CPA exam candidates always seem to want to know which section is the hardest and which section is the easiest. Some prefer to start with the hardest section to get it over with while others prefer to start with the easiest section to avoid being overwhelmed or discouraged or to build momentum.
As a CPA candidate, you must be mindful of testing windows, blackout months, and the fact that, as soon as you pass your first exam section, you must pass all three remaining sections within eighteen months or face losing credit for the section(s) you passed. Given these time constraints, it’s smart to consider the order in which you will take the exams. By starting with the hardest exam section, you can prevent that eighteen month clock from beginning to tick until you’ve mastered the most difficult section. Since you only have 18 months to pass this very difficult 4 section exam, this makes sense. On the other hand, some feel that starting with the hardest exam might put the in the unenviable position of having to take it multiple times to pass. In the meantime, they would have no exam credit to show in exchange for a significant amount of effort, which can be very demoralizing.
Starting with the least difficult section or the section that you are most comfortable with can give you the confidence and momentum you need to keep going.
So which section is the easiest?
Based on the pass rates, Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) seems to be the least difficult. With over a 50% pass rate, the BEC section’s pass rate was several percentage points higher than each of the other three sections. There are several reasons why the BEC section is considered the easiest section of the four. In addition to the fact that it covers the least material and is of the shortest of the four exam sections, BEC also does not have any simulation questions; however, it does contain 3 written communication questions.
Many who have taken all four exam sections also feel that the BEC exam material is fairly straightforward and lacks the same potential for getting lost in details, formulas, and conceptual applications as many of the other sections. The bottom line is that the order in which you take the exams is a personal preference and can be partially based on your particular educational background and experience. However, consider the fact that taking the easier sections first can make the harder sections seem even more difficult than they are in comparison.
After you’ve devoted the study and test-taking time required to pass other exam sections, facing the hardest section last can feel like you’re trying to go uphill at the end of a long race. For this reason, most CPAs and instructors recommend starting with the hardest exam first and ending with the easiest, allowing you to “coast” to a finish and successfully pass all four sections. Once you’ve decided what order you plan to take your exams, the next step is to create a study plan so that you’ll be able to pass each exam section within the eighteen month window. You should also make sure to plan for testing windows and blackout months.
Remember, once you pass an exam, you must pass the remaining exam sections within eighteen months, which gives you just six other testing windows. With the right planning and preparation, you’ll have the best chance of passing all four exams and becoming a CPA.