ISC CPA Exam Study Guide

ISC CPA Exam Study Guide

Your comprehensive guide with everything you need to know about ISC!

BEC CPA Exam Guide

How to Pass the CPA ISC Exam

The Information Systems and Controls (ISC) CPA Exam discipline is one of the three discipline CPA Exam section options that you can from within the new CPA Evolution model. ISC contains the most brand-new information that is tested on the CPA Exam, covering information systems, data analytics, SOC reporting concepts, and more. Our ISC CPA Exam study guide is here to help you analyze and navigate what to expect come test day, and help you decide if this is the best discipline section for you.

The ISC section dives into the nitty-gritty of IT systems, ensuring candidates are up to speed with the digital demands of the accounting world, covering critical IT frameworks and standards for safeguarding information assets. It’s tailored to ensure new CPAs are not just literate but fluent in the language of information systems and controls.

Many in the field are starting to see the ISC CPA Exam as a natural progression from the pre-evolution material, bringing forward elements of IT and systems from the Auditing and Attestation (AUD) CPA Exam and the previous Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) sections.

This hub is your all-in-one resource for the ISC CPA Exam section, breaking down the exam format, AICPA blueprint topics, types of questions you’ll encounter, focus areas, common simulation scenarios, and providing strategic tips and answers to common questions about the ISC Exam.

ISC CPA Exam Quick Facts

Exam Pass Rate

TBD

Exam Length

0 hrs.

Multiple choice

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Simulation Questions

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MCQ Weight

0 %

Sim Weight

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ISC CPA Exam Pass Rates

Given that the ISC discipline CPA Exam is a novel exam section within the CPA Evolution’s Core + Discipline model, estimating its pass rates is always going to be a tough task as the stats sheet is currently pretty sparse. This section is still hot off the press, with candidates only beginning to integrate it into their exam prep plans. As a wave of aspirants tackle the ISC’s tech-centric questions, we’ll get a clearer picture of the pass rates. For the moment, patience is key as we allow enough time for a trend to emerge.

ISC CPA Exam Structure

Grasping the layout of the ISC discipline CPA Exam is crucial for setting the right expectations and walking into the exam room with confidence. We’ll cover all the essential details you need to know, ensuring you’re mentally prepared to tackle the multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations with ease when you arrive at the Prometric Center. This way, you can direct your energy toward acing the exam, knowing exactly what lies ahead.

How Long is the ISC CPA Exam?

During the ISC discipline CPA Exam, you’re allocated 4 hours to complete five testlets. A break  is available after the third testlet — a 15-minute break that doesn’t eat into your exam time. The computer will prompt you to decide whether to take this break or to forge ahead with the exam. It’s wise to take this respite to regroup and recharge, especially since you’ll be about halfway through, with roughly 2.5 hours under your belt. As the 4-hour limit approaches, the exam will wrap up automatically, submitting any answers as they stand, including partial answers for task-based simulations. And yes, you can earn some credit for incomplete simulation responses. For more insight into the scoring process, we’ve got a detailed article breaking down how the CPA Exam is graded — do give it a read for a deeper dive into the scoring mechanics!

ISC CPA Exam Question Types

The ISC CPA exam is composed of 82 multiple-choice questions and 6 task-based simulations. Your final score is determined by a balanced mix: multiple-choice questions account for half your score, and the task-based simulations make up the remaining half.

Multiple choice questions

Multiple choice questions feature a paragraph or more, packed with both qualitative and quantitative details. You’ll be presented with four potential answers—labeled A through D—and you’ll need to select the correct one. Keep in mind, not all questions will impact your score. As with the Core CPA Exams, it’s expected that the AICPA will sprinkle in a number of ungraded pre-test questions for their own analysis.

Task-based simulations

Task-based simulations will present you with a scenario, supporting exhibits, and one or more tasks to be completed, which might include dropdown selections and numerical calculations. Of these simulations, one will be a pretest item that won’t contribute to your overall score.

ISC CPA Exam AICPA Blueprint

While Universal CPA Review aligns with the AICPA blueprint for the ISC CPA exam, you should still be familiar with the ISC 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. Information systems

B. Data management

A. Regulations, standards and frameworks

B. Security

C. Confidentiality and privacy

D. Incident response

A. Considerations specific to planning and performing a SOC engagement

B. Considerations specific to reporting on a SOC engagement

Impact of CPA Evolution

As part of the CPA Evolution (effective January 1, 2024), the ISC CPA Exam is one of three discipline sections that you can choose from as a CPA Exam candidate. ISC will include information on data management, IT systems, SOC reporting concepts and more. 

Study Plan for ISC

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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ISC Exam Study Tips (General)

Looking for some tips specific to the ISC CPA exam? Here is a list of tips we put together to help you pass ISC:

1) Consider yourself a tech company CEO

Diving into the ISC exam, you’ll notice it’s teeming with IT and control processes. Does the AICPA just want you to memorize and execute these procedures? Sure, they expect you to understand them, but the real value you bring as a CPA is your ability to analyze the outcomes of these processes and provide strategic insights. Think like a tech CEO, interpreting intricate IT data—our Universal course’s videos are designed to cultivate this high-level analytical thinking in you!

