Find answers to frequently asked questions about the CPA Exam
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Find answers to frequently asked questions about the CPA Exam

Oct 18, 2021 · 1 min read

Our FAQs give you answers to the most common questions about the CPA Exam and related topics. To find information about applications, accommodations, eligibility, Exam credit, fees, jurisdictions, licensing, and other general administration topics, we encourage you to visit NASBA’s CPA Central. For questions related to Exam scheduling and testing centers, you can visit the Prometric website. If you cannot find an answer to your question, contact the AICPA or NASBA directly.

General information

What is the Uniform CPA Examination® (CPA Exam)?

The Exam is a 16-hour, four-section test that all jurisdictions require you to pass in order to qualify for a CPA license. It is designed to test the minimum knowledge and skills required of a CPA. The CPA Exam is owned by the AICPA, and administered in Prometric test centers by NASBA and the AICPA on behalf of the state boards of accountancy.

What are the requirements to take the CPA Exam?

There are 55 jurisdictions (50 states and five U.S. territories) with Boards of Accountancy. These boards determine the eligibility and licensure requirements for their jurisdiction’s candidates.

Is the CPA Exam available in a language other than English?

No. The CPA Exam is only offered in English.

Is there a time limit for passing the CPA Exam?

You must pass all four sections of the CPA Exam within 18 months. The calculation of when the 18-month timeframe begins varies by jurisdiction. Check with your specific Board of Accountancy for details.

How much does it cost to take the CPA Exam?

Fees depend upon the jurisdiction where you choose to become licensed. You can find details by referring to your specific Board of Accountancy.

How do I apply for the CPA Exam?

You must first decide on the jurisdiction to which you will apply. After selecting your jurisdiction, you can obtain application materials and submit your completed applications as directed.

Is there one central organization where can I apply to take the CPA Exam?

No. You can take the Exam (and qualify as a CPA) only if you meet the requirements of a board of accountancy in one of the 55 U.S. jurisdictions.

Where can I take the CPA Exam?

You can take the Exam at authorized Prometric test centers throughout the 55 U.S. jurisdictions as well as select international locations. See "International FAQs" below for testing countries.

What is the structure and format of the CPA Exam?

The CPA Exam consists of four, four-hour sections. You’ll take one section at a time. Each of the four sections is made up of five smaller sections known as “testlets,” which feature multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and in the case of the BEC section, written communication tasks.

Will I take the same CPA Exam as other candidates?

You will take a different but equivalent Exam. The questions presented to you are drawn from a pool of test questions according to defined specifications. Although you take different Exams, the specifications ensure that the results are comparable.

Are some administrations of the CPA Exam more difficult than others?

There may be minor differences among different administrations, but these differences are accounted for during scoring. The AICPA enhances test security by creating multiple forms of the CPA Exam with different questions for different administrations. Each form is comparable but not identical.

Great care is taken to match the forms in terms of content and item difficulty. Remember, you may be given questions of varying difficulty depending on your performance. Question difficulty is accounted for during scoring. Therefore, it does not mean that it is easier to get a higher score simply because you receive easier questions.

What computer skills do I need to take the CPA Exam?

You only need basic computer skills to take the CPA Exam. You are expected to be familiar with the use of a mouse and keyboard, and with basic spreadsheet and word processing functions.

In order to respond to Exam questions, you may need to:

  • Select a response from available options by clicking on a radio button

  • Perform standard financial calculations utilizing a Microsoft® Excel spreadsheet or four-function online calculator

  • Type a memorandum or letter in the written communication tasks

  • Perform an Authoritative Literature search in the research portion of simulations

  • Copy and paste text using the standard shortcut keys

  • Use scrollbars

  • Resize or move windows

  • Highlight excerpts in exhibits that you would like to remember

To learn more about the CPA Exam’s functionality, check out the sample tests.

Does the CPA Exam use Microsoft® Word and Microsoft® Excel?

