, I would definitely suggest starting with either Audit or REG since these are the ones you have the most experience and knowledge on. Good luck in your studies! Cheers, Bryce

        • wendy
          Posted at 28 November, 2017 18:43 PM Reply

          Hi, Bryce! I am a recent graduate with a minor in accounting only. But I am planning to study for the CPA exam. According to the 2017 CPA requirements, are the 150 semester units and 1 year of work experience under a licensed CPA really necessary during the time I take the exam? If I don't have it, is that mean I am not eligible to take the CPA exam?

          • Bryce Welker, CPA
            Posted at 29 November, 2017 15:38 PM Reply

            Hi Wendy, The requirements vary state by state. What state are you getting your license in? See this post for specific details on each state: https://crushthecpaexam.com/cpa-license-requirements/ Cheers, Bryce

          • Kejal Shah Mehta
            Posted at 11 May, 2017 20:13 PM Reply

            Hello Bryce,I am an average person studywise and about to start my cpa study after almost 13 years. Can you suggest how should I go about like Should i take some cpa classes? Or study on my own? I have done my post graduation major in accounts. Was working with a small CA firm. What books should I refer for my study?TIAKejal Shah

            • BWelk
              Posted at 12 May, 2017 18:27 PM Reply

              Sounds like you would benefit from my study guide! I explain the best way to study so you can pass on your first try! Here’s the Crush the CPA study guide - Make sure you check out my comparison chart of the best CPA review courses to help you decide which one is best for you. Good luck!

            • Sumoj Gopinath Kurup
              Posted at 5 April, 2017 10:42 AM Reply

              Hello Bryce, Im planning to write FAR, REG & BEC in the Q2 & Q3 window. FAR - 3rd week of May, BEC during the first week of July & REG in the last week. D I will be off work between BEC & REG, so I would get more time to study than usual. Pls let me know if this plan looks feasible. Thanks !

              • BWelk
                Posted at 10 April, 2017 17:53 PM Reply

                That sounds like a solid plan! I would make sure you get lots of practice before REG, since you have less time to study for that section. Practicing is the best way to find the specific topics you need to study more, and that's where you need to focus if you find yourself strapped for time. Good luck!

              • Anne Marie
                Posted at 12 March, 2017 18:58 PM Reply

                I took BEC last September and passed. I just took REG 3/8/17 and hopefully passed. Which should I take next - AUD or FAR?

                • BWelk
                  Posted at 21 March, 2017 18:51 PM Reply

                  I would pick the one that would seem more difficult for you personally next, based on the topics you struggle with. Check out the differences between FAR ( and AUD ( in these two detailed posts about what to expect in the sections. It's nice to have the last section be one you know you'll crush, so your CPA journey is downhill instead of up as it's coming to a close. Good luck!

                • JY
                  Posted at 7 March, 2017 05:57 AM Reply

                  I took REG in January-17 and didn't pass. I am wondering if I should restudy REG and take it again in Q2 or move on to FAR where there is minimal changes?

                  • BWelk
                    Posted at 21 March, 2017 18:30 PM Reply

                    This depends on what you think would be best for you, but I would imagine you would want to stay on REG since you have already been studying hard for that section. By going back and studying the areas that lowered your score, you will be studying better and for less time. If you switched to FAR, you will have to start all over again once you have to go back to REG. Good luck!

                  • goa121
                    Posted at 11 January, 2017 12:20 PM Reply

                    Hi Bryce,Thanks for the great insight! Does this sound like a practical way to take the exams; AUD (study June take July) REG (study July take August), FAR (study Aug-Sept, take Oct.), BEC (study Oct. take Nov.)? I'm in my last semester of school and I'll start my job in June. I was thinking to try to get it done before it gets too busy. and while I still have the school study ethic. I have some review materials and will be going through them during the semester, then it will sorta be like a review, focusing on each section right before I take the test. Alternatively I could take AUD(Aug.), REG(October), BEC (Nov), and FAR (Jan.), I feel switching FAR and BEC this way would give me more time for FAR. Would this be a more logical plan as opposed to the former? Thanks!

                    • wt
                      Posted at 16 December, 2016 20:50 PM Reply

                      I am currently scheduled to take FAR on 1/4, and BEC on 3/11. Due to the testing changes effective April, would it make more sense for me to stop studying for FAR, and apply to take REG before the testing changes? Thanks!

                      • BWelk
                        Posted at 22 December, 2016 23:09 PM Reply

                        If you are more than half way through your FAR study materials then I would suggest to go ahead and stick with your January FAR test date.Cheers,Bryce

                      • Dharani Patel
                        Posted at 24 September, 2016 10:53 AM Reply

                        Hi Bryce,I have no question as of now.. but your replies are very much helpful to all new comers of CPA course to move ahead in a right direction.I m from India and just started this course...Thanks Dharani

                        • tled876
                          Posted at 22 September, 2016 15:32 PM Reply

                          Hi Bryce, I worked in a CPA firm for about 4 years from 2006-2010 doing primarily taxes. 80% tax prep, entity creation, bookkeeping and 20% audit. Then I moved into private accounting as payroll admin and g/l accountant for 2 years from 2010 to 2012. in 2013 i was offered a position as an analyst and have been working on commission preparation and reporting analysis since. I purchased Becker live classes full package but couldn't keep up with the schedule due to the demands of my job so I wasted money there. I have a 3 month old and work full time. What do program do you recommend for studying, how much time daily I should study and the order of taking the exam given my background? I don't want to waste money or time this time around. Thanks.

                          • Jessica White
                            Posted at 15 September, 2016 18:09 PM Reply

                            So I just bought Wiley and will start studying Monday. I've been out of school since 2012 but I have been in the field since 2005. I'm a bit older, 36, and I registered for AUD and FAR. Reading all the statements below I fear I did that backwards. I work full time and am giving myself 2 months per section to study. Do you think that is long enough?

