How to Pass the CPA Exam

Instructor: Jessica Munk
Learn about different methods you can use to pass the CPA exam. Explore the resources available to help you prepare to take the exam and get familiar with the structure of the exam. You'll also find details on the upcoming changes to the exam, so that you can prepare appropriately.

Passing the CPA Exam

A comprehensive study completed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) revealed that, as of 2007, 100,000 people had taken the computer-based test, and only 20% of those people passed all four exams. Passing the CPA Exam will therefore require dedicated study and hard work. Read on for tips on how to prepare for and pass the exam.

Get Familiar With Exam Content

The AICPA offers content specification outlines that provide detailed information on each subject you'll be tested on. These outlines break down the subjects covered in the exam's four sections: auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, regulation and business environment and concepts. Use these outlines as a guide for your exam prep. You can also access practice tests and an exam tutorial on the AICPA's website.

Take Review Courses

Current CPAs suggest that taking a review course is one of the most important steps you can take to pass the exam. You can find a multitude of CPA Exam prep programs that offer flexible options for preparing for the exam. For example, you can complete an entire review course through online study. You can also find intensive review courses that can help you prepare in 12 weeks. Further, you could attend an in-person 5-week course with lectures, exercises and supervised study opportunities. Or, you could take review courses by exam topic that provide you with instruction and practice questions and culminate in a weekend workshop with simulated tests. offers accounting courses that can help you as you prepare for the exam. Take practice quizzes and study key information you'll need to know about for the exam, including accounting equations, corporate taxation and financial statement analysis in this course on Advanced Accounting. Other accounting courses, such as financial accounting and applied managerial accounting, are also available to help you prepare for the exam.

Give Yourself Time to Study

While many professionals who have already passed the exam suggest scheduling it as soon as possible after you complete a degree program, you'll want to make sure that you schedule your exam based on the amount of time you'll need to study, which can depend on your work schedule and other commitments.

You will also want to make and stick to a study schedule. You will not want to cram for the CPA Exam. Consistently and diligently follow your study schedule and review course guidance. Finally, it is important to get enough rest while you are studying for the exam. Overall, these four sections encompass 14 hours of intensive testing.

CPA Exam Info

The CPA Candidate Bulletin, which can be downloaded on AICPA's website, provides all the details you need to know about how to apply and register for the exam, test center rules, when you will receive your scores and exam topics. Additionally, you might want to review the AICPA exam tutorial to learn more about the exam and test center considerations.

Exam Structure

You will see several different question types on the exam. Currently, the bulk of the questions are multiple-choice. There are also questions requiring written communication. A third question type is a task-based simulation, which will require you to draft responses to case studies using data provided on the exam. The July 2016 exam will be the first version to feature a Document Review Simulation. The DRS requires you to review and edit portions of a document using provided source information.

2017 Exam Changes

As of April 1, 2017, the CPA Exam will change. The four exam sections will remain the same, but in an effort to remain current with the increasing demands of the profession, more emphasis will be placed on testing critical thinking, problem solving, analytical skills and professional skepticism. The total exam time will increase to 16 hours; each section will take four hours.

Additionally, the content specification and skill specification outlines will be replaced with new exam blueprints. These blueprints will provide in-depth information on the tested material.

Earning College Credit

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