Education Meet education requirements
The first step in becoming a CPA is to complete your higher education. Graduating from a nationally or regionally accredited college or university is strongly recommended.
Education requirements to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam vary by each state or jurisdiction’s board of accountancy, although all states require a minimum of 120 credit hours (the equivalent to a bachelor’s degree). To get licensed as a CPA, all boards of accountancy require 30 additional credit hours, or 150 hours. The extra credit hours may be earned by enrolling in a graduate accounting program, although that’s not required.
• In every case, you’ll need to fulfill education credit hours to sit for the CPA Exam, but requirements vary. Check with your state or jurisdiction.
• NASBA offers an Advisory Evaluation for students who have studied outside the U.S. or outside their chosen jurisdiction, and are unsure that their education meets board requirements.
Exam Apply for the exam
Before you start to study for the exam, apply directly with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) or your state or jurisdiction’s board of accountancy to determine if you are eligible to take the exam. If you are, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS), which gives you a limited time to schedule your first section. If you receive more than one notice, make sure that you have the correct NTS with you on test day. The experience of scheduling your CPA Exam has been optimized by Prometric, the organization that administers the exam.
Exam Prepare for the exam
On average, test-takers study about 100 hours for Auditing & Attestation (AUD), 80 hours for Business Environment & Concepts (BEC), 160 hours for Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) and 110 hours for Regulation (REG). That’s about 450 hours to get ready for the entire exam, and that’s when learning more about how to prepare for the CPA Exam will come in handy. You might also want to check out some tutorials and sample tests that the AICPA—the organization that develops the CPA Exam—created.
If you’d like to know what to expect before you get there on test day, you can also take a test drive by visiting a test center to find out how Prometric administers the CPA Exam.
Our advice? Talk to those who have taken the exam and research which study programs might work best for you. If you decide to purchase a review course, check with your university, employer and state board to see if they offer course discounts or scholarships.
Exam Exam overview
It’s a good idea to get a high-level of understanding of the exam before you begin studying. Start by learning the basics. If you’ve already done that, you’ll know the exam is given in four sections — Auditing & Attestation (AUD), Business Environment & Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG). To learn more about those sections and on what you’ll be tested, the Exam Blueprints can help. For a deeper dive into the CPA Exam, including how the 18-month test-taking process works, check out the CPA Exam digital brochure. Of course, the exam is regularly updated to stay current with real-world accounting practices and policies.
The AUD section covers the audit process, generally accepted auditing standards and other standards related to attest engagements, as well as the skills needed to apply that knowledge.
• You’ll have 4 hours to take it.
BEC covers knowledge of general business — the things you should know to fully understand business transactions and their accounting implications.
• You’ll have 4 hours for this section.
FAR covers generally accepted accounting principles for business enterprises, governmental entities and not-for-profit organizations, as well as the skills needed to apply that knowledge.
• You’ll have 4 hours for this portion of the Exam.
REG examines federal tax procedures, ethics, professional and legal responsibilities and business law, as well as the skills to apply that knowledge in the real world.
• You’ll have 4 hours to take it.
Prometric offers testing in a number of locations around the world. If you’re interested in becoming a U.S. CPA outside of the United States and territories, you’ll need to take a few additional steps. First, you’ll want to find out more about international testing, including the location of the closest exam testing center, details about the application process and eligibility. All eligible candidates may test in the United States, if no international location is accessible.
If you want to have your international coursework and credentials professionally evaluated for the CPA Exam and licensure, find out about NASBA’s international evaluation services. And, if you don't have a CPA to sign off on your experience for licensure, NASBA created Experience Verification, a service for international candidates.
Do you live in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico or New Zealand and already are credentialed in your host country? The International Qualification Exam (IQEX) is designed to help facilitate the U.S. CPA qualification process for accounting professionals from other countries whose professional bodies have a reciprocity agreement with the U.S. accounting profession. This exam is the Regulation (REG) section of the CPA Exam. It covers federal tax procedures, ethics, professional and legal responsibilities and business law, as well as the skills needed to apply that knowledge to the real world.
Exam Obtain your score
Of course, after taking the Exam, you’ll want to know if you passed. The good news is that you can find out when the AICPA releases scores, so you’ll know exactly when to start checking. You’ll also likely wonder how the CPA Exam is scored.
As the CPA profession’s entry point, the CPA Exam is challenging. To know how test-takers as a group perform, check the pass rates.
There will be a score release hold for candidates who take the Exam in Q2, Q3 or Q4 test windows due to standard setting.
Experience Get real-life work experience
Ideally, you’ll gain work experience after your senior year of college. The right job for you may be at a large public accounting firm, a smaller firm, a government agency or a small private company. The possibilities are endless. Your employer might even support your quest to become a CPA by giving you time off to study or helping pay for your exam study materials or fees.
Every jurisdiction’s work experience requirements for your CPA license will vary, so check with your board of accountancy to make sure yours will qualify.
Other Licensure Considerations
Other Licensure Considerations Ethics
In some states, you have to prove that you’re an upstanding and respectful citizen in order to officially become a CPA. Contact your state board of accountancy to find out how you can fulfill this requirement.