CPA Exam Sections | Format, Structure, & Content | Each Part Explained

cpa-exam-sectionsThe CPA exam is made up of four sections or parts including:

  • Auditing & Attestation (AUD)
  • Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)
  • Business Environment & Concepts (BEC)

Each part of the Uniform examination is a 4-hour test covering a different subset of topics and concepts. In order to become a CPA, you must pass all four sections within an 18-month testing window with a score of 75 or higher.

You can take any section during an open testing window in any order you want. You are also allowed to take any number of exams in the same testing window. I wouldn’t recommend taking more than two in the same window, however. It’s too difficult to properly prepare for more than that at the same time. You don’t want to kill yourself. It is possible to sign up and take all four in one window, though.

You cannot, however, take a single section twice. Thus, if you fail one part, you will not be able to retake it until the next open testing window.

The AICPA is the body in charge of writing and creating the exam, but they aren’t in charge of administering it. Each state administers the exam, reports scores to the candidates, and grants licenses to those of us who pass.

Let’s look at how the exam is formatted, structured, and scored.

CPA Exam Part Structure and Format

Each exam part is formatted similarly with multiple-choice questions at the beginning followed by task-based simulations. Each test includes a different number of questions and simulations that you will have to navigate through in a four-hour period. This is different from prior years’ exams in that each exam had a different amount of time. Starting in 2017, the AICPA shortened FAR and added time to BEC, so all the sections had a 4-hour limit.

Also, BEC is the only part with a written communication portion. Some candidates find this component easy, while others find it quite difficult. It’s pretty simple. They test your technical writing and communication skills by having you write a memo or client letter in a word processor. Your CPA review course should have a couple examples of this for you try and practice on.

Here’s how the 2017 CPA exam is structured. This is a breakdown between multiple-choice questions and simulations on each section.

SectionMultiple-Choice QuestionsTask-Based SimulationsWritten Communication

CPA Exam Scoring

The AICPA keeps changing the way they grade and weight the multiple-choice questions on the exam. It wasn’t that long ago that the questions were worth more than 70 percent of the total points on the test. That’s crazy. Each question was worth a ton.

In recent years, they have been backing off the value of MCQs and putting more importance on the task-based simulations. In 2017, the MCQs are weighted evenly with the simulations except on BEC. Thus, the MCQs are only worth 50 percent of your points and the simulations are worth the other 50 percent.

Here’s a breakdown of how the 2017 CPA exam is graded and weighted.

SectionMultiple-Choice QuestionsTask-Based SimulationsWritten Communication

CPA Exam Section Content

Each exam part covers different broad topics that are broken down as follows.

Auditing (AUD)

AUD covers all auditing and assurance services performed in public accounting. It tests your knowledge of the AICPA professional code of conduct, audit process, reviews, compilations, and attest engagements. Here’s a breakdown of what content is will appear on the exam.

  • 15–25% – Professional Responsibilities, Ethics and General Principles
  • 20–30% – Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response
  • 30–40% – Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence
  • 15–25% – Forming Conclusions and Reporting


Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

BEC is a comprehensive look at the environment that a business operates in. It covers topics like macro and micro economics, cost accounting, management, and information systems. Here are the topics covered on BEC and what percentage they make up on the test.

  • 17–27% – Corporate Governance
  • 17–27% – Economic Concepts and Analysis
  • 11–21% – Financial Management
  • 15–25% – Information Technology
  • 15–25% – Operations Management


Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

FAR covers the most information out of any exam section. It tackles the entire topics of financial accounting and reporting. This includes the FASB framework, financial statement preparation, US GAAP rules, and IFRS rules. Here is the content covered on FAR along with the percentages they make up on the exam.

  • 25–35% – Standard-Setting, Conceptual Framework, and Financial Reporting
  • 30–40% – Financial Statement Accounts
  • 20–30% – Transactions
  • 5–15% – Local and State Governments


Regulation (REG)

REG is the only exam that doesn’t explicitly cover accounting topics. This section focuses on business and individual taxation, business law, and ethics. Here’s a breakdown on what is covered.

  • 10–20% – Professional Responsibilities, Ethics, and Federal Tax Procedures
  • 10–20% – Business Law
  • 12–22% – Property Transaction Federal Taxation
  • 15–25% – Individual Federal Taxation
  • 28–38% – Entity Federal Taxation