                            • C2C
                              Posted at 9 September, 2016 12:34 PM Reply

                              My order is: FA.R, RE.G, AU.D, BEC. I have passed FA.R and RE.G, just took AU.D and awaiting results. BEC is next! Thanks, B E C K E R!

                              • C2C
                                Posted at 9 September, 2016 12:32 PM Reply

                                My order is: FAR, REG, AUD, BEC. I have passed FAR and REG, just took AUD and awaiting results. BEC is next! Thanks, BECK.ER!

                                • Liam
                                  Posted at 29 August, 2016 18:04 PM Reply

                                  Hey Bryce,I am currently taking two auditing classes, so it makes most sense to me to try corresponding my CPA studying with the courses I am taking. However, my dilemma is that since they're making BEC/REG four hours in 2017 should I begin studying for those now anyways to try completing them before the revision and then begin studying the audit section, as the classes I am currently taking will still be relatively fresh in my head come the Spring of 17'?

                                  • BWelk
                                    Posted at 13 September, 2016 05:38 AM Reply

                                    Ya the Auditing stuff will still be fresh in your head in January 2017 so I'd suggest taking BEC/REG while the exam is shorter!Cheers,Bryce

                                  • Frank
                                    Posted at 29 July, 2016 14:50 PM Reply

                                    Hi Bryce,I just graduated with my 150 about 2 months ago and have been studying for FAR since then. I've gone through my whole lesson plan and find that I'm doing very poor on the practice exams, only answering about 40% of questions correctly. I've paid for FAR and BEC and am just waiting to hear back for my NTS. Do you think I should start from scratch with BEC, or continue studying FAR and take that as my first exam?Thanks in advance for any input. This site is very encouraging.

                                    • BWelk
                                      Posted at 15 August, 2016 23:11 PM Reply

                                      Definitely continue with FAR, you don't want to waste any time bouncing from section to section. Rather, pick one and focus all your energy on it until you pass!Cheers,Bryce

                                    • anisha ghimire
                                      Posted at 21 July, 2016 22:20 PM Reply

                                      Hello,i am glad that i found this page. I graduated in 2012 and after that i have been working as staff accountant mainly dealing with AP/AR and reconciliation. I have finished all my pre req 4 years back. I want to sit for CPA exam but i am so confused which one to start with. Each section will need pretty much same effort since i am out of school for 4 years. I am planning to buy one section of book first and make myself ready and then only will buy rest of the section books. Which one do you think i should start since i am completely blank at the point and also do you refer becker or wiley or anything better. Please advise.

                                      • BWelk
                                        Posted at 15 August, 2016 23:31 PM Reply

                                        I would suggest starting with BEC or REG because they will increase in 2017 from 3 hour exams to 4 hours. Wiley CPAexcel is usually the best course for international students so download a free trial and see how you like it.Cheers!Bryce

                                        • Naushina Mukhtar
                                          Posted at 22 April, 2017 10:22 AM Reply

                                          Hello Naushina here hope you're doing good today I have you question regarding the CPA exam . Do we have to submit transcripts as well ?

                                          • BWelk
                                            Posted at 3 May, 2017 19:44 PM Reply

                                            Yes, you will need to have your school send in transcripts to your state board

                                        • IAO
                                          Posted at 18 June, 2016 15:28 PM Reply

                                          Hi Bryce,My last formal education was 15 years ago when i got my MBA. I've had my practice now for 11 years and only just decided to do the CPA exam. i work full time and have active kids. Thanks for this blog. Reading this blog has helped me and i am going back to make some changes. i registered for AUD and BEC because i love reading and auditing is a favorite of mine (i guess years ago now!). It seems the strategic thing to do will be to do REG now since i am in public accounting and also before the new changes. i was also considering the Gleim review but have read your recommendation and people's experience with the Wiley CPA test bank. i have gone back to review the comparison of the different prep guides and i may well be getting the Wiley review. So thanks, and please feel free to share your thoughts on my plan.IAO.

                                          • Tish Marriott
                                            Posted at 26 May, 2016 01:20 AM Reply

                                            Hi Bryce, I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog. I've been working in tax for the last 8 years and I need to get my CPA ASAP. I am planning on taking REG first starting this weekend. I plan to take the exam in early July and sit BEC at the end of August. Do you think that is a reasonable amount of time? Other than REG my knowledge is weak in all other areas. I already feel so stressed especially with having a full time job..

                                            • BWelk
                                              Posted at 1 June, 2016 04:14 AM Reply

                                              Hi Tish,Yes that is a totally reasonable study plan if you study consistently. Hope you pass them both!Cheers,Bryce

                                              • Jen Lynn
                                                Posted at 10 June, 2016 15:58 PM Reply

                                                Tish, I actually could have written your exact post. I just finished REG (passed!) and having tax experience definitely made that my most confident test. I am now studying for BEC and have to say it's a lot harder than I expected. I believe I am least confident about FAR. I took REG end of May and take BEC first week in July so almost the same time schedule as you are. Good luck!!!

                                                • Tish Marriott
                                                  Posted at 22 June, 2016 23:17 PM Reply

                                                  Hi Jen! Just saw your message and we seem to be taking it in the same order. How long did you study for REG and what do you think was most effective? I am having such a hard time focusing but I am pushing myself this week. I have not scheduled the exam yet. I'm hoping to take it mid July. I may schedule it so I commit to studying. I am 2/3 weeks off schedule. Hope I will be able to take BEC end of August. Yikes! Good luck on BEC. Keep me posted and I will do the same.