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What Is The Best Order To Take The CPA Exam?

Before setting your study schedule, it’s important to understand which CPA exam to take first.

When it comes to becoming a certified public accountant, the first major hurdle you will face when getting started in your career is passing the certification exam. Whether you want to start with the easier sections first or with the most challenging is ultimately up to you. Let’s take a look at the benefits of each method.

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What Order Should You Take the CPA Exam?

The CPA exam consists of 4 separate tests and you have to pass all 4 to get your CPA. The 4 tests you will be taking are the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Audit (AUD), Regulation (REG), and the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) tests. You are allowed 4 hours per test. You have 18 months in which to complete and pass all four tests, and there are only 4 testing windows per year.

CPA Exam Sections
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Something you may have noticed while readying yourself for your certification exam is that you get to choose the order you take your test. Some students choose to take the most difficult section and get it out of the way first while others choose to start easier and work their way up the difficulty scale. Make sure to look into the benefits of each order before you decide on how you are going to get through your exam. At the end of the day, the best order for you all boils down to personal preference and your personal test-taking skills and abilities.

Overview Of Each Exam Section

Before you can decide which order to take your tests, it is important to know what the contents of each exam will be. Having a general idea of what to expect from each test will allow you to rank each section by difficulty level.

Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

The FAR test consists of: State and local governments, select transactions, conceptual framework, standard-setting, select financial statement accounts, and financial reporting.

Half of the test will be MCQs and the other half will be TBS simulations.

Audit (AUD)

The AUD exam covers: Forming conclusions and reporting, assessing risk, and developing a planned process, professional responsibilities, ethics, general principles, and obtaining evidence.

Half of the test will be MCQs and the other half will be TBS simulations.

Regulation (REG)

The REG section of your test is comprised of: Professional responsibilities, federal taxation, business law, federal tax procedures, and ethics.

Half of the test will be MCQs and the other half will be TBS simulations.

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

The content of the BEC exam is Operations management, information technology, corporate governance, financial management, and economic concepts and analysis.

Half of the test will be multiple-choice questions, 35% is TBS simulations, and 15% will be written communication memos.

Reasons To Take The FAR Section First

The most comprehensive of the tests you will take on your journey towards becoming a CPA is the Financial Accounting and Reporting section. This test goes over all of the basics and builds a solid base of both financial statement knowledge and accounting principles. The FAR covers standard setting, financial reporting, select financial statement accounts, state and local governments, and conceptual framework. Half of the test will be MCQs and the other half is simulations (TBSs).

Many students choose to take the FAR exam first to get it out of the way since it is perceived by many as the most difficult of the exams, due primarily to the vast amount of information it covers. Some of the information in the FAR section you will likely see in other sections as well. Since this exam encompasses more material, it makes sense that it will also require more time and effort to prepare. Keeping that in mind when scheduling your study plan can help in deciding if you be best served by taking the FAR first.

CPA Exam FAR Section Study

Many students feel that taking the most difficult exam first will give them the edge to more easily pass the remaining tests. Others simply want to get the FAR out of the way to make way for the easier exams. If you are the type of candidate who feels success in knocking down barriers, taking the FAR section first may be the way to go.

Reasons To Take The Easiest Section First

Starting with the easiest section of your CPA exam may seem like a smart plan and for many candidates. Beyond the FAR, there are 3 additional sections that you will be dealing with. Those are the AUD, REG, and BEC. The easiest sections differ from candidate to candidate. For some, it might be the content covered in a course they most recently completed. For others, it might be a subject in which they have work experience. The easiest section for some might simply be that it is a topic or theme that they enjoy the most.

Many believe that if you start with the section you believe to be the easiest, it allows you to become comfortable with the testing format and the experience of taking the exam before moving on to more difficult sections. This might make it much easier to keep your spirits high and build momentum. If you are the type of person who gets discouraged easily, taking the easier sections could help build your confidence so you can power through the rest of the exams.

Many people choose to start easier and work towards the hardest section because if you don’t get the score you were hoping for on the FAR, it won’t dampen your spirits for the rest of the test. Starting with an easier section can provide a sense of accomplishment and be a motivating factor moving forward. For those who want to keep that motivation going, taking the easiest section first might be a smart way to approach your CPA examinations.

Conclusion

When you are preparing to take your CPA exam, one of the most important things you can do is determine which order you will be taking the 4 exams. There are many people who prefer to start with the test they feel will be the easiest and work their way towards the hardest. Others take the opposite approach and tackle the most difficult test they will be facing. It may seem like a difficult decision to make but it all comes down to your personal strengths and weaknesses, and how you prefer to take tests.

Starting with the easiest section and working your way up through the difficulty level is a smart way to go for a couple of reasons. First, if you find a section to be easier, you can likely get through it more quickly, allowing you to be closer to finishing with your tests. It is also helpful because seeing the great scores on the easier tests provides a feeling of accomplishment and is good motivation moving forward.

If you prefer to start with the hardest test, there are benefits to this method as well. The main reason people choose to take the hardest section first is that it is done and out of the way, meaning you don’t have the pressure of a difficult exam lingering over you.

Regardless of which order you decide on when taking your CPA exam, there is one thing you can count on, you are closer than ever to your new career.

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