The CPA exam is widely regarded as one of the most difficult professional licensing exams to pass. The exam is divided into four different sections: Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Each of the four parts is graded on a scale of one to 100 and candidates must score at least 75 points to pass. While earning a 75% doesn’t sound like it should be that hard, the fact that the overall pass rate for the first two quarters of 2012 was less than 50% shows just how difficult the exam is.
To make things a little more challenging, candidates must pass all four sections within eighteen months after they obtain their first passing score. Candidates should also factor in that there are only four testing windows a year ( Jan-Feb, April-May, July-Aug, Oct-Nov), along with four “blackout” months (3rd month of each quarter), and that you can’t retake an exam section within the same window. Knowing this information, it should be clear that you need to develop a test-taking strategy in order to give yourself the best possible chance of passing each exam section on the first try.
After considering the eighteen-month time frame and the available testing windows, many CPA exam candidates wonder what the optimal order is to take the four sections of the exam. There are several different schools of thought on what the best order is, but most people recommend starting with the most difficult section, which is typically FAR. Others recommend starting with the easiest section, which is usually BEC, in order to establish momentum and build confidence. However, each candidate is unique and each person should examine his or her strengths and weaknesses in order to determine their ideal test order. Candidates should also decide what will provide them with the biggest mental boost: getting off to a strong start with the easiest section or eliminating the biggest obstacle by starting with the most difficult section. Your experience, education, preparedness, and peer feedback will ultimately decipher what order you take the exam in. With each section having such similar pass/fail rates, this decision can be a difficult one.
Once you determine the best exam order for you, the next step is to develop a detailed study strategy for that particular section. Each of the four sections addresses very different topics, so you will need to prepare by studying material specifically designed for each section. In addition, different sections have different question formats ranging from multiple choice to simulations, and some focus more on detailed calculations than others, so you’ll need to prepare for this as well.
Nearly all CPAs utilized a CPA review course prior to sitting for the exam.