Which Section of the CPA Exam should I take first?

25 Mar 2008

CPA Exam Strategy

I had a question on which section to take first and wanted to address it. You'll find different opinions on this subject and here is mine:

Take the hardest section first.

The reasoning for this is very simple. Once you pass a section, your 18 month window begins (from the date you sat for the exam, not the date that you received your results). You don't want to pass the easiest section (Auditing) and then struggle with FARE 5x and lose AUD.

I say that Auditing is the easiest section, but “easiest” is a relative term. Each section of the exam is very hard, I just think AUD is the less-hard section of the CPA Exam. If you think Auditing is the hardest section because you've passed the others but have failed Auditing 3x, then I understand. I'm just speaking in general terms.

Ranking of CPA Exam sections from hardest to easiest:

(This is my opinion only)

1. FARE – There are so many topics to cover in this section that it is just a beast of an exam. Inventory, Bonds, Pensions, Cash Flows, Governmental, Not-For-Profit…etc. This section is very difficult. It took me 3x to pass it and when I finally did, I took a year off from studying to celebrate. I felt like I had passed the CPA Exam. In reality, I had only passed mile 6.5 of a Marathon.

2. BEC – I flat out hate the BEC Exam, though in some ways I love it because it has forced me to confront weaknesses in my skill set as an accountant – i.e. Financial Management. There are no sims on this exam and it only lasts 2.5 hours. It seems like a harmless little pop quiz compared to the others, but if you take it for granted, the BEC exam will humble you. Most people couldn't care less about in-depth IT topics, haven't given econ a second thought since early in their undergrad studies and would rather do ANYTHING but study holder in due course and commercial paper questions. Most people take this section more than once.

3. REG – When was the last time you studied up on Trusts or Estates? Agency? Accounting Ethics? Filled out an M-1? REG is tough, but if you put in the time and don't cut corners, you should be rewarded for your efforts.

4. AUD – I saved AUD for last because I feared it the most. I have never done auditing and I didn't want to learn it. As it turns out, if you learn auditing from the ground level up and built a solid knowledge foundation and understand the concepts, you can answer any question on the exam. I wrote previously about how I passed AUD on the first try. I've never left an exam positive that I had passed it before. I did with Auditing.

Everyone has their preference on Exam order and opinions on which section is most difficult, this is just my take. I hope it is helpful.

Leave a Reply


Temagi 16 years ago

Another71 -

Don't despair. You will pass with perseverance. Most of my friends who have sat for the CPA exam have advised to attempt FARE first. This is because FARE has the most contents to cover and most often, quite difficult. If you tank in FARE (touch wood, hopefully not), then you won't be facing another host of problems with the 18-month rule.

AUD is not difficult but it has the trickiest set of MCQs. I too hate BEC to the back teeth because of the management accounting and finance stuff. Good luck in your exams.

Anonymous 16 years ago

Completely tired from studying, I decided to read your blog on failing but not quitting. I find myself laughing because I can totally relate and understand. After spenting all day from doing all those MC questions and studying, I really needed a good laugh. It's also nice to know that there is actually someone out there that I can relate to. I always felt I was the only one in this world having such a hard time with this exam.

You are almost there, just two more. I still have a long way to go, I still haven't been able to get a pass yet. I also will not let myself quit. I put so much time, effort and money into this.

I totally agree with you on the section to start with first. If only I can do it all over again. I have attempted audit, bec and reg. Since I studied all these already, then I wanted to just keep going with them. Just looking at the Fare book scare me already.

Good luck!


another71.com 16 years ago

Sometimes we just need to take a step back and laugh. The easy thing is to quit, that's for sure. Knowing that there's others out there who feel like complete idiots along with you make it easier to keep at it.

Thanks for reading...if you pass a section, let me know!

Anonymous 16 years ago

I too have been trying to pass the exam since quite some time now. i passed Aud first and lost my 18 month window. Had to grapple with scores like 72,73 and 71 in BEC REG and FAR.But I decided a long time ago tht Iam not going to quit or give up on myself. So, here Iam on a weekend trying to solve mcqs for FAR.
Good luck with ur exams and just hang in there coz the end is near.

Matt 15 years ago

NO CURVE. Just a reminder that none of the AICPA tests are curved. The die is cast. Your score is your score. Theoretically you could get a score for BEC before you walk out the door, if not for the holding back of scores. The scores are graded as you move thru the test. And yes the difficulty of the test is modified depending on how well you do as you move to the second and third Multiple choice sections. Point values are higher for the harder questions. (Go to Wikipedia for an explanation of Adaptive testing). No shifts or changes once you finish the test. I or other do not think the simulations are modified. Also 10-15% of the multiple choice questions are test questions that do not count to your grade.

Tracy 14 years ago

I think the exam is curved in a way. They say 1 out of 5 multiple choice are thrown out. I swear I have calculated the best poissible score I could have gotten and I got a lot higher than that. For instance , audit, I screw up a lot of it and got a 93!!!!

Tracy 14 years ago

And I agree - take hardest first. I see TOO many people take easiest first and they lose credits, get over confident, etc. It took me THREE times to pass audit. So glad the clock did not start ticking until i passed that one(I took it first). I then took FAR, which i got an 80! By the way, if you are a tax person, AUF is by FAR the hardest. Everyone in my tax dept has failed it.

Stephen 14 years ago

Passed BEC in Feb 2010 w/ an 80 and just took AUD today. Though I agree that the information in AUD is probably the least demanding,the MCQ in AUD are the worst. Re-read EVERY question twice-You are guaranteed to catch slight variances in words that make a big difference in your answer. Not to confident that I passed AUD today-we'll see how it goes.