BAR CPA Exam Study Guide
Your comprehensive guide with everything you need to know about BAR!
How to Pass the CPA BAR Exam
The BAR CPA Exam is a key discipline section in the new CPA evolution blueprint, and it’s all about understanding business finances. With our BAR CPA Exam study guide, you’ll learn how to look at company finances, compare them to what was expected, and understand how different events can affect a company’s money and performance. It also covers some specific rules for financial reporting from big organizations like the FASB and SEC for businesses and employee benefits, as well as the GASB for government finances. It’s designed to make sure new CPAs can really dig into financial reports and understand what they mean for a business.
Many CPA candidates and CPA review course providers view the BAR CPA Exam as the most similar CPA exam to pre-CPA as this will include much of the advanced financial reporting topics previously covered in the FAR CPA Exam as well as Managerial Accounting Topics that were previously covered on the old BEC CPA Exam.
This page provides you a comprehensive guide of the BAR CPA exam section, including the BAR CPA exam format, AICPA blueprint topics, question types, key areas to focus on, common BAR simulation topics, general BAR CPA Exam tips, and frequently asked questions about the BAR Exam.
BAR CPA Exam Quick Facts
Exam Pass Rate
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BAR CPA Exam Pass Rates
Since the BAR CPA Exam is a fresh addition from the CPA Evolution’s Core + Discipline model, it’s like trying to predict a rookie’s season stats on their first day – we just don’t have enough data yet. The ink’s still drying on this new section, and candidates are just starting to pencil it into their study schedules. As more test-takers step up to the BAR challenge, we’ll start to see how the pass rates pan out. So, for now, let’s give it some time to set before we jump into the numbers game.
BAR CPA Exam Structure
It is very important to understand the structure of the BAR exam so that you have a clear understanding of what to expect on exam day. We will go through all of the relevant information that you should understand so that your mind will be at ease and you can focus on efficiently and effectively solving the multiple choice questions and task-based simulations you see on exam day at the Prometric Center.
How Long is the BAR CPA Exam?
You will have a total of 4 hours to complete all five testlets. You will have an option 15-minute break after you complete your 3rd testlet and the break will not count towards your 4 hours. The computer will ask you whether you would like to take a break or continue with your exam. We recommend utilizing the break to collect your thoughts and stamina as you will be approximately 2.5 hours into your exam by the time you finish the 3rd testlest. Once the 4-hour clock expires, your exam will automatically be closed and submitted, and any questions in progress will be submitted as is. You will get partial credit for the simulation you are working on when time expires. We have another article that outlines how the CPA Exam is graded. To learn more, feel free to check it out!
BAR CPA Exam Question Types
The BAR CPA exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions and 7 task-based simulations. Your score will be calculated based on a weighted combination, with multiple choice questions making up 50% of your score while your task-based simulations will make up the other 50% of your CPA Exam score.
Multiple choice questions
Will consist of one or more paragraphs and full of qualitative and quantitative information. There will be four answer choices to choose from, and you will have to select A, B, C, or D. Not every single multiple choice question will be considered in the calculation of your score. Similar to the Core CPA Exams, we anticipate that the AICPA will include various ungraded pre-test questions.
Will consist of a prompt, exhibits, and then one or more tasks that you must complete. These tasks consist of dropdowns, calculations, etc. Of the four simulations, one will be a pretest and will not count toward your score.
BAR CPA Exam AICPA Blueprint
While Universal CPA Review aligns with the AICPA blueprint for the BAR CPA exam, you should still be familiar with the BAR blueprint. The AICPA blueprint is essentially an outline of all the different topics that can be tested, the skillsets required for each topic, and the weighting of each topic.
A. Current period/historical analysis, including the use of data
B. Prospective analysis, including the use of data
A. Indefinite-lived intangible assets, including goodwill
B. Internally developed software
C. Revenue recognition
D. Stock compensation (shared-based payments)
E. Research and development costs
F. Business combinations
G. Consolidated financial statements
H. Derivatives and hedge accounting
J. Public company reporting topics
K. Financial statement of employee benefits
A. Format and content of the financial section of the annual comprehensive financial report
B. Deriving government-wide financial statements and reconciliation requirements
C. Typical items and specific types of transactions and events: measurement valuation, calculation, and presentation in governmental entity financial statements
Impact of CPA Evolution
As part of the CPA Evolution (effective January 1, 2024), the BAR CPA Exam is one of three discipline sections that you can choose from as a CPA Exam candidate. BAR will include much of the old BEC Exam content and FAR Exam content as well as new content areas that you will need to have mastered on exam day.
Study Plan for BAR
At a high level, your timeline will consist of working through each module in Universal CPA Review’s CPA review course. Each module has been designed to cover certain blueprint topics. Each module will have a video lecture, study guide, multiple choice questions (with video explanations), and possibly a task-based simulation (if applicable).
There are a variety of different strategies you can take for each module, but the general approach is to watch the video lecture, and then work through the multiple choice questions, and watch the video explanations. You can utilize the study guide (textbook) to review what you learned in the lecture. For the task-based simulations, you can work through them after completing the multiple-choice questions, or you can revisit the simulation during your cumulative review.
We recommend doing cumulative practice tests on a weekly basis at a minimum (typically on the weekends). This means that if you have covered material from Chapters 1, 2, and 3, then you should perform a cumulative practice test over all 3 chapters at once. This will not only help with retention of the information, but it will also help you learn to get comfortable with seeing topics in no particular order. Watch our video tutorial on how to set up a cumulative practice test and why they are so important!
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BAR Exam Study Tips (General)
Looking for some tips specific to the BAR CPA exam? Here is a list of tips we put together to help you pass BAR:
1) Pretend you are a business owner
You will quickly realize that BAR has loads and loads of formulas. Do you think the AICPA really cares if you know how to plug numbers into a formula and calculate a result? The AICPA does expect you to know how to perform these calculations, but that isn’t the purpose of the CPA license. With the CPA license, you are expected to be able to interpret the results of the calculations and offer insight and advice. Remember, as a CPA, you are being paid for your ability to interpret complex financial and non-financial information. If you pretend that you own a business, then you will learn to interpret these complex topics at a level. The explanation videos in the Universal course will help you learn to think like a business owner!
2) Understand the output of each formula
As mentioned above, BAR will include a lot of formulas that you are expected to know. While many candidates simply try to memorize all of these formulas, if you start to think about the output of the formula and how it is used, then it will be easier to remember the actual formula. For example, for days sales outstanding (DSO), if you knew that we could use sales and accounts receivable information to understand how long it takes for a company to collect cash from their customers for outstanding invoices, that will make it easier to remember the inputs to the DSO formula. While you will not be given the formulas for multiple-choice questions, you will likely be given analytic and valuation formulas for the task-based simulations.
3) Carefully read each detail in a question
This seems pretty obvious, but most candidates realize that they did not fully understand the question after they realize they got it wrong. If you miss a piece of information or incorrectly use information, then you perform a calculation and arrive at the wrong answer option. In order to arrive at the correct answer, you will have to properly include or exclude each piece of information in your series of steps. The explanation videos in the Universal course will help you understand how to use each piece of information in the question!
4) Use your mental map
The multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations in BAR will typically require you to perform a series of calculations to arrive at the correct answer. The Universal CPA course will include a mental map for each topic that will help you learn a series of repeatable steps you can perform on exam day.
5) Use Microsoft Excel
The multiple-choice questions and simulations will often provide a table of qualitative information. If you copy this into Excel, and then use Excel to perform your calculations, you will minimize the risk of error. If you are proficient in Excel, you will also be more efficient, which will allow you to move through the exam at a better pace. For the exam, you will have full access to Microsoft Excel.
6) Focus on the format of your written communication response
Many CPA candidates often focus too much on what they write versus how they write. The written communication is computer graded and focuses on whether your response includes keywords from the prompt, has a solid format, and is free from grammar issues and typos. It is very difficult to predict what the written communication prompt will be about, and it will likely be something that is very difficult to prepare for. For example, the prompt may ask for the pros and cons of utilizing cloud computing. Does the AICPA expect you to have a detailed understanding of cloud computing? No. The AICPA does expect you to be able to write a well formulated response to the prompt. During your preparation for the BAR CPA exam, focus on developing an approach for written communication rather than the actual topics that you could be asked about. The Universal CPA team has prepared a winning strategy for written communication that you can implement on exam day!
7) Spend most of your time on practice questions
CPA candidates that use the Universal CPA course will utilize the bite-sized video lectures to quickly learn the basics of each module, but then most of their time will be spent on the multiple-choice questions. Universal CPA students will watch the explanation video for each MCQ, which will go through the formulas and series of calculations that are needed to arrive at the correct answer. They will also learn how to interpret the results. Each MCQ basically has a mini-lecture video, which is way more valuable than one long lecture that doesn’t always focus on how to apply the information when answering a question.
BAR Timing Strategy
Earlier in the BAR CPA exam guide, you learned the format of the BAR CPA exam. The exam includes multiple-choice questions. task-based simulations, and written communication. You will have a total of 4 hours to complete the exam, but how much time should you spend on each question so you can complete the exam within the allotted time?
We recommend spending 105 minutes on the two multiple-choice testlets. Since there are 62 multiple-choice questions, you will need to average about 1.7 minutes per question. You will spend more time on difficult questions, but less time on the easier questions. It’s very important not to spend too much time on a particular question! If you don’t know the answer, give it your best shot, and then move on! You can also skip them and come back to the MCQ at the end of the testlet.
The next 60 minutes can be spent completing the 4 task-based simulations. This means you can spend an average of 15 minutes per simulation.
The last 75 minutes (testlet #5) will be used to complete three written communication tasks. That means you can spend 25 minutes on average per task. While 25 minutes may seem like a lot of time, unless you have a well oiled approach, the time will fly by!
BAR Simulation Topics
While you could see a simulation on just about any topic on the BAR blueprint, the list below represents topics that you should focus on during during your BAR preparation. Simulations on these topics are included in the Universal course. Since it is likely that each simulation will have multiple exhibits, we have included multiple exhibits for most simulations in the Universal course so that you can learn how to navigate through exhibits in an efficient manner. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather, it is intended to provide you direction and guidance and where you should focus your time and efforts.
1) Interpreting ratios
There are a lot of categories of ratios that the exam could test you on. This includes profitability ratios, liquidity ratios, working capital, and valuation ratios. The exam will often provide the information necessary for you to calculate the ratios, but that is the easy part. The hard part is using the ratios to make business decisions. For example, you may have to understand how taking a loan from a bank impacts the company’s working capital ratio. If you don’t understand how to interpret the ratios, then this type of simulation will be very difficult!
2) Weighted average cost of capital
If you don’t understand the components of WACC at a detailed level, then this simulation will be very difficult to answer! The WACC formula is whacky, but the Universal course uses a 4-step approach to simplify the calculation of the WACC for a company. The simulation may also require you to use the WACC to advise on whether the company should raise capital from issuing or equity or debt.
3) Variance analysis
Variances are difficult and a pain to keep straight! For any manufacturing company, it is extremely important for a company to use variance analysis to understand where they were favorable or unfavorable in a given period of time. The simulation would likely provide standards and actuals and require you to calculate different variances like the direct materials price variance, direct labor usage variance, or manufacturing overhead variance.
How hard is the BAR CPA exam?
The bottom line is that the CPA BAR exam is very difficult to pass, but with the right approach, you can pass the BAR exam on your first attempt. With the Universal CPA course, you can be one of the many Universal students who have passed BAR on their first attempt, or passed BAR after adding the Universal course as a supplement to their existing review course. With the bite-sized video lectures and step-by-step explanation videos, you will be able to learn the previously AICPA released multiple choice questions at the depth that is necessary. Rather than memorizing information like other courses encourage, you will truly learn the intuition behind these complex topics. If you want to pass the BEC exam, then start a free 7-day trial today!
BAR CPA Exam - Frequently Asked Questions
While there is not a set amount of study time that guarantees a passing score on the BAR CPA Exam, it will take you roughly six weeks to get through the BAR CPA Exam study material assuming a 20-hour-per-week study schedule. Every candidate will move through the material at a different pace. We generally suggest you plan for 100 to 125 hours of studying when you develop your initial study plan. This number might be lower if you have already taken other sections and have a good approach in place.
Like all CPA Exam sections tested, BAR is certainly NOT easy. My advice is to apply the same level of effort and rigor that you did when preparing for any of the other CPA Exam sections while preparing. If you do this, then you will successfully pass BAR.
We recommend taking BAR after FAR. If BAR is your chosen CPA Exam section, we recommend starting with FAR as your first section as this will lay a solid foundation for attacking BAR. For more information on our recommended CPA Exam order, you can learn more HERE.
Hopefully, you only need to take BAR once! However, if you do fail, you can take the BAR CPA Exam (or any of the other discipline CPA Exam sections) once per quarter for the 2024 calendar year.
There are 5 testlets on the BAR CPA exam. Testlets 1 and 2 have 25 multiple-choice questions each. Testlets 3, 4, and 5 will contain 2-3 task-based simulations each
This amounts to a total of 50 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations.
It is still too early to determine CPA Exam pass rates for the BAR CPA Exam. Please check back at a later date as CPA Exams are submitted throughout the 2024 calendar year.
You will have 4 total hours to complete the BAR CPA exam. You will have an option 15-minute break after testlet #3 which does not count towards the 4-hour total.
Multiple-choice questions will account for 50% of your score, while task-based simulations will be what the other 50% of your CPA Exam score will be weighted on.
This is one of the hardest questions about BAR to answer. We anticipate that the AICPA will test advanced financial reporting, entity analysis, and management accounting topics particularly heavily on task-based simulations. This is why it’s so important to think like a business owner as you will be better prepared for any type of simulation that the AICPA gives you!
Like the TCP CPA Exam discipline, the BAR CPA Exam contains a lot of overlap with previous CPA Exam versions. The majority of the previous BEC CPA Exam content was shifted into this new discipline section, as well as much of the old FAR CPA Exam content areas.
Check Out Our Guides for Other CPA Exam Discipline Sections!
If you are planning to learn more about the other CPA Exam discipline section options, check out our detailed guides for the ISC and TCP CPA Exam sections!