Your Official Guide for Passing the CPA Exam
Studying for the CPA exam is both a personal and professional commitment. Preparing and passing the CPA exam requires a lot of time, patience, and the ability to overcome adversity. While this professional accounting exam is a pride-swallowing experience, it is very doable if you commit to the process, are willing to put in consistent and quality study time, and you invest in a CPA review course that aligns with how you best learn and process information. The Universal CPA Review team has put together a CPA exam study guide just for YOU!
In our comprehensive study guide for the CPA exam, we will outline the critical aspects of preparing for the CPA examination, provide you with tips on how to study for the CPA, and free study material for the CPA exam. Make sure you visit the section specific guides we have prepared to go into further depth below!
You’ll have full access to the Universal CPA platform! Click the button below to sign up for a free trial. No credit card required.
There are many different strategies that one can take when preparing for the CPA exam, but there is one common theme, hard work. It is critical that you make studying for the CPA exam a top three priority in your life if you want to pass. Preparing for the CPA exam is not something that you can do “on the side”. CPA candidates will generally have three factors to consider: 1) professional life, 2) personal life, and 3) study for the CPA exam. If you are serious about preparing for the CPA exam, you are likely going to have to give up one of those three, and for most CPA candidates, that will be their personal life. We have excluded family and daily life responsibilities as those can never be neglected!
There are 4 sections of the CPA exam that you will need to pass with a score of 75%. This includes Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Business Environment Concepts (BEC), Audit and Attestation (AUD), and Regulation (REG). The AICPA has prepared blueprints for each section which details the topics that will be tested in each section.
Many students ask us what section to start with first, and there are a few strategies that a CPA exam candidate can take.
They can start with the section that is associated with their professional background, for example, if you work as an audit associate at a big 4 accounting firm, you might be most familiar with the audit exam contents. Knocking this section out might get some confidence underneath you and give you the jump-start you need to get the ball rolling.
With that being said, we always recommend starting with the FAR section. There is no question that FAR is the beast of the CPA exam. Not necessarily because the FAR exam is so hard, but more because of the sheer volume of information that you will need to understand come exam day.
Studying for the CPA is hard, there is no question about that. So its important that you manage your time efficiently, and come up with a CPA exam study plan. The first step is researching and investing in the right CPA exam study materials that is best aligned with how you learn. If you are still unsure which CPA test prep course is for you, check out the CPA course comparison page for an elaborate breakout. As mentioned above, you will be spending 500+ hours studying for the CPA exam, so you must pick a review course that aligns with your learning style. If you’re a visual learner, then you have to go with Universal CPA Review!
While there is no secret formula or “best way to study for the CPA exam” per se, it is important to give yourself a timeline for covering all of the information that is outlined within the AICPA blueprints. Assuming it’s your first lap through your CPA exam materials for the exam section, outline a study schedule that works for specific situation. If you are a working mother that doesn’t have six hours to study on the weekends, that means your study time will need to be highly effective without distractions. Keep your cell phones off and stay consistent.
There is no set answer for this question, but at a high-level, you can expect to study anywhere from 100 to 150 hours per section. The average CPA candidate spend 500 hundred hours studying for the CPA exam. This also assumes that you pass each section of the CPA exam on your first attempt. If you need to retake a section, you can expect to study an additional 30-50 hours depending on your score. Your work and personal schedule will dictate how much time you can study for the CPA exam each day. We recommend finding a schedule that you can be consistent with. If your schedule is changing each day of the week to allow for other commitments, it likely won’t be sustainable.
If you are working full time while studying for the CPA exam, you must carve out time in your day to make CPA review a priority. We always recommend studying first thing in the morning before work, rather than late at night after a long day of dealing with your senior tax manager or audit partner. Studying for the CPA exam in the morning will allow your brain to process complicated accounting information before it has processed anything else. While your brain is obviously not a muscle, think of it this way. You wouldn’t time yourself in a long-distance run after working out all day.
There is no perfect time to schedule your CPA exam. At the end of the day, you are going to be stuffing as much exam-related information as possible into your head leading up to the exam. Ultimately, you should schedule the exam when you feel confident that you covered enough information thoroughly, if you understand the logic behind the topics, and if you can hear a concept and remember the two to three types of questions that you were typically tested on when practicing in your CPA review course.
Depending on the time of year, the Prometric testing centers become very crowded and it can be difficult to find an opening within several weeks of your planned exam date. We suggest monitoring the availability at the closest Prometric Center at least a month in advance of your planned test date.
Since 2020, NASBA and the AICPA have made Continuous testing. This is good news for CPA exam test takers. The exam windows are no longer a consideration if you are scheduling a retake. You should plan your test date around the CPA exam score release dates so that you receive your score back as son as possible. This is critical because you want to minimize the length of time between your initial test date and your scheduled retake if you do receive a failing score.
When you do decide that you are ready to schedule your exam, you can do so by:
The CPA exam is a dynamic exam that is constantly changing, and while the team at Universal CPA Review is constantly monitoring exam changes, you should be familiar with any changes to the format of the exam. Since July 2021, there have only been minor changes to the CPA exam. Until January 1, 2024, minimal changes to the CPA exam are expected.
