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The CPA Exam: An Introduction

By Eric Anderson

CPA Exams: The Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (UCPAE) or CPA Exam is divided into four parts, also called four sections. The sections are:

* Auditing and Attestation * Business Environment and Concepts * Financial Accounting and Reporting and * Regulation.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) constructed the exam so that at maximum all four parts take 14 hours to complete. (There are candidates who finish in less time.)

You do not have to sit for all four parts at the same time but you do have to pass all four parts within 18 months. Your scores expire after 18 months; in this case, you have to retake that exam part and pass it again.

The exams are given at Prometric centers during the months of January, February, April, May, July, August, October and November. Only 300 of the thousands of Prometric test centers offer the CPA Exam so check with your testing center before you sign up there.

Structure of the CPA Exam divides the exam into four sections.

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) covers the skill set requisite to apply knowledge of business concepts and a general business environment. The passing candidate will be able to understand and apply the underlying business concepts and accounting implications to any business transaction. Topics covered during the test:

* What is a business structure? * What is the role of planning and measurement in a business? * What are economic concepts? * How does financial management work? * What role does information technology play in accounting? * There will be major changes to the exam from 2010 to 2011. These are:

Types of Questions on the Exam include multiple choice questions (MCQ), simulations (which are condensations of case studies) and written communications.

Simulations are condensed case studies about which you are asked specific questions which showcase how you would apply your skill set to solve a “real-life” situation. Your answers allow you to demonstrate your writing skills because about 30% of your score in 2010 depends on your ability to write out your answers, not simply select option a, b, c or d.

The CPA Exam

Less than half of those who sit for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam (CPA Exam) pass it.

Why? The exam covers a veritable encyclopedia of accounting knowledge. To pass, you must be able to demonstrate your mastery of the material.

To demonstrate your mastery of the material, you must pass these four sections of CPA Exam:

Auditing and Attestation (AUD) comprises 3.5 hours of testing. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) comprises 2.5 hours of testing. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) comprises 4.0 hours of testing. Regulation (REG) comprises 3 hours of testing.

Total: 14 hours of testing.

You have as much as 18 months to complete all four sections.

Three professional organizations work together to produce and deliver the exam:

1. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) creates and scores a comprehensive four part exam. 2. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy maintains the National Candidate Database, coordinates the state requirements database, sends you the Notice to Schedule (NTS), accepts your scores from AICPA, and delivers your scores to you. 3. Prometric Testing Centers offer the CPA Exam at the computer-based testing centers. Though there are many Prometric sites throughout the world, only about 300 in the United States offer the CPA Exam. Prometric sends your tests to AICPA which grades them.

Why the CPA Exam is Changing

The world has changed much since the last revision of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam in April 2004. The world of accounting has changed as well. Therefore, to make certain that new CPAs are familiar with the topics which impact their accounting practice today, the exam is being changed. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is leading this initiative. Craig Mills, AICPA Vice President for Examinations, joined the organization in 1998. He directed to change from paper and pencil to a computerized testing format.

“You couldn’t realistically test people on their research skills with the paper test,” Mills said. “Imagine the logistics of trying to ensure that every candidate had copies of the authoritative literature available when they took it. With literally hundreds of candidates in some locations (including state fairgrounds), it would have been a nightmare to try to manage those documents. The move to the computerized exam was to give us a platform for innovation.”

According to Mr. Mills, the changes in 2011 exam will not be as substantial as the changes in 2004. He plans on giving a lot of notice via the The Uniform CPA Examination Alert before anything takes place at the testing facilities.

Prometric and the CPA Exam

Prometric: Prometric is a global provider of testing and assessing services. As such, Prometric is one third of the organizational team writing, delivering, scoring, and releasing results of the CPA Exam. Working together with American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), Prometric is part of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification process, known as the Uniform CPA Exam.

From their headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, Prometric directs projects relating to test design, test delivery and various data management services for its global clients, one of whom is AICPA. While Prometric has over 10,000 test locations around the world only 300 of those testing centers offer the CPA Exam. All of those 300 Prometric testing centers are in the 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.

Prometric operates in the middle of the CPA Exam certification process.

1. A candidate applies to a state board to get approval to sit for the exam. 2. Once the candidate is approved, the candidate is given a Notice to Schedule (NTS) from NASBA. 3. The candidate contacts Prometric and with the NTS, schedules a time, date, and location to sit for that exam part. 4. AICPA grades the exam (which it wrote) and releases the scores to NASBA. 5. NASBA releases scores on its own website and to each of the state boards. 6. Certain states, such as California and Illinois, post the scores on their own website.

Certain jurisdictions only have one testing center (e.g., Guam and Puerto Rico) while other jurisdictions have multiple testing centers. For instance, there are three CPA testing centers in Connecticut.

However, the candidate is not limited to testing in the jurisdiction in which they are approved to sit for the exam. The candidate may request to sit for the exam at any testing center which offers the CPA Exam since the Uniform CPA Exam is the same test no matter where someone sits for the exam.

When Will the CPA Exam Be Given in 2010? CPA Exam 2010: There will be six testing windows in 2010. A testing window consists of two months: January-February April-May July-August October-November. The CPA Exam is offered up to six days each week during each testing window. Once you are approved to sit for the exam, you should make an appointment with Prometric for a particular regional testing center on a particular day and time. You cannot state that you would like to be there sometime during the week of the 21st. You can schedule your appointment for a specific testing location and “reserve” your seat for that day and time * by going online at\cpa * by phone at 1-800-580-9648 (Candidate Services Call Center) or * by contacting your local test center. It is suggested that you schedule early: as much as 45 days before your preferred date to get the date, time, and location you prefer. The 2010 Uniform CPA Examination will be delivered at more than 300 Prometric test centers in the US via a computerized platform. (Not every Prometric center offers the CPA Exam so be sure to check. Never assume anything.)

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Anderson, Eric "The CPA Exam: An Introduction." The CPA Exam: An Introduction. 25 Jul. 2010. 11 Nov 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Anderson, E (2010, July 25). The CPA Exam: An Introduction. Retrieved November 11, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Anderson, Eric "The CPA Exam: An Introduction"

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