You will have access to a version of Excel with certain functions unavailable. You will not be tested on your ability to use Excel. The program is available only as a tool to use when testing. The CPA Exam uses a word processing application that is similar but not identical to Word.

To learn more about the CPA Exam’s functionality, check out the sample tests.

Can I take the CPA Exam on paper?

No. This is a computer-based test.

International testing

Exam content

What topics are tested on the CPA Exam?

You can find each CPA Exam section’s topics in the CPA Exam Blueprints.

What are the rules for new accounting and auditing pronouncements?

You may find out when new content becomes eligible for testing by reviewing the Board of Examiner’s Policy on New Pronouncements.

What informational materials/databases are available to me during the CPA Exam?

For all simulations, you have access to Authoritative Literature, which includes some sections of the AICPA Professional Standards (in the Auditing and Attestation section), FASB Codification (in the Financial Accounting and Reporting section) and Tax Code (in the Regulation section).

Exam sample tests

What are the sample tests?

The sample tests let you practice with the format and functionality of the CPA Exam using the software you’ll experience in a test center (you will need to use your own Microsoft® Excel, and the Authoritative Literature provided in the sample test is a condensed version).

While there is one sample test for each section, they are not complete CPA Exam sections and do not determine your readiness to take the real CPA Exam.

What is included in the sample test?

The sample tests include two multiple-choice testlets and three task-based simulation testlets for each of the three sections of the CPA Exam: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG). The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) sample test includes two multiple-choice testlets, two task-based simulation testlets and one written communication testlet. You will also have access to tutorial topics found by selecting the “Help” button in each sample test.

What kind of computer do I need to use the sample tests?

Sample tests are web-based and require an Internet connection. They will work on most devices and operating systems. You should use a 23-inch HD (1920x1080) monitor for an experience similar to an actual test center.

The sample tests are optimized for the testing environment in the Prometric centers. If you encounter any issues we recommend using the most recent version of the Chrome browser on a desktop HD monitor.

Since the CPA Exam software uses high-definition (HD) monitors, do I need an HD monitor to practice with the sample tests?

No. However, if you want a realistic picture of how the text will appear in a Prometric test center, we recommend using an HD monitor.

Why do I see scrollbars on the right or bottom when I view the sample tests?

The sample tests can run on monitors with less than the minimum suggested resolution. If you do, you will see scroll bars. You can eliminate the scrollbars on monitors with less than the suggested resolution by using the browser zoom shortcut keys:

  • PC: Ctrl- [minus sign] and Ctrl+ [plus sign]

  • Mac: Command- [minus sign] and Command+ [plus sign]

Zooming out will resize the sample test to fit on your screen without scrollbars, but you may find that the smaller text is more difficult to read.

Will the mouse right-click button work when I test in Prometric test centers?

When taking a sample test, a context menu appears when you click the right mouse button. It will allow you to copy, paste, and perform other operations. Note: This feature is not available at Prometric test centers.

What if I have trouble running the sample test?

Make sure that your device meets the minimum technical requirements. If you are still having trouble launching the sample tests, please contact the AICPA for assistance.

Exam scoring

What is the passing score?

The passing score is 75 on a 0-99 scale. Scores are not curved. Find out how your score is determined by reading about CPA Exam scoring.

Who sets the passing score for the CPA Exam?

The passing score is determined by the AICPA Board of Examiners (BOE), which considers many factors, including standard-setting study results, historical trends, and Exam content changes. The BOE also receives input from NASBA, consultant psychometricians, the academic community, and licensed CPAs. The passing score is the basis of the pass or fail decision recommended to boards of accountancy on the advisory score report.

Is scoring an automated process?

Scoring is fully automated for all CPA Exam components except the written communication tasks. Most written communication responses are scored by a computer grading program, which is calibrated using human scorers. In some cases, responses are scored by a network of human graders (all CPAs). If your score is close to the passing score, your written communication tasks will be automatically re-graded by human graders. When there is more than one grader for a response, the average of the scores is used as the final grade.