On January 1, 2024, the CPA Evolution will replace the current CPA exam model. The CPA exam is transitioning to a CORE + discipline model. Under the current model, CPA candidates must pass AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG (4 sections). Under the CPA Evolution, candidates must pass AUD, FAR, and REG. Additionally, they must choose one discipline and pass. Candidates can chose from business analysis & reporting (BAR), internal systems & controls (ISC), and tax compliance & planning (TCP). To learn more about the CPA Evolution, visit the link below.
The CPA exam has three different types of questions that could be asked depending on which section of the CPA exam you are sitting for. The three sections include multiple choice questions (MCQs), task-based simulations (TBS), and written communication tasks (BEC only). The number of each type varies by exam section and the scoring weights also vary by section. Detailed information can be found in the exam specific pages linked above.
|Exam Section||Multiple choice questions||Task-based simulations||Written communication tasks|
As mentioned previously in this CPA Exam Guide, selecting a CPA review course that aligns with how you best learn is paramount to your success. Yes, there are different ways that people learn. Visual learners are described as those who typically prefer the use of images, maps, and charts to help them understand and retain information. Universal CPA Review is the number one CPA review course for visual learners. The use of bite-sized animated video lectures, animated study guides, and descriptive visual solutions is a dream come true for those who learn better visually.
When it comes to how to use your CPA review course, that is entirely up to you. A comprehensive review course will include video lectures, study guides (textbook), multiple choice questions, and task-based simulations. The typical CPA candidate will start by watching the video lecture to learn the big picture of the blueprint topic. The next step would be to go through the multiple choice questions and task-based simulations. This is where the real learning occurs, and that is why Universal CPA Review is the only CPA review course with video explanations for 100% of multiple choice questions and task-based simulations. Most candidates cannot watch a video lecture and then be sufficiently prepared to answer multiple choice questions. The learning gap is too big! Universal CPA bridges that learning gap with the video explanations, which is where a CPA helps you understand what the question is asking, any key terms, and the steps or calculations necessary to solve.
Most CPA candidates start each chapter or module by watching a video lecture, which introduces you to the key topics and aspects that you should understand.
While you may have used a dense textbook for your college accounting courses, the CPA exam covers too much information. That is why Universal CPA prepared study guides for you!
Multiple choice questions account for 50% of your exam score. You will work through AICPA released questions to understand the format of the questions and the way in which the AICPA will test you on various topics.
Task-based simulations account for 50% of your score (BEC is 35%). In a simulation, you will be given a prompt with external exhibits and need to put yourself in the role of a CPA and provide a solution to the prompt.
Here are some general CPA exam tips and advice to consider when you are starting your CPA journey. Note that exam specific tips and advice can be found on the section specific pages that are linked above.
1) Pick the right CPA review course – Picking the right CPA review course could be the difference between passing and failing. Do your research, use the free trial, and then pick the course that you believe will work best for your learning schedule.
2) Determine your exam order – The AICPA leaves the exam order up to the individual candidate. For each of the 4 sections of the CPA exam, you should be familiar with the AICPA blueprint, historical pass rates, and the average amount of study time that is required. These factors will help you determine the exam order. Most CPA candidates start with FAR since it has the most material, lowest pass rate, and takes the longest to study for. You don’t want your 18-month window to start and then you still need to pass FAR! You should also factor any upcoming changes to the CPA exam.
3) Create a study plan – Once you have determined your exam order, now you can determine your study plan and schedule. We recommend you only plan for one section at a time. While you can wait to schedule your exam, you should start by setting a tentative exam date. Think about how many hours you can study per week, and then divide that into the total estimated number of hours to study for each exam. That will give you the estimated number of weeks you will need to learn the material and perform a comprehensive review. As a rule of thumb, most candidates study 100-125 hours for AUD and BEC, 125-135 hours for REG, and then 150-175 hours for FAR.
4) Determine your weekly study schedule – As mentioned in the prior step, you should determine how many hours per week you can study. You should think about if you can study before work, during work, or after work. We recommend studying before work as this allows you to be consistent and study while your brain is fresh. If you plan to only study after work, you may find a number of reasons not to study, and then you will fall behind in your schedule!
5) Join a CPA study group – The reality is that studying for the CPA exam can wear you down. Your friends and family likely aren’t studying for the CPA exam, so no one in your immediate circle will understand what you are going through. If you join a CPA study group on Facebook, you will be able to interact with other candidates studying for the same section as you. You will be able to ask general questions, topic specific questions, and just vent about the process in general. Join thousands of other CPA candidates in the Universal CPA Facebook study groups!
6) Limit distractions – Do not be a hot body while studying for the CPA exam. All this means is that if you just sit at your desk and don’t actually study, then you are wasting your time. You are studying for the CPA exam so that you can better your career! Turn off your phone, silence social media notifications, and tell your family/coworkers/friends to leave you alone while you are studying!