2) Grasp the significance of each process

ISC is rich with intricate IT processes you’re expected to master. Instead of rote memorization, focus on the purpose behind each process. Understanding the ‘why’ and ‘how’ can make the ‘what’—the process itself—much easier to recall. You won’t get a cheat sheet for multiple-choice questions, but simulations will likely guide you through the analytics you need.

3) Pay attention to the details

It’s easy to overlook the devil in the details, especially under exam pressure. Missing a key piece of information can lead you down the wrong path. Universal CPA Review comes with  explanation videos teach you to consider every detail, ensuring your calculations are on point and will help you understand how to use each piece of information in the question!

4) Build a mental map

ISC questions often require a sequence of steps to reach the correct answer. The Universal CPA course provides a ‘mental map’ for each topic, outlining a reliable strategy you can replicate on exam day.

5) Excel at using Excel

The ISC exam will challenge you with tables full of data. Transferring this into Excel and using it for your calculations can greatly reduce errors. With full access to Microsoft Excel during the exam, your efficiency and accuracy can significantly improve.

6) Prioritize practice questions

Universal CPA students get the gist of each module with concise video lectures but spend most of their study time on practice questions. Explanation videos dissect each question, revealing the necessary steps and how to interpret results, turning every question into a valuable mini-lesson. This approach ensures you’re not just learning but applying knowledge effectively.

ISC Timing Strategy

Earlier in the ISC CPA exam guide, you learned the format of the ISC 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?

Multiple-choice questions 

We recommend spending 105 minutes on the two multiple-choice testlets. Since there are 82 multiple-choice questions, you will need to move through them a little bit faster. 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.

Task-based simulations 

The next 60 minutes can be spent completing the 6 task-based simulations. This means you can spend an average of around 20 minutes per simulation.

ISC Simulation Topics

While you could see a simulation on just about any topic on the ISC blueprint, the list below represents topics that you should focus on during during your ISC 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) Data management

In the ISC exam, expect a variety of task-based simulations centered around data management. These might include scenarios related to data analytics, database management, and cybersecurity measures. While the exam will likely provide the data sets or scenarios needed for these simulations, the real challenge lies in applying this data to real-world IT problems. For instance, you might need to analyze how a new cybersecurity protocol impacts data integrity or efficiency. Understanding the practical application and implications of these data management scenarios is key to mastering these simulations. Without a solid grasp of how to interpret and apply this information, these types of simulations can be quite challenging.

2) Information systems and environment

For those tackling the ISC exam, be prepared for task-based simulations focusing on IT systems and IT environment. These simulations can be intricate, especially if you’re not thoroughly familiar with the complexities of IT infrastructure. The ISC exam may delve into scenarios where you’ll need to evaluate and make recommendations on IT systems, considering factors like network architecture or data security protocols. While the elements of IT systems can be as layered as an onion, our course adopts a structured approach to demystify these concepts. You might be tasked, for example, with advising on the implementation of new software or the upgrade of existing systems, requiring a deep understanding of IT environments and their impact on a company’s operations.

3) SOC I and SOC II Reporting

Anticipate simulations that delve into the nuances of SOC I and SOC II reporting. These reports can be complex, requiring a keen eye for detail. In a typical simulation, you might be presented with scenarios where you need to assess a company’s internal control systems or data management practices, as per SOC I and SOC II standards. You could be given data and asked to identify compliance or non-compliance issues, or to pinpoint areas of risk. For example, the simulation might provide you with internal control descriptions and require you to evaluate their effectiveness, or you might need to analyze a SOC report and identify any discrepancies or areas for improvement. Understanding the key components of SOC I and SOC II reports is crucial for these tasks, as they are fundamental to demonstrating an organization’s system management effectiveness.

How hard is the ISC CPA exam?

Navigating the ISC CPA Exam can be challenging, but with a well-structured study approach, you can pass it on your first try.  Our method involves concise, bite-sized video lectures and detailed explanation videos that dive deep into the nuances of AICPA-released multiple choice questions. Our focus is on understanding the core concepts rather than rote memorization, allowing you to grasp the underlying principles behind complex IT and control topics. To kickstart your successful journey through the ISC exam, why not try out our free 7-day trial today?

ISC CPA Exam - Frequently Asked Questions

While there is not a set amount of study time that guarantees a passing score on the ISC CPA Exam, it will take you roughly six weeks to get through the ISC 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, ISC 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 ISC. 

We recommend taking ISC after AUD. If ISC is your chosen CPA Exam section, we recommend starting with AUD as your first section as this will lay a solid foundation for attacking ISC. For more information on our recommended CPA Exam order, you can learn more HERE. 

There are 5 testlets on the ISC 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 82 multiple-choice questions and 6 task-based simulations. 

It is still too early to determine CPA Exam pass rates for the ISC 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 ISC 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 60% of your score,  while task-based simulations will be what the other 40% of your CPA Exam score will be weighted on. 

This is one of the hardest questions about ISC 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!

The ISC CPA Exam has mostly brand new information with the exception of some IT concepts from the previous BEC CPA Exam and SOC reporting concepts from the previous AUD CPA Exam. 

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! 

BAR CPA Exam

Icon that reflects the BAR CPA Exam discipline section

TCP CPA Exam

TCP cpa exam study materials

AUD CPA Exam

Audit CPA Exam

FAR CPA Exam

FAR CPA Exam

REG CPA Exam

REG CPA Exam