CPA Exam Difficulty Level: Which Section of the CPA Exam Should I Take First

There are four parts in the CPA exam, and readers often ask me “Which Section of the CPA Exam Should I Take First?”. Here are my suggestions. Overview Just to give everyone the background, These 4 exam parts cover a huge amount of topics in accounting, business, law, audit, tax and regulations. You can take them one at a time or in any sequence: Auditing and Attestation, also known as AUD, 4 hours; Business Environment and Concepts, also known as BEC, 4 hours; Financial Accounting and Reporting, also known as FAR or FAR, 4 hours; Regulation, also known as REG, 4 hours.

Which CPA part exam should you take first? In general, I suggest that you pick the exam section you are most familiar with. For example, if you work in tax, go for Regulation; and if you are an auditor, then Financial Accounting, and Audit. If you are a fresh graduate and you don’t have a speciality, I would recommend picking FAR first. FAR covers the widest topics but it’s not that difficult, relatively speaking. Most of you are either accounting major or at least concentrating in accounting so the content shouldn’t be new to you. Also, it is mostly computational with clear, black-and-white answers. Given its breadth, it usually takes the longest to prepare, so it is a great feeling to get done with the biggest beast.

The audit is closely related to FAR so I recommend you take Audit together or right after FAR. If you work in public accounting, Audit should be straight-forward. In terms of taking Regulation or BEC first, it depends whether you want to get done with the difficult one, or need to have an easier time in between. Given my non-tax background, Regulation is the most difficult. I believe it is mostly the case for international candidates as well, given that they are not familiar with the tax system. BEC is the shortest exam, and looking at the recent pass rates, most candidates have an easier time with it. Therefore, you can schedule to take it at the busiest time of the year, or take it at the end, so you don’t need to be too scared of not passing and then go beyond the 18-month limitation.

How many CPA exam parts should you take within one testing window? It depends on your time and commitment. I took the 4 parts within 2 days because I really wanted to get it done and move on with my life. It was pretty risky, but I pulled it off. For most candidates, it makes more sense to register for one part in each testing window, get fully prepared and pass on your first try. If you have time, you might be able to take two within a testing window.