How To Prepare For The CPA Test (Steps, Tips And FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is the highest competency standard in accountancy worldwide and is a highly desirable credential for accountants. The CPA exam covers distinct areas of accounting practices and concepts to assess candidates' knowledge and skills. Learning how to prepare for the test may improve your confidence and increase your chances of passing. In this article, we explain what the CPA test is, share steps to prepare for this exam, outline its various sections, offer tips to help you succeed and answer a few FAQs.

What Is The CPA Test?

The CPA test is a four-part exam that aspiring accountants take to earn their CPA certification. The exam is part of the professional licensing requirements and is available through the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA). To take the exam as an international candidate, you can choose a US jurisdiction that conducts international testing. This jurisdiction certifies that you qualify to take the exam.

There are 55 accounting jurisdictions, and each state's Board of Accountancy (BOA) has education and experience requirements for licensure. The examination evaluates entry-level accountants' skills and knowledge in several accounting areas.

Related: How To Become A CA: Complete Guide To Chartered Accountants

How To Prepare For The CPA Exam

It is essential to prepare carefully for the CPA exam to improve your chances of success. Consider the following steps:

1. Apply to take the exam

It is important to first select a US jurisdiction allowing international testing. Then, apply to that jurisdiction's BOA or its designee and pay the fees. After receiving your Notice to Schedule (NTS), register and pay the additional fees to take the examination in your location. It is crucial to understand which phase of the examination you are taking so that you can register for the appropriate section.

Related: CPA Certificate Vs Licence: What Is The Difference?

2. Schedule the exam at a Prometric testing centre

Schedule an exam date when you receive the NTS, and then select the testing centre, times and dates. Consider scheduling your test at the start of the testing window, as this gives you more opportunities to reschedule within the same window if you wish to change the date later. In most jurisdictions, the NTS is valid for six months. However, this time allowance can vary depending on state requirements.

3. Review the CPA exam blueprints

Blueprints for the CPA exam provide a comprehensive outline of the topics in the four subtests. The AICPA resource centre offers comprehensive exam blueprints highlighting the skills you require for each test area. It is beneficial to utilise the examination blueprint to comprehend what to expect in your test. The blueprints can also provide additional information regarding which topics, accounting policies and practices to prioritise during your study.

4. Use online practice tests

You can find online practice tests on the websites of AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Four sample tests resemble each examination area and can familiarise you with the test's format and the time you require to complete the various parts. The time you take to complete the practice exams can help you determine how to manage your time between exam sections. You can find tutorials that provide more in-depth details about each section and answers to the sample test questions.

Related: 11 Important Accounting Concepts And What They Mean

5. Consider self-study courses

The AICPA offers self-study courses that can assist you in preparing for the CPA exam. Some of these courses are accessible for a fee, but the knowledge they provide can be beneficial for ensuring success. Many self-study courses offer resources and tools for studying topics, reviewing key concepts and practising skills.

Related: How To Get Motivated To Study: A Complete Guide With Tips

Sections Of The CPA Test

The CPA test is a four-hour exam with four distinct sections. These sections evaluate candidates' skills and knowledge in accounting. There is a testing window of 18 months to complete all sections. The AICPA maintains and updates each section to reflect the most relevant and recent practices. Advances in technology for accounting and finance also influence the topics, and continuous additions and deletions of test content ensure the most relevant assessment content for prospective CPAs. Below are details on the four exam sections:

1. Auditing and attestation (AUD)

This section requires business transaction and process knowledge and introduces new technical application topics. In this section, topics include information technology controls and systems for accounting and business data. There are 72 multiple-choice questions and eight or nine task-based simulations covering the following topics:

  • Ethics, professional responsibilities and general principles

  • Risk assessment and development of a planned response

  • Performing further procedures and obtaining evidence

  • Forming conclusions and reporting

  • Data accuracy and completeness for auditing evidence

  • Audit data analytics and tools

  • Service organisation control (SOC) 1 and SOC 2 reporting, controls and control testing

Related: 16 Types Of Audits (And Why Companies Conduct Them)

2. Business environment and concepts (BEC)

There are 62 multiple-choice questions and four or five task-based simulations in the BEC section of the exam. This section also contains three essay questions. Similar to the AUD section updates, the BEC now assesses various fundamental accounting concepts, such as the governance and design of internal accounting controls. The BEC tests candidates on the following core concepts:

  • Corporate governance

  • Economic concepts and analysis

  • Accounting control governance and design

  • Information technology

  • Financial management

  • Operations management

  • Data governance and extraction

  • Transaction-level risk and control management

  • SOC 1 reporting, including complementary user controls

Related: What Is A Business Environment? (Benefits And Examples)

3. Financial accounting and reporting (FAR)

The financial accounting and reporting section contains 66 multiple-choice questions. There are eight or nine task-based simulation items. This section covers four core topics. They are:

  • Select transactions

  • State and local governments

  • Select financial statement accounts

  • Conceptual framework, standard-setting and financial reporting

Related: 9 Commonly Accepted Accounting Principles

4. Regulation (REG)

This section contains 76 multiple-choice questions. There are also eight or nine task-based simulations. The REG section addresses:

  • Business legislation and law

  • Federal property taxation of transactions

  • Ethics, professional duties and federal tax regulations

  • Entity federal taxation, including preparation and strategies for planning

  • Individual federal taxation, including preparation and strategies for planning

Tips To Consider When Preparing For The CPA Test

Here are some tips to help you get ready for the test:

  • Review the CPA exam announcements. The AICPA announces upcoming exams on its website. You can get access to sample questions, webcasts of exams and other resources that can help you study more efficiently.

  • Review the CPA exam booklet. This publication provides important information about the exam and a list of resources and study topics for better preparation.

  • Subscribe to the CPA exam podcast. The AICPA hosts an official CPA exam podcast that provides tips, practice advice, study topics, tools and resources for developing accounting skills.

  • Plan to arrive early. Many test centres require candidates to arrive at their testing sites 30 minutes before the exam. This helps ensure that all exam participants can access the system and log in on time.

FAQs

Here are a few of the FAQs regarding public accountants:

Are CPA professionals in demand?

As multinational companies and the big four accounting firms are expanding, the demand for CPAs is increasing. Many global businesses prefer CPAs over chartered accountants (CAs) due to their extensive knowledge of subjects such as the US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), international financial reporting standards, and US compliance and taxation. CAs are only familiar with local GAAP.

How is the CPA exam different from the CA exam?

The AICPA administers the CPA exam. It is a single-level exam with four papers that the US and international markets recognise. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India administers the CA examination, comprising 16 papers across three levels.

Related: What Does a Chartered Accountant Do? Duties And Career Path

What is the structure of the CPA exam?

The CPA exam format is identical for candidates in all parts of the world. It consists of three types of tests: multiple-choice, task-based and written communication. It gives equal weight to the multiple-choice questions and simulations, except for in the BEC. The multiple-choice questions make up 50% of your total score, while simulations make up the remaining 50%. The AICPA has also assigned different grade weights to each test topic or section.

Where are the test centres for the CPA exam?

You can select any of the following Prometric test centres for your CPA exam:

  • New Delhi

  • Mumbai

  • Chennai

  • Calcutta

  • Bangalore

  • Ahmedabad

  • Hyderabad

  • Trivandrum

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

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