Sitting for the CPA Exam: What You Need to Know

Monday, January 25, 2016

From garage start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, all businesses require the skills of a CPA. It’s important to remember that all CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Receiving your CPA certification establishes your knowledge in the field and awards you with more job opportunities and a higher salary. Are you curious about what it takes to become a CPA? Here’s what you should know before sitting for the CPA exam.

Required Experience

Prior education and professional requirements vary from state to state, but most state boards require a minimum of 150 hours of post-secondary education. If you plan on becoming a CPA, plan on getting a Bachelor’s degree in accounting or business (at least 120 semester hours). Many people go on to earn a Master’s degree in accounting or taxation (at least 30 semester hours), but certificate programs can also help you prepare for the CPA exam. Depending on the state you would like to practice in, there may be a requirement for the amount of credit hours for business courses and accounting courses. It’s important to remember that passing the CPA exam is one step closer to earning your CPA license, it is not the actual license. Some states require you have at least one year of public accounting professional experience to qualify for a license. Other states take different types of work experience into account such as teaching or part-time employment.

Topics Covered

The term “CPA exam” is deceiving because it is actually a series of four tests that must be taken within 18 months of each other. Each exam is based around a specific topic and unlike other certification tests, these exams can be taken in any order. We recommend that you start with the exam topic that you feel will be the most challenging for you. You have 18 months to pass all four exams, and the clock does not start ticking until you pass your first one. Once you pass your most difficult section, it’s reassuring that the remaining topics will be much easier. The four exams you will be taking are: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). You have up to 4 hours to complete your Auditing and Financial exams, and only 3 hours to complete your Business and Regulation exams. In total, you should expect to spend 14 hours on your exams.

Exam Cost

There are several factors that play into the cost of the CPA exams, including location and study materials. In Massachusetts, first-time applicants are required to pay an application fee of $195 along with an examination fee that varies based on test topic ($173-$193). Re-examination candidates must pay a registration fee ($117-$177) and an examination fee ($173-$193). Plan to spend between $1,200 to $3,000 on exam fees and study materials. Did you know that many employers are willing to help you cover the costs of becoming certified? Even if your employer does not assist you with the cost, this investment will pay for itself throughout your career.

Exam Details

Exams are composed of multiple-choice questions, essays, and task-based simulations. The task-based simulations are mini case studies that demonstrate knowledge and often require the use of spreadsheets. Just like the SATs, you need to schedule an appointment to sit for the CPA exam. Some test centers fill up quickly so you should allow for plenty of time for your application to be processed. You must schedule your appointment at least 5 days in advance, but we recommend that you do it 45 days in advance. Note that you cannot sit for an exam until you receive your Notice To Schedule.

How we can help

Our Certificate Program in Accounting with a CPA track is designed to prepare people with a bachelor’s degree in business or accounting with the knowledge required to take the CPA exam. Our certificate program fulfills the 30 post-baccalaureate hours needed to meet the 150 hour requirement for the CPA exam in Massachusetts. Some topics that our courses cover are auditing, business law, corporate finance, cost accounting, and taxes. If you have already completed some of the required courses as part of your Bachelor’s degree, you may substitute them with electives.

Are you interested in preparing for the CPA exam? Learn more about our Certificate Program in Accounting with a CPA Track.

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