The CPA exam schedule is pretty confusing because there are so many different testing windows, exam dates, blackout months, and other oddities. Additionally, recent global events have made the situation even more confusing with numerous cancellations and rescheduling for seemingly every event. Consequently, the scheduling process can difficult to figure out for first-time candidates.
Therefore, let’s take a look at each one of these scheduling topics and try to answer most of your CPA examination questions.
How to Schedule the CPA Exam
The first step in understanding how to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination is figuring out the scheduling process. After your CPA application has been approved by your state board of accountancy, you will be notified that you are eligible to sit for the exam with an Authorization to Test (ATT). Basically, this document typically gives you 90 days to pick which section of the exam you want to sit for. Once you decide which section or sections you want to sit for, you can register for them and pay the applicable fees on the NASBA website.
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CPA Exam Notice to Schedule (NTS)
About 3 to 6 weeks after you pay your registration fees for the CPA exam parts you signed up for, you’ll receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS) for those sections. This is the document that legally allows you to sit for a section of the CPA exam in the United States. After you receive this document, you will be able to schedule a testing date and time with a Prometric testing center. Be aware! Without this document, you will not be able to schedule a testing date. Also, your NTS is only valid for 6 months. Hence, if you don’t schedule your exam within that window, your NTS will be invalidated and you will be required to pay the same exam fees in order to get another one.
That’s the basic process of scheduling your exam. Now that you understand how the scheduling system works, let’s look at when you can actually schedule your exam.
CPA Exam Testing Dates
|Testing Windows||Blackout Dates|
|January 1 - March 10||March 11 - 31|
|April 1 - June 30||None (Continuous Testing)|
|July 1 - December 31||None (Continuous Testing)|
CPA Testing Windows
Testing windows are the CPA semester dates that candidates can schedule and sit for the exam. Typically, these windows include the first two months of each quarter and follow this pattern: two months of testing followed by one month of no testing. Thus, January – February, April – May, July – August, and October – November are testing months that are available for candidates to schedule exams. Furthermore, candidates can typically make an appointment for a specific date and time 6 days per week during any testing window at their local Prometric testing center. However, one important note to consider is that you are not able to schedule to sit for the same section multiple times in the same testing window. If you fail a section in January, you will not be able to take it again in February. Consequently, you will have to wait until March to retake it again.
CPA Blackout Months
In the past, blackout months were the dates that Prometric does not offer testing for the CPA exam. These dates included the third month of every quarter: March, June, September, and December. However, NASBA recently announced Continuous Testing for the second half of 2020 in response to current global events. Consequently, you’re now able to apply for and take the CPA exam at any time without any blackouts.
18 Month Rolling Window
The 18-month rolling window doesn’t have anything to do with scheduling your exam dates. Instead, this is the time period in which you need to successfully complete all four sections of the exam. In other words, you have 18 months to complete the remaining three sections after your first completed section. If you can’t pass all four sections within the 18 month time period, the first passed section will drop off or be invalidated. Thus, if you passed FAR in January Year 1 and were unable to pass the remaining three sections until October Year 2, your passed FAR exam will no longer be valid. You will have to retake FAR again.
The moral of the story is to pass all four sections in as soon as you can. You don’t want to have to retake a section that you already passed.
CPA Exam Costs and Fees
There are a variety of costs and fees associated with sitting for the CPA exam. None of them are that expensive, but they do add up over the entire exam. Here’s a list of the fees and what you can expect to pay.
|Application fee||$25 - $200|
|NASBA Exam Fees||~$180 per section|
|AICPA Ethics Exam||$125|
|CPA License Fee||$50 - $500|
There are a couple of things to understand about these fees. First, the application fee is only a one time cost that varies by state. This is the fee you pay to your state board for your initial application. Therefore, once you’re approved to take the exam you don’t have to pay this again.
Second, the NASBA fee is the cost to take the exam. You pay this every time you sign up for a section. Keep in mind, you don’t pay this fee when you sit for the exam. Instead, you pay it when you sign up. Thus, if your NTS expires, you will have to pay this fee again for the same section.
Third, some states don’t require an ethics exam. Some do. Ultimately, it just depends on where you’re applying.
Fourth, the CPA licensure fee varies drastically between states. Hence, you should check with your state board to see what your initial and annual fee will be to maintain your license.
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CPA Exam Sections
Before you go and pay NASBA a bunch of fees to get your NTS, you should stop and figure out what part you want to sit for. The four parts of the examination are:
- Auditing & Attestation
- Financial Accounting & Reporting (business enterprises, not-for-profit organizations, and governmental entities)
- Regulation (professional responsibilities, business law, and taxation)
- Business Environment & Concepts
The examination takes at least two days. Each of the four parts of the examination is graded on a scale of 0 to 100. The minimum passing score is 75. Each part tests candidates on different topics and areas of study. They all consist of the same basic format: multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. The one exception is BEC which also has a small writing component. Here’s a summary of what each section tests.
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) is the longest section of the exam and tests candidates on the following financial accounting and reporting topics.
- 17-23% concepts
- 27-33% accounts and disclosures
- 27-33% transactions
- 8-12% governmental
- 8-12% not-for-profits
Audit (AUD) tests candidates on the following auditing topics.
- 12-16% engagement acceptance and planning
- 16-20% entity and internal control
- 16-20% procedures and evidence
- 16-20% reports
- 12-16% accounting and review services
- 16-20% professional responsibilities
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) includes managerial accounting topics, economics, and internal accounting concepts. This is also the section that most heavily tests financial ratios. BEC includes a short writing task-based simulation. Some candidates have troubles with this component while others think it is a breeze.
- 16-20% corporate governance
- 16-20% economics
- 19-23% finance
- 15-19% IT
- 10-14% strategic planning
- 12-16% operations management
Regulation (REG) is the section of the exam that has the least to do with financial accounting. This section mainly tests the following business law, individual taxation, corporate taxation, and business structure topics.
- 15-19% ethical and legal responsibilities
- 17-21% business law
- 11-15% federal tax process
- 12-16% gain and loss taxation
- 13-19% individual tax
- 18-24% taxation of entities
What Order Should You Sit For the CPA Exam?
There are a lot of different theories about this. However, I always suggest candidates sit for their strongest sections first. I talk more about which CPA exam you should take first in this blog post. Furthermore, I also suggest the best order to take each section in this post. Before you worry about what section you are going to take first, you will need to pick out a CPA prep course.