The AICPA uses Item Response Theory (IRT) for the objective portion of the Exam. IRT is a well-established psychometric approach to scoring used by licensing and certification examinations that administer many different test forms.

All scoring routines, whether automated or not, are verified at various stages of the scoring process.

When are scores released?

Scores are released on a rolling basis with dates posted twice a year.

How does the CPA Exam test my knowledge and skills?

We use a multistage adaptive test delivery model for all multiple-choice testlets. Your first testlet will be given at a level of moderate difficulty. The next testlet will be the same level or slightly more difficult based on your performance. The adaptive model is not used for task-based simulations or written communication tasks.

Is multistage testing fair? Why are you using it?

Yes, it is fair. Since the characteristics of the test questions are considered in the scoring, there is no advantage or disadvantage to being assigned testlets of different difficulty. We use multi-stage testing because the test questions are matched to proficiency levels, and therefore fewer questions are needed to obtain accurate estimates of proficiency.

How do you decide which questions are difficult and which are medium?

The difficulty levels of the test questions (and other statistics that are used to describe each test question) are determined through statistical analysis of candidate responses. At the question level, difficulty is not quantified as a category (e.g., moderate or difficult), but as a numeric value along a scale. Testlets are classified as either medium or difficult based on the average difficulty of the questions within that testlet. All testlets have questions ranging in difficulty. Questions in difficult testlets just have a higher average level of difficulty than those in medium testlets.

What are pretest questions and are they scored?

Pretest questions are included in every CPA Exam (they may be multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, or written communication tasks) only for the purpose of collecting data. The data are needed to assess the quality of the questions, and to collect scoring information for later use when the questions become operational items. They are not part of your score calculation.

Are scoring adjustments made for candidates who experience difficulties during testing?

No. Your results are scored using the same process and method to ensure uniformity and the validity of the pass or fail decision. In the rare instances when serious technical problems occur during testing, NASBA may offer you a free retest.

Can I get a passing score by only doing well on the multiple-choice questions?

No. Your results are scored using the same process and method to ensure uniformity and the validity of the pass or fail decision.

Score review and appeal

What is score review?

The score review process involves making certain that the approved answer keys were used and applied correctly in determining a candidate’s score and is not an opportunity to have alternate responses considered. It is simply an additional independent verification of your CPA Exam score. Please keep in mind that all scores undergo thorough quality control checks before they are released.

Given all the quality control reviews already completed, it is highly unlikely that your score will change due to a score review.

How and when should I request a score review?

You can contact your Board of Accountancy, or its designated agent, for instructions on requesting a score review, required fees, and meeting the score review request deadline. If you apply after the deadline date, your request will not be processed. The option to apply for a score review is available only for a short period of time after your score has been reported to you. It may take up to eight weeks for the score review to be processed and released.

How will the score review results be communicated?

After NASBA submits your request to the AICPA, the AICPA reviews your score and reports the result through NASBA to your Board of Accountancy, or its designee. NASBA, the board, or its designee, will then transmit the result to you.

What is an appeal?

In the jurisdictions that allow appeals, the process provides you with the opportunity to appeal a failing score. Where available, the appeal option enables you to view the multiple-choice test questions or objective simulation problems that you answered incorrectly together with their responses, and to submit comments online. The appeal does not include the written communication tasks.

The confidentiality of the CPA Exam requires that such viewing sessions take place only in authorized locations, under highly secure conditions, and in the presence of a representative of your Board of Accountancy or its designee.

Why should I consider requesting an appeal?

You should consider requesting an appeal only if you want to review your incorrect responses because you believe that there is a question or simulation problem that you would like to challenge.

When you review the questions or simulation problems that you have answered incorrectly, you may decide to challenge the validity of one or more items. If you decide to do so, you must be prepared to present a cogent, vigorous, and compelling defense of your incorrect responses.

Please note that you will not be able to submit new responses during an appeal. However, you will have the opportunity to challenge multiple-choice test question(s) or simulation(s) and defend the response(s) you provided at the examination.

How do I request an appeal?

Contact your Board of Accountancy, or its designee, to determine whether the appeal option is available in your jurisdiction.

What is the fee for an appeal?

You should contact your Board of Accountancy, or its designee, for the exact amounts of these fees. You will be charged a separate fee for each item (multiple-choice test question or simulation problem) that you decide to challenge.

How will my appeal be processed, and the result be communicated to me?

If your Board of Accountancy determines that you qualify for an appeal, the board will submit your request to the AICPA through NASBA. The board, or its designee, will schedule your viewing session for you. Your online comments during this session will be transmitted to the AICPA through NASBA.

After the session, the AICPA will review your responses on the section you are appealing, consider the online comments you submitted, verify your score, and forward the result to NASBA. (Note: You will not receive detailed information about the question(s) you challenge because of the need to preserve the confidentiality of Exam content.) NASBA will report the result to your board, or its designee, and the result will be transmitted to you.

International testing

Where can I test internationally?

Eligible international candidates can take the CPA Exam at any international location where the CPA Exam is currently offered. The CPA exam is currently offered at Prometric testing centers in Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, England, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). All candidates can test in the U.S.

What is international testing?

International testing allows U.S. citizens as well as eligible international candidates to take the Uniform CPA Examination® (Exam) in select countries. If you’re a non-U.S. citizen, this process allows you to purse the U.S. CPA license. The AICPA, NASBA and Prometric provide the same services for international testing as they do for U.S.-based testing. The Exam and licensure process is the same for international candidates as it is for candidates within U.S. jurisdictions.

If I’m not a U.S. citizen, how do I know if I’m eligible to take the CPA Exam?

The NASBA website provides information for international candidates. You might also consider using NASBA’s International Evaluation Services. Contact NASBA for international candidate requirements.

When can I test internationally?

Testing for international candidates is offered continuously as it is for U.S. candidates

How do I schedule my CPA Exam at an international testing location?

Once you complete the international registration process, visit the Prometric website to schedule your CPA Exam.

Can I take the Exam if I’m a resident of an international testing country but do not have a passport?

No. You must present your passport as a primary form of identification. This includes U.S. citizens living abroad.

How do you determine international testing locations?

International testing locations are evaluated based on a set of criteria, including:

  • Demand volume for the Exam from candidates in those countries

  • Ability to deliver the Exam without legal obstacles

  • Security threat to the Exam (both physical security and intellectual property security) assessed at levels equal to those presented domestically

  • Existence of established Prometric test centers

Countries that do not meet these criteria to the combined satisfaction of NASBA, the AICPA and Prometric are not considered as testing locations. We appreciate the desire for additional international testing locations and regularly review new locations for possible expansion.

Where can I test if my jurisdiction doesn’t participate in international testing?

If you register through a non-participating jurisdiction, you can test only at approved testing centers in the U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. Please check with NASBA to see if your jurisdiction participates in the international program.

Where can I apply for International testing?

Please visit the NASBA website for application information.

Can I use my international Notice to Schedule (NTS) to schedule at a U.S. test site?

No. Once you get an NTS for one of the international testing centers, it cannot be interchanged with an NTS for any of the U.S. testing centers. You must notify NASBA to change back to a domestic NTS.

Can I apply for a refund or an extension of my present NTS in order to schedule at one of the international test sites?

There is no provision for withdrawing from the CPA Exam and/or requesting an extension of your current NTS. Application and/or fees are not refundable. If your NTS expires prior to testing, or you miss a scheduled testing appointment, you will not be able to reschedule or receive a refund on any of the fees paid. You will have to reapply for the Exam and pay the appropriate application/registration and fees.

If I test internationally, when will I get my scores?

Please review the score release dates for details.

Where can I find additional international testing information when it becomes available?

The AICPA provides information through Exam Announcements and also updates these International FAQs when new information is available. You can also find information on the NASBA website.

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