Best Order to Take the CPA Exam in

CPA Exam Order
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Best Order to Take the CPA Exam in...

You’ve achieved your 150 study credits, have gained the right amount of CPA-verified experience and signed up for a CPA review course to ace the four-part CPA exam. You’re ready to go, so which CPA exam should you take first? Should you choose the easiest CPA exam first or concentrate your studies on the sections you know you’ll find harder?

In this blog, we look at the CPA exam sections in order of difficulty and consider the merits of preparing for the most comprehensive exam first, otherwise known as the ‘FAR-first’ approach.  

What are the Different CPA Exams?

Before we recommend what CPA exam to take first, though, it’s important to touch on what each CPA exam entails. In total, there are four sections to the Uniform CPA Examination (CPA exam), including:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD) that tests your knowledge of the entire audit process, as well as compilation, preparation and review engagements and other non-attestation services.
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) that assesses your knowledge of financial management, corporate governance, economic concepts and analysis, information technology and operations management.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) that evaluates your understanding of financial reports, statement presentation, and how to conduct business transactions using GAAP, IFRS and Government Accounting systems. Crucially, your knowledge must cover governmental, non-governmental and non-profit financial accounting and reporting, making it far from the easiest CPA exam.
  • Regulation (REG) that analyzes your understanding of three main areas: business law, ethics, and federal taxation.


You’ll have a maximum of 18 months to pass all four CPA sections with a minimum score of 75. The Universal CPA Review team created detailed CPA exam study for each section which are linked below:

What is the Easiest CPA Exam section?

It’s somewhat of a paradox to find the words ‘easy’, ‘CPA’, and ‘Exam’ in the same sentence as each of the exams require a great deal of knowledge and, therefore, study. However, Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) is largely considered to be the easiest CPA exam because it consistently has the highest pass rate. This may be because it is typically taken last, but there are some other reasons too.

BEC does not just cover accounting and finance concepts; it also focuses on broader business topics, so there are fewer Task Based Simulations (4 compared to 8 in each of the other exams). That said, though, BEC does still require serious study as you’ll need to have detailed knowledge of:

  • Business concepts and economic performance
  • Managing financial conditions
  • Planning and measuring the outcomes of accounting strategies
  • Information Technology for Accounting
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CPA Exam Sections in Order of Difficulty

So, we know that BEC is widely considered to be the easiest CPA exam, but where are the other CPA exam sections in order of difficulty?

After BEC, the next easiest CPA exam is Regulation (REG). At 60.7%, it has a similar pass rate to BEC (based on the most recent cumulative results). As with BEC, although it’s not as hard as FAR, it’s not an easy exam. REG is a four-hour exam comprised of 76 Multiple Choice Questions and 8 Task Based Simulations designed to test your knowledge of federal taxation, federal tax procedures, business law, ethics, and professional responsibilities. The key to passing REG is using up-to-date study guides and materials, as this section of the CPA exam tests you on current laws and regulations.

Following REG, the next CPA exam (in order of difficulty) is Auditing (AUD), which has, at the time of writing, a cumulative pass rate of 47.87%, making it more challenging than BEC or REG.

The AUD section is, again, a 4-hour exam and includes 76 Multiple Choice Questions and 8 Tasked Based Simulations. It is harder than the previous two tests because it heavily concentrates on professional conduct, ethics, planning, preparation and documentation of audit and attestation services in line with professional standards. Moreover, most college accounting courses do not cover auditing extensively, so extra study time is required.

The last CPA exam section in order of difficulty is Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), which averaged a pass rate of just 44.7% in 2021. Typically, FAR requires more study time than the other exam sections (around 200 hours) as there is an enormous amount to learn and remember about financial accounting standards, conceptual frameworks, financial reporting, and transactions. To pass FAR, you’ll also have to spend a lot of time practicing accounting math in strict time limits as there are 8 Tasked Based Simulations that account for 50% of the overall mark and a further 66 Multiple Choice Questions.

So, as a quick recap, the CPA sections in order of difficulty are:

CPA Exam Hardest to Easiest

Which CPA Exam to Take First?

If you’re wondering which CPA exam to take first, most people work their way from the hardest to the easiest CPA exam, starting with FAR and ending with BEC.

As the most comprehensive of all four tests, FAR provides a strong foundation for the other sections.

Although the three remaining CPA exams assess your accounting and finance knowledge in different areas, each relies on your understanding of the main principles in accounting and finance. For example, both AUD and REG require you to know about financial statements and concepts, albeit not in as much depth as FAR.

Plus, if you’ve not long graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, it makes sense to study for the FAR CPA exam first as you’ll already be familiar with many of the concepts.

When not to Use the FAR-first Approach

Although the general rule of thumb is to take the FAR first, not least because you would have got the hardest exam out of the way, there are some circumstances where it may not be best. It could be, for example, that you’re someone who would benefit from the confidence boost in passing one of the easier CPA exams first (we’d recommend BEC rather than AUD or REG). Or maybe you’ve already started work in an auditing firm and have a strong grasp of auditing and attestation, in which case AUD may be a relatively quick win for you. We say ‘relative’ because, beyond the technical knowledge required to pass the CPA exams, you’ll also need to master exam technique (quickly answering questions under pressure).

How can Visual Learning help?

Regardless of the order you settle on, there’s one thing for sure. Across all four CPA exams, there is a lot of information to absorb and retain. Given that most of us are visual learners, meaning we must see information in order to retain it, it’s a good idea to invest in a visual CPA review course. Here at Universal CPA Review, we’ve created a series of bite-sized video lectures and video explanations to multiple choice questions that make the learning experience far easier (across all four CPA exam sections). So, whatever order you choose to sit the exams in, you’ve got a strong chance of success.

We’re enormously proud of our CPA student CPA exam pass rate, which currently stands at 90%. To explore how visual learning can make you retain up to 45% more information than a standard, text-based learning approach, sign-up for a free no-obligation 7-day trial of our digital course today.

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