What is the CPA Exam?: CPA Exam Information and Overview

What is the CPA Exam?

The Uniform CPA Examination is a professional licensing examination, which ensures that applicants possess the minimum accounting and technical knowledge needed to become a Certified Public Accountant. The CPA exam protects the public by ensuring that licensed CPAs are qualified. If you are planning to become an accountant, read our CPA exam overview to discover the ins and outs of earning your CPA license.

What Is the CPA’s Importance?

The CPA license is the only license specific to the accounting profession. All accountants in the 55 jurisdictions of the US who file a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are required to be a CPA. Getting a CPA demonstrates a commitment to the profession and opens up a variety of career opportunities within the field of accounting.

What are the Eligibility Requirements for the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam is one of the “Three E’s” that constitute CPA licensing requirements (Education, Examination, and Experience). The eligibility requirements for taking the CPA exam vary by jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction has specific experience, residency, and education requirements, and you should refer to your jurisdiction’s application materials to get more specific information.

Typically, you are required to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework in order to sit for the exam, which is 30 hours more than the usual four-year bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer a five-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting to enable students to meet the 150-hour requirement. After you pass your exam, you must obtain one to two years of work experience under a CPA in order to qualify for your license.

What is the Format of the CPA Exam?

CPA Exam Overview

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) develops and scores the CPA exam, which is administered at Prometric test centers in 54 jurisdictions. It is a 14-hour, computer-based exam that consists of four sections:

  • Auditing and attestation (AUD) – four hours
  • Financial accounting and reporting (FAR) – four hours
  • Regulation (REG) – three hours
  • Business environment and concepts (BEC) – three hours

Each section consists of three testlets with 24 to 30 objective questions.

Types of Questions

The CPA exam consists of a variety of question formats. There are essay questions, traditional multiple choice questions, and innovative simulations that replicate workplace situations and require you to apply your skills and come up with solutions.


Section scores are reported on a scale ranging from 0 to 99, and a total reported score of 75 is required to pass each section.

Timeline to Complete All Sections

You can take the sections in any order and you do not have to pass one section in order to apply to another. While you do not need to complete the four sections of the exam at once, most jurisdictions require you to pass all four parts within 18 months of passing the first part.

How Do You Register for the CPA Exam?

You can register for the CPA exam online via the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) website by first creating an online account.

When Is the CPA Exam Offered?

The CPA exam is available during a specific period known as a testing window. The first two months of each calendar quarter are testing windows, which means that there are four testing windows each year. March, June, September, and December are closed for testing.

How Much Does the CPA Exam Cost?

CPA exam fees are generally around $700-$1,000 but vary from one jurisdiction to another.

When Do CPA Scores Get Released?

The AICPA releases all scores to the NASBA by the first week of the next testing window. The NASBA releases scores to exam takers, so there may be a delay between when the AICPA releases scores to the NASBA and when you receive your score.

How Should Test Takers Prepare?

There are a number of review courses and commercially available review materials that could help you to study for the exam. You can also review sample tests to get an overview.

Becoming a CPA

So, what is the CPA exam? The CPA exam is a test that individuals must take if they want to qualify to become a Certified Public Accountant. Becoming a CPA is no easy feat, but passing the CPA exam can open up a world of career possibilities. If you want to join this elite group of accounting professionals, start preparing to take the CPA exam today.