Weigh CPA Exam Parts in Planning Test Timetable

Which section should you schedule first when you begin taking the Uniform CPA Exam? Some say start with the hardest of the four parts first, while others say pick your strongest section.

The key to successful planning lies in finding the best fit for your test-taking persona. Would getting the most difficult of the CPA Exam parts out of the way first give you a surge to carry you through the next three parts? Or would failing in the beginning crush your momentum? Your personal psychology can point you in a direction that works best for you.

Take into account your training and experience with the subjects. If you’ve been in the workplace for a while, you may feel most comfortable matching your job skills to your first test choice.

What Content Can You Expect?

The Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section exams financial statements, balance sheets, P&L and cash flow. Closely related for FAR is the Auditing and Attestation (AUD) exam, which covers auditing processes and techniques.

The Regulation {REG) section tests your knowledge of business law, business ethics and federal taxation. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) covers corporate governance, economics, financial management, IT, and strategic planning and operational management, which is better known as cost accounting.

AUD and FAR consist of 90 multiple-choice questions over three testlets. The fourth testlet for both AUD and FAR requires seven task-based simulations. REG consists of 72 MCQs and calls for six task-based simulations in the fourth testlet. BEC contains 72 multiple-choice questions. The fourth BEC testlet is a written communication task that calls upon the CPA candidate to create a letter or memo.

The three CPA Exam parts that determine total test score by giving multiple-choice questions 60 percent weight and task-based simulations 40 percent weight are AUD, FAR and REG. The BEC section awards multiple-choice questions 85 percent weight and written communication tasks 15 percent. The weighted average of all four sections produces the final grade.

Difficulty, Familiarity, or Length?

Those who advocate starting with the most difficult exam section identify FAR as the hardest because of the variety and volume of information in this section. Because there’s a lot of overlap in concepts and topics on FAR and the closely related AUD section, they recommend taking FAR first and then take AUD.

The plan of attack that suggests leading with your strengths focuses on job skills and academic classes. Bookkeepers may see an advantage in starting with FAR, even though it’s considered the most challenging section. Recent college graduates who have just completed coursework in finance, audit and tax may want to take the FAR section first while the material is still fresh in their memories.

You may find REG easiest if you are a tax accountant. BEC would be a good start for those working in finance.

Still another strategy calls for taking one of the shorter exams first. Starting with the 3-hour BEC or REG could give an edge to professionals who have not attended college for a while and who lack practice in taking longer comprehensive tests such as FAR or AUD.

A word of caution about scheduling BEC: Although many candidates save this section for last because BEC is widely regarded as the easiest of the four, BEC questions are tricky and notoriously ambiguous. Since humans, not computers, evaluate the written BEC testlet, the time required could delay score reporting. If you don’t want to pile on that extra stress, think about moving BEC up to second or third in your timetable.

Weigh these strategies carefully before scheduling your tests and you’ll come up with a winning plan.

For more on the content of the Uniform CPA Exam, go to the American Institute of CPAs website here.