What Is the Uniform CPA Exam®?

David Bishop
David Bishop
A CPA working.
A CPA working.

In the U.S., the Uniform CPA Examination® is a standardized test given as part of the licensing process for professional certified public accountants. The test consists of four parts: auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, regulation, and business environment and concepts. Each part lasts from three to four hours, and the total test takes 14 hours. A candidate must pass all four sections within an 18-month window. The Uniform CPA Exam® is offered four times each year at test centers around the United States and its territories.

While the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) governs the examination, CPA licensing is handled by state boards of accountancy. Eligibility requirements to sit for the exam vary from state to state. Generally, candidates must complete a four-year degree program in accounting or a related field plus 30 additional study hours. They must also work for at least two years in the accounting profession and complete an ethics course before being certified as a public accountant. Those seeking certification must apply to the state board or the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) before setting up an appointment to take the exam.

As of 2011, the Uniform CPA Exam® is only offered as a computerized test and only in English. Test sections can be taken in any order, although each section can only be taken once within a two-month window. Sections can be repeated at a later time. The state boards dictate the fee structure for taking or re-taking the exam. It is important to plan carefully for the test, because the entire application and testing process will take several months.

The test itself covers a wide variety of material in all areas of accountancy. An in-depth knowledge of auditing, taxes and the business environment is required to succeed on the Uniform CPA Exam®. Candidates will also need a familiarity with computers and business-related software. Multiple choice questions and case studies or simulations make up most of the questions. Many candidates feel the financial accounting and reporting section is the most difficult portion of the exam, although this depends on their professional and educational background.

Tutorials and sample tests are available as a software download from the AICPA. Candidates can purchase additional preparation materials, such as test guides, sample questions and reviews. Candidates may also attend prep courses for the Uniform CPA Exam® in person or online. Most candidates begin preparing months before the examination to give themselves the best chance of success.

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      A CPA working.