BEC CPA Exam Study Tips | Section Format, Structure, Topics Covered

bec-cpa-exam-sectionBEC stands for Business Environment and Concepts. It is the section that evaluates a candidates’ comprehension of responsibility and professional duty. Understanding of management, principle economic concepts, corporate governance, and Informational Technology (IT) is crucial to mastery.

It examines the test-takers’ ability to identify and analyze situations that call upon his knowledge of ethics and the underlying implications/reasoning behind transactions. Let’s look at the details of this exam section and what you need to know in order to pass it.

What’s on the BEC CPA Exam Section?

How Long is BEC?

Starting in 2017, BEC is now a full 4 hour exam.

BEC Topic Areas & Concepts Tested

Corporate Governance: 17% – 27% – these topics include how an entity or enterprise is controlled and how the management framework operates, how various management role differ from one another, knowing what an audit committee is and understand the influence of stakeholders. You should also be familiar with general provisions an entity is expected to follow.

Economic Concepts: 17% – 27% – topics like inflation, interest, deflation, and foreign exchange rates. You should also know how these topics affect businesses.

Financial Modeling and Management: 11% – 21% – materials covered in this section may include financing, creating models, loans, and calculating statements of value.

Information Technology: 15% – 25% –  including communications and the role of IT in recovery and maintaining consistency/continuity.

Operations Management: 15% – 25% – which covers things like cost accounting and variance analysis.


BEC CPA Exam Format and Structure

BEC starts with 2 MCQ testlets. Each testlet has 31 questions. The third testlet includes two task-based simulations. After you’ve made it through the first three testlets, you will be given a 15 minute break. Utilizing the break is recommended but not mandatory and it will not count against the candidates’ time. After the break, another 2-question testlet is given followed by a testlet with 3 tasks involving work communication.

BEC Exam Section Structure

BEC Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
Multiple-Choice Questions7262
Task-Based Simulations04
Written Communication33

BEC Exam Section Format

TestletsQuestion Sets
Testlet #131 Multiple-Choice Questions
Testlet #231 Multiple-Choice Questions
Testlet #32 Task-Based Simulations
Testlet #42 Task-Based Simulations
Testlet #53 Written Communication

Like the AUD section, the first MCQ testlet will be of moderate or medium difficulty with the next MCQ testlet being of equal or higher intensity. It should be noted that submitted testlets can’t be reviewed.

BEC CPA Tip: A good strategy is to review all your answers in each testlet before you submit them. After that, there’s no going back.

Multiple-Choice Questions

How many BEC Multiple-choice Questions are There? The multiple choice questions are divided into 2 testlets. Each testlet is comprised of 31 questions, making a total of 62. Multiple-choice questions are only given credit when correct, values of correct answer range from high to low, with low being of the least value, depending on the relative difficulty of the question asked. 50 of the 62 questions are operational while the remaining 12 are pretest.

BEC CPA Tip: After you submit your MCQ testlet, don’t think about them any more. It doesn’t do you any good to second guess answers that you have already submitted and can’t change.

Task-Based Simulations

How many BEC Task-Based Simulations are There? There are 4 task-based simulations with 3 work communication (WCs) based tasks. 3 of the task-based simulations are operational and 1 is pretest. For the WCs, 2 are operational and 1 is pretest.

Testlet and Simulation Time Length

Candidates can allocate their time the way they see fit, but it is suggested that about 30-40 minutes be allocated per MCQ testlet and around 2 hours for the simulations. A simulation commonly calls for candidates to complete up to 7 tasks using information provided while a written communication simulation has a candidate compose a message using compliant language, words and grammar correctly and professionally.

Gauge your skill set and appropriate your time accordingly.

How is BEC Weighted and Graded?

The MCQs count for half of a test-takers grade. The TBSs and the work communication portion each make up the other half of the grade. Most simulations and Work Communications are graded via computer by special software on the basis of structure or how ideas are arranged, development or how the candidate uses evidence and examples, and expression or how well English in a business context is used like capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.


MCQ and Simulation Grading Percentage

What Percentage of the Grade is Given to MCQ and Simulations? In short, 50% of the grade comes from the MCQs, 35% comes from the TBSs, and the 15% remaining belongs to the WCs.

Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
40% TBS
50% MCQ
50% TBS
15% WC
50% MCQ
35% TBS
15% WC
40% TBS
50% MCQ
50% TBS
40% TBS
50% MCQ
50% TBS

BEC Exam Pass Rates


Historically the business environment and concepts exam has been one of the parts that CPA candidates perform the lowest on. In 2005, the pass rate was only 43 percent. It has consistently risen since then to a peak of 50 percent in 2015.

This trend either means this section is getting easier or candidates are better prepared for the writing portion than they have been in the past. This info is published by the AICPA.

BEC Exam Study Tips

Don’t Underestimate BEC: Too many candidates go into their BEC exam and hear that it’s easy, so they don’t treat it with respect. Don’t make this mistake. BEC is still a beast and you still have to properly prepare for it. Put the time in!

Work On Your Writing Skills: The written communication section on BEC isn’t difficult, you just have to be a competent writer. Practice your writing skills by writing professional business letters, emails, and memos. Go through your study guide and look at the exam topics they recommend studying. Write sample articles about these topics. Remember, the written section isn’t designed to grade you on your knowledge of the subject. It’s designed to grade you on your communication skills and ability to write thoughts coherently. You could get the concept totally wrong and still do well on it if you can write.

Practice Financial Modeling and Economics: Both of these topics play a big role on BEC and don’t really show up on other exams. Learn the financials ratios, what they mean, and how to use them. Also, brush up on your Econ 101 and 102. You will need to know the basics fluently.

Practice MCQs to Death: Keep working through your MCQs in your CPA review course. This is the best practice you can get. Do as many as possible.

Should I Take BEC First?

Generally, I would recommend not taking BEC first. Although this is the shortest exam, you are better off taking a different exam first. Here’s a full article about which CPA exam to take first.

Should I Take BEC Last?

Since BEC is not closely related to the other exams, this would be a good exam to take last. Although it’s not an easy exam by any means, many candidates say that it is the easiest out of the four. So, this would be a good way to wrap up your CPA exam journey. Finish out strong with BEC. 🙂

Who is BEC Easiest For?

The BEC section tends to be easier for individuals who have experience with working with others and are familiar with economic formulas/ratios. It’s recommended to study for about 50-70 hours to pass this exam.

If you are experienced with business writing, you will probably have an easier time with this section. For instance, if you’ve written a lot professional emails, memos, and audit papers, you should be fine of the writing section.

Who is BEC Hardest For?

The BEC has a reputation of being the easier section of the exam, but don’t underestimate it. It’s a BEAST. Candidates who blow BEC off tend to have the hardest time with it. Put some Respek on BEC!

This section is most difficult for people who don’t have a firm grasp on economic concepts and managerial accounting fundamentals. It’s also difficult for people who are good writers and have horrible grammar. Practice up!

Other CPA Exam Sections

Do You have the Right CPA Review Course?

Have you started studying yet or did you fail BEC once? Either way, you’ll need a review course that actually works for you and matches your learning style. I compared all of the top courses side-by-side, so you can see which on is right for you. Check it out.