The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam includes three types of questions, that is, multiple-choice questions (MCQ), task-based simulations (TBS), and written communication tasks (WCT). Understanding the nature of these questions and practicing them is essential in designing strategies to respond quickly and effectively.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), along with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the 55 US State Boards of Accountancy, administers the CPA ExamCPA ExamThe CPA Exam assesses accounting professionals not just on their financial knowledge, but also on their ability to review and seek out key abilities..
Number of CPA Exam Questions
There are four CPA Exam sections. Each of them is four hours long and incorporates five testlets with a fixed number of pretest and operational MCQ, TBS, and WCT questions. While MCQ and TBS are included in each section, WCT appears only in the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section.
Furthermore, the passing score for each section is 75 points (on a scale of 0-99). You can break up the total number of CPA Exam Questions into 276 MCQs, 28 TBSs, and 3 WCTs. The following table presents the number and type of questions appearing in each exam section.
|Exam Sections||Testlet 1 MCQ||Testlet 2 MCQ||Testlet 3 TBS||Testlet 4 TBS||Testlet 5|
|Auditing & Attestation (AUD)||36||36||2||3||3||–|
|Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)||31||31||2||2||–||3|
|Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR)||33||33||2||3||3||–|
You can check the AICPA’s sample papers, practice quizzes, and CPA Exam Blueprints for further information and assistance. With the help of these resources, you can familiarize yourself with types of CPA Exam questions and ensure better performance.
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Types of CPA Exam Questions
As mentioned above, there are three types of questions (MCQ, TBS, and WCT) administered in five different testlets for each exam section. Furthermore, all MCQ, TBS, and WCT questions are either pre-test or operational. So, let’s start by understanding the meaning of pretest and operational questions.
- Pretest questions – These questions are not scored in your CPA Examination but are only used to collect data. The pretest questions meeting specific statistical criteria are used as operational questions in the future CPA exams.
- Operational questions – These questions contribute to your overall CPA Exam score.
Here is the breakdown of pretest and operational questions for each of the four CPA Exam sections.
|CPA Exam Section||Question Types||MCQ||TBS||WCT|
Know that pretest and operational questions are indistinguishable. Hence, don’t undermine the relevance of a question. Instead, attend to each one of them with absolute attention and diligence.
MCQs are questions with multiple answer choices. There is a total of 276 MCQ questions (all sections) in the CPA Exam. They appear in the first two testlets and include pretest questions (12 in each section).
|CPA Exam Sections||MCQs||Total||Scoring Weightage|
|Testlet 1||Testlet 2|
MCQs utilize Multi-Stage Adaptive Delivery Model for scoring. It means that the exam progresses as per your performance.
You get a medium-level MCQ testlet first. Then, if you do well in that testlet, you receive a difficult testlet next. However, if you do not perform well, you get an easier testlet next.
Please note that difficult questions carry a higher scoring weightage than the easier ones. Hence, try to perform well and score more with a difficult testlet.
Tips for Answering MCQ
MCQs can be challenging as more than one answer choice may seem to be correct. Therefore, you must use your judgment to select the correct answer and ensure it suits the given situation best. Moreover, you can benefit from some of the tips given below.
- Read the question carefully
The need to read the question carefully cannot be overstated. Take your time to read and comprehend the question well. Make sure you do not read the answer choices along with the question, as there are chances that you may get confused.
Moreover, the answer choices may influence your objective thinking. So, before moving on to the answer choices, you must have an idea of the answer. Also, after responding, re-read the question again to ensure that you have answered it correctly.
- Narrow down the answers
If you are clueless about a question, try to break it down as much as possible. Then, delve a bit deeper every time you go through the question.
Look for keywords and narrow down your answer choices as per the given context. In case of multiple possible answers, scan through all of them and choose the best one.
- Use Flags
Don’t spend too much time on an MCQ, as this will end up puzzling you more. Instead, flag it and move on with the other one. Attempt it later on when you are done with the rest of the questions.
This way, you will be able to answer it with a much clearer mind. Also, answering another question may help you to come up with an answer for the difficult one.
- Don’t forget to review
Review your response even if you are 100% sure about it. Know that a silly mistake can mean a world of difference between failing and passing the CPA examination.
Doing a double-check is imperative to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding. Hence, save up a bit of additional time to re-check your responses.
- Practice with timed tests
Practicing timed tests will help you ace the time management skill with ease. You can take them up during your daily study schedule or while being out on vacation.
Try to attempt at least 2-3 practice tests within a week. This way, you will know the recurring MCQs and the amount of time to dedicate to every question.
- Do not leave any questions
As there is no negative marking, do not leave any questions unanswered. Instead, try to make an educated guess. Make an outright guess only if you have no idea.
Moreover, in case of being clueless about a question, thinking that the question may be pretest may help you relieve tension.
TBSs are real-world case studies requiring you to generate responses by applying concepts learned. They test you for higher-order thinking skills. The TBS testlets have two types of tabs:
- Work tab – It requires you to present your answer.
- Information tab – It provides information to help you solve the tasks.
The information tab includes the research tab to solve the research-based simulations. This tab also has a help and directions tab with navigation and other instructions for completing the task.
There is a total of 28 TBS questions (all sections) in the CPA Exam. They are presented in three testlets (except two in BEC) and include pretest questions.
Types of TBS
There are different types of TBS:
- Choice list simulations – In these questions, you are provided multiple answer options. You have to select the correct one.
- Number entry simulations – In these simulations, you have to calculate and enter an amount in the required answer cell.
- Document review simulations – In these simulations, you have to review the exhibits like financial statementsFinancial StatementsFinancial statements are written reports prepared by a company's management to present the company's financial affairs over a given period (quarter, six monthly or yearly). These statements, which include the Balance Sheet, Income Statement, Cash Flows, and Shareholders Equity Statement, must be prepared in accordance with prescribed and standardized accounting standards to ensure uniformity in reporting at all levels., invoices, or memos, etc., and analyze them to respond.
- Research-based simulations – In these simulations, you must research the authoritative literature provided in the exam to solve the task.
Scaled scores on TBS are determined through formulas considering the correctness and relative difficulty of each question. Like MCQs, their scoring weightage is 50% for each section, except BEC (35%).
Here lies the breakdown.
|CPA Exam Section||TBSs in each Testlet||Total No. of TBSs||Scoring Weightage|
|Testlet 3||Testlet 4||Testlet 5|
Tips for Answering TBS
TBS tests your problem-solving ability in a real-world workplace scenario. It may be more demanding than the MCQs as you may be dealing with case studies requiring greater interpretation, analysis, and evaluation skills. Therefore, please bear in mind the following tips for answering TBS questions:
- Practice as many simulations as possible
Practice at least 5-6 simulations a day to know about their layout and formatting. You can take help from AICPA sample tests or CPA Review Courses with simulations and get a detailed explanation of the correct answer.
Regular practice will help you get on a good pace for every question. Flag the recurring questions and know your strengths and weaknesses while generating a response.
- Go through the directions
Spend 2-3 minutes scanning and comprehending the directions before jumping right into the simulation. Don’t undermine its relevance and go through every specified detail.
Follow the instructions carefully, and don’t let the exam stress overwhelm your senses. Understanding what the question is asking you to do is paramount in answering it correctly.
- Spend your time wisely
Move from one task to another systematically. Don’t leave a simulation halfway through and attempt an easier one. Instead, stay calm and take it one at a time.
It is suggested not to give over 18-20 minutes to every question. Instead, read (& re-read) a question, complete your response, review it, and then proceed to the next one.
- Read and answer the entire question
Go through the entire question and then deduce the best possible answer. Irrespective of how difficult or easy the question sounds, don’t conclude just after reading 2-3 lines.
Besides, a few simulations may have multiple parts. In that case, answer each one of them without leaving anything blank. Focus on the keywords and generate your response as per the same.
- Do not waste too much time on research-based simulations
Research-based simulations require you to research literature to perform the given task. Don’t get carried away by looking for answers and exceeding your time limit for these questions. It is advisable to attempt these questions at last.
WCTs require you to draft the response in the form of a memo, short passage, or business letter. There are only three WCT questions (one pre-test) in the BEC CPA Exam section. They appear in the fifth testlet. They have 15% scoring weightage.
|CPA Exam Section||WCTs in Testlet No. 5||Scoring Weightage|
Like MCQ and TBS, WCTs are also scored through the Computer Grading program. But they are monitored by a team of human scorers. However, in a few exceptional cases, a group of well-trained CPAs regrade the scores.
If your score is too close to the passing scoreline, the human graders will automatically regrade your scores. In the case of multiple graders for a response, the average of the total scores will be regarded as the final grade.
The written response is checked for the following elements:
- Standard English language usage
Tips for Answering WCT
WCTs are considered as easy by most candidates as the emphasis is on writing. However, business writing is different from creative writing. Therefore, create a simple, professional-looking written document, which effectively conveys relevant information. You can consider the following tips while writing:
- Keep the reader in mind
Identify the reader of your document. For instance, if your document is directed towards a client, you must explain accounting terms before using them. Also, avoid acronyms.
Moreover, try to put yourself in their shoes and think from their perspective as to the kind of information they may be looking for in the document.
- Create an outline
Write a well-organized response by dividing the content into three parts: introduction, main body, and conclusion. This will ensure an easy-to-understand and concise piece of content.
Start with an eye-catchy yet professional phrase inviting the reader to read more. Next, provide supporting details to offer background information. Lastly, summarize the response with a solution or an innovative idea.
Proofreading is an essential part of drafting a perfect written response. Hence, