About CPA Exam

  • CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. Uniform CPA Examination is a licensure examination and the 55 jurisdictions in US grant certifications to help people work as certified public accountants in their corresponding jurisdictions. The exam enables only competent individuals to become licensed public accountants. This is required, so that the interest of the public is protected and entry-level professionals are checked for skills and knowledge required for shouldering the responsibilities of the profession. There is no chance of your employment and professional development if you do not clear this exam.

  • AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) is the national level organization for CPAs. It is responsible for determining the content of the Uniform CPA Examination, preparing its examination questions, scoring etc.

  • The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) is an association of territorial boards of accountancy. It is responsible for uniformity across US to promote interstate practice of CPAs.  

  • Territorial boards of accountancy are responsible for the practices of CPAs in the related territory. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements for eligibility, education, employment, experience etc. for Public Accountants working in that jurisdiction. The board of accountancy of a jurisdiction is responsible for granting the CPA licensure to candidates.

Exam Sections
The exam contains four sections. These sections have smaller units called testlets and simulations. Testlets contain 24-30 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) each and simulations contain condensed case studies. The duration of the examination is 14 hours.

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD): It contains 3 testlets and 2 simulations to be completed in 4.5 hours. This section tests the knowledge of auditing standards and procedures.

  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): It contains 3 testlets to be completed in 2.5 hours. This section tests the knowledge of general business environment and business concepts.

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): It contains 3 testlets and 2 simulations to be completed in 4.5 hours. This section tests the knowledge of accounting principles for business and the related skills required for application of that knowledge.

  • Regulation (REG): It contains 3 testlets and 2 simulations to be completed in 3 hours. This section tests the knowledge of federal taxation, ethics and professional responsibilities and business law and related skills.

Types of Questions

The test contains some pretest items meant for developing future administrations of Uniform CPA Examination. They do not count towards your score but they cannot be differentiated from scored items and hence a test taker has to take each testing item with equal seriousness.

Multiple-choice questions are administered in sets of 24-30 questions, forming one testlet. Each section shall have the same number of questions per testlet.

Simulations are testing items based on real life case studies meant to judge your work related knowledge and skills. These skills are required for an accountant who is at the entry level for successfully carrying out his professional responsibilities. The responses are in the form of a letter or a memorandum to be written on a specific topic. 
Format of the Exam

The format of Uniform CPA Examination is computer based only.  You can attempt questions in any order within a testlet or simulation. However, you cannot navigate to another testlet from one.

The test format for AUD, FAR and REG multiple-choice testlets is multistage computer adaptive. This means that the first testlet is of moderate difficulty. The following testlets are selected by the computer according to the responses of the candidate; they are either of moderate or difficult level. Good performance in the first testlet leads to a difficult testlet being administered by the computer; else, a moderate level testlet is administered.

BEC is not computer adaptive and the testlets are of medium difficulty. Simulations are not computer adaptive.

Scoring in Uniform CPA Examination
AICPA scores the exam and forwards the scores to NASBA, which then sends them to the boards of accountancy who release them to the candidates.
The score of Uniform CPA Examination is presented on a scale of 0 – 99 with 75 being the passing score.

  • The multiple-choice questions of the exam contribute 70% towards the score.
  • Simulations contribute 30% towards the score where the objective portion of simulations contributes 20% and the written portion of simulations contributes 10%.

The multiple choice questions, written communications and objective portions of simulations are all scored separately. The three scores are then combined according to the above percentage division and an aggregate score is given. Then the scores are converted to a scale of 0 to 99 for final reporting.

Each correct response in the multiple-choice questions contributes towards the score and there is no penalty for an incorrect response. Therefore, there is scope of guesswork in the exam, in case you do not know the answer.

Some parts of simulations contain responses that can be scored electronically. The written communication responses are scored electronically as well as by examiners.
You can retest for any section if you fail in it, though you cannot take a test twice in the same testing window. 

Method of Registration

  • The test is conducted in Prometric testing centers of the respective jurisdictions of US. Registration for the exam is done at the board of accountancy of the respective jurisdiction if the candidate meets the eligibility requirements set by the jurisdiction. A candidate needs to understand which jurisdiction he wants to clear the exam in depending on how he plans his career.

  • Each year is divided into four ‘testing windows’ of 60 days each. You can take the sections in any order. Each section can be taken four times in a year but a section cannot be repeated in a testing window.  

  • Most jurisdictions require you to clear the four test sections within 18 months of taking the first section. Hence, you need to register for the exam accordingly, keeping in mind the preparation time you require and leaving room for retesting of any section if need be.

  • The cost of registration varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

  • The exam is conducted in US only and international applicants need to contact the jurisdiction in which they wish to qualify.

Preparation for the Exam
There are two aspects of the exam that one needs to be prepared for. Firstly, you have to be familiar with the test content and review the subject matter thoroughly for the exam. Secondly, you need to be familiar with the test format and directions. You should know how to key in the answers and obtain enough practice for the same.

For preparing the subject matter, stick to the syllabus described for the exam. Preliminary preparation requires you to go through the Candidate Bulletin for becoming familiar with the requirements of the exam. Another pdf file Content Specifications Outlines (CSOs) lists the entire syllabus for the different sections of the exam. To avoid surprises at the last moment and to spearhead your preparation in the correct direction, you must see the CSOs in detail.

To ease the preparation process of students, a tutorial and sample test papers are published by the conducting authorities. The tutorial helps you understand the question types, the tools and resources you shall require for taking the exam and how to navigate through it. 

The most important resource available for preparation is sample tests. These should be reviewed after you gain familiarity with the Candidate Bulletin, CSOs and the tutorial. Besides giving you an insight into the exam pattern, the sample test software shall help you become familiar with the way the exam is conducted. This tool is not meant for preparing for the content of the exam; it is only a means of gaining familiarity.

It is important to realize that preparation for the exam requires dedicated study. Though the test content is covered during your qualifying course, it is important to go through a preparation schedule that concentrates on the exam. Being ill prepared for either the test content or the testing conditions shall reflect negatively in your scores. One must also realize that the passing score for Uniform CPA Examination is quite high, 75 on a scale of 0 – 99. Besides, it is only one of the criteria considered by boards of accountancy to grant you licensure. Hence, you must leave no stone unturned for preparation, as there are more hurdles to cross before you become a certified accountant.

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