How To Pass the CPA Exam: From Start to Finish

Passing the CPA exam can be a long and confusing process. 

Not only do the guidelines and protocols for the exam vary from state to state, but you also have to learn material that is notoriously difficult to understand. 

This means that the path towards becoming a certified public accountant varies from person to person. It depends on several things, such as:

  • What state you test in
  • Your existing professional and educational background
  • How much time you have to allocate towards studying

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your own journey towards becoming a CPA, don’t worry. We’ve put together a proven framework to help you get your CPA license, from start to finish.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

Choose Your State

The requirements for qualifying to sit for the CPA exam vary, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when choosing what state to take your exam in. Most states require CPA candidates to have at least 150 credit hours before taking the CPA exam, which can take several months.

However, there are certain provisionary states where candidates can take the exam before completing all of their education requirements. This means that you can sit for the exam as long as you complete your educational requirements within a certain timeframe, which is dependent on the state.

Even though you sit for the exam though, you won’t be able to receive your test scores until you fulfill all of your educational requirements. 

Review Your Education Requirements

Educational requirements vary depending on what state candidates take their test in. This can range from different study material to whether or not you’re a resident of the state you’re testing in.

However, there are two requirements that stay the same no matter what state you’re testing in:

  • Candidates must pass all four sections of the exam with a minimum score of 75.
  • Candidates must pass all four sections within 18 months.

Once those two requirements are fulfilled, it’s up to you to review your state board’s official website and learn about what else is needed to fulfill any specific requirements.

Apply And Pay Your Application Fees

Once you have your educational requirements fulfilled, you’ll need to send an application to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). 

Common items for the application include:

  • Application fees
  • Proof of identity, such as a passport or ID
  • Documentation of education

Along with your application, you’ll need to send in an application fee. While the actual cost is different from state to state, the fee will usually range between $50-200. 

This is a one-time fee, but you can incur extra expenses if your initial application is rejected or you let your authorization to test notice expire. 

Choose Your Exam Section

The CPA exam is made up of four sections:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

The order that you decide to test in is entirely up to you and will depend on your testing style and accounting background. Are you more skilled in one discipline than another? Do you prefer to get difficult material out of the way first? All of these will factor into what order you should test in.

Choose Your Review Course

When it comes to choosing a review course, it’s important to pick a course that gives you several different ways to study. By consuming written, audio, and video material, you can give yourself the best shot at retaining and understanding the material you’ll encounter on the CPA exam.

When it comes to multi-media review courses, we recommend Ninja CPA Review. They’re full roster of study material includes:

  • MCQ Testbank
  • Books
  • Notes
  • Audio
  • Live & Recorded Tutoring

An additional plus is that you can pay it on a monthly basis, reducing the typical high costs associated with most standard CPA review courses.

We have a free on demand training ‘How To Choose The Right CPA Review Course For You’ that you can use to find the right fit.

Select Your Exam Date

The CPA exam is offered four times each year: 

  • January 1 – March 10
  • April 1 – June 10
  • July 1 – September 10
  • October 1 – December 10

You can visit the Prometric website to schedule your exam and choose a testing location that’s convenient to you. You’ll also need to provide testing documentation to upload to Prometric.

Paying Exam Fees

Once you’ve received your authorization to test notice, you’ll need to pay your exam fee. This is the fee you pay for each section of the exam you take and in most states cost $193.45.

Once your exam fee has been paid for, you’ll also have to pay a registration fee when you sign up. These fees are arranged in a tiered fee structure, so you can save money if you pay for multiple sections at once. Each fee structure looks like this:

  • One Section: $63
  • Two Sections: $81
  • Three Sections: $99
  • Four Sections: $177

Study Using A Framework

When you’re ready to start studying, it’s important to study using a proven framework. Here’s a simple 4 part process that will help you get the most out of your study time:

  1. Master the basics: In order to master the CPA testing material, you’ll need to have a solid foundation to build on. Before you begin studying for the exam material, make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of accounting concepts.
  2. Write notes: It’s been proven that note-taking helps students retain information more easily, so take notes on all of your study material.
  3. Review your multiple choice questions (MCQs): Drilling through your review course’s MCQs is a great way to notice what material you know well and what you may need to work on.
  4. Rewrite your notes: When it comes to studying for the CPA exam, a lot of it will come down to studying repetitively. Rewriting your notes will help solidify the information even further in your mind.

Once again, we have a free on demand training ‘How To Choose The Right CPA Review Course For You’ that you can use to find the right fit.

Passing The Exam

Now, you’re ready to pass your CPA exam! Keep these key notes in mind when going through your CPA application process:

  • Each state has different qualifications to sit for the CPA exam, so make sure to check what requirements you’ll need with your state board.
  • No matter what state you test in, you must pass your exams with a score of 75 within 18 months of each other from start to finish.
  • Your study style will be dictated by your own personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • Repetitive study is the best way to pass the exam in the shortest amount of time, so don’t skimp on your study sessions.

Ready to study for the CPA exam? Check out our study guide here.

88 Things You Need To Know For The CPA Exam
+ 14 Study Tips.