The CPA exam measures your knowledge of public accounting principles, and is made up of four parts: Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Auditing and Attestation (AUS), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). You must complete and pass all four sections to earn your license and become a CPA.
There are four two-month testing windows each year, and you may take any or all sections of the exam in a particular window. However, it’s important to allow yourself enough time to prepare for each section. Candidates who attempt to take on too much or spread their study time too thin may find it difficult to pass on their first attempt. Likewise, those who undertake the exam without the benefit of CPA exam courses may discover that they need formal exam prep in order to pass.
If you do not pass one or more sections of the exam, you’ll have the opportunity to retake those sections during a later testing window. The following outlines what you need to know about retaking – and ultimately passing – the CPA exam.
Scoring of CPA Exam Sections
Each section of the exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 99, with varying weights applied to specific types of exam questions. Through 2010, a minimum score of 75 was required to pass each section. However, the scoring and weights have changed with the introduction of the exam’s computer-based testing evolution (CBT-e) in January of 2011. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Board of Examiners will make a decision regarding the minimum passing score in the early months of 2011, after data from the first testing window of the new 2011 exam become available.
As for the CBT-e scoring weights, the FAR, AUD and REG sections all have the same structure – multiple choice questions account for 60% of the total grade, while task-based simulations are worth 40%. For the BEC section, multiple choice questions are worth 85% of the final score, while written communication tasks contribute 15% of the grade.
Release of CPA Exam Results
Exam testing windows run the first two months of each calendar quarter, and candidates typically receive their scores during the last month of the quarter. The results of the CPA exam are released in two waves; the first is approximately a week before the testing window ends, while the second is about two weeks after the test window closes.
However, the AICPA does not issue scores directly to candidates. It sends them to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The individual boards are responsible for approving and releasing scores to candidates, and each board sets its own schedule for distributing the results. If you suspect you did poorly on a particular section, you do not have to wait for your CPA exam results before rescheduling a retake; however, you cannot retake the same section more than once in the same testing window.
Timeframe for Completing CPA Exam
To answer the question posed at the outset of this article, there is no limit to the number of times you may retake the CPA exam. However, you must pass all four sections of the exam within 18 consecutive months. The calendar begins when you take your first exam, assuming you pass at least one section in that window. If you do not pass all four sections within the 18 month timeframe, you will lose credit for any sections you passed at the beginning of the rolling window, and the calendar will restart on the date of the next exam section you passed.
If you exceed the initial 18 month window, not only will you have to retake the section(s) you did not pass, but also any section(s) that you may have previously passed but which have since expired. That’s why many candidates opt to invest in CPA exam courses to improve their chances of passing the exams the first time around, and avoid retakes.
Passing the CPA Exam
Whether you’re preparing to take your first section of the CPA exam or getting ready to retake a section, be sure to allow sufficient time for planning and preparation.