Which Section of the CPA Exam should I take first?


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.