Which Section Of The CPA Exam Should I Take First?

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 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 (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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197 Comments
  • 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.

                                      • Lori Kamauf
                                        Posted at 23 May, 2016 12:58 PM Reply

                                        I graduated in 2012. I just recently decided that becoming a CPA is my ultimate goal. I actually ordered all the information through Fast Forward. I am getting incredibly frustrated as I have been studying since March (Auditing) and still feel like I am nowhere near ready. I think I may have picked the wrong section to start with. I graduated with high honors in an adult degree program, but I feel like I am not grasping any of the information. I hate to spend more money on another program. Any tips?

                                        • BWelk
                                          Posted at 7 June, 2016 22:01 PM Reply

                                          Hi Lori, I would suggest supplementing your studies with the Wiley CPA Test Bank. You can purchase it for about $130/section and it's the cheapest way to improve your scores.Cheers,Bryce

                                        • Cassandra
                                          Posted at 13 May, 2016 20:18 PM Reply

                                          Hello - I've been out of school for 2 years. What do you think is the most effective way to study for exam. I am considering taking classes at Becker. I've also heard about Wiley material. Which do you think would be more effective?

                                          • BWelk
                                            Posted at 19 May, 2016 21:19 PM Reply

                                            Hi Cassandra, I would suggest staying away from Becker's live classes as most students haven't found them to be very effective. Instead I would recommend either Wiley CPAexcel or Yaeger CPA Review because students who have been out of school for a while tend to do the best with them.Cheers,Bryce

                                          • Justin Kim
                                            Posted at 4 May, 2016 19:28 PM Reply

                                            Bryce,I greatly appreciate your help and insight. I've decided to go with the Wiley CPAExcel review course. I'll be finished with my requirements to sit in for the exam at the end the beginning of July and I plan to start studying afterwards.I want to finish the exams within 6-8 months (trying to pass all four before they roll out the new 2017 exams!) However, I'm not sure how I should plan this out.I'm thinking about taking BEC & REG first in the Oct/Nov test window and then FAR & AUD in the Jan/Feb test window. How should I setup and plan my studies and exams? This is my plan (let me know what you think; maybe you can add some insight!):July-Aug - study for BEC / Sept-Oct - study for REG / review and take REG in Oct / review and take BEC in Nov.Nov-Dec - study for FAR / review and take exam in Jan / Jan-Feb study for AUD . review and take exam in Feb.ORWould it best to study both BEC & REG simultaneously and review each separately before the exams (same with AUD & FAR)? For example:Study for BEC & REG from Jul to Nov and then take exams & study for AUD & FAR from Nov to Jan and then take exams.If I am making absolutely no sense, then I'll be more than happy to clarify... Hahaha... If anything, would you be able to share how you scheduled your studying and exams?Thanks!

                                            • BWelk
                                              Posted at 19 May, 2016 21:26 PM Reply

                                              Hi Justin,Definitely don't try to study for 2 exam simultaneously, that will spread you too thin and make it much more difficult to pass. Pick one exam at a time, study consistently (5-6 days per week), and then take the exam. Assume that you passed it and start studying for the next section you want to tackle right after that. This is the most effective way to pass all 4 sections quickly.Cheers,Bryce

                                            • Andrew Schut
                                              Posted at 30 April, 2016 02:17 AM Reply

                                              Hi Bryce - Many people have suggested taking FAR first to get it out of the way. However, given the recent CPA exam changes does it make more sense to take BEC first and then REG so we are only having to take 3 hours of an exam vs. 4 hours of an exam in 2017?

                                              • BWelk
                                                Posted at 12 May, 2016 22:43 PM Reply

                                                Yes I would definitely suggest taking BEC and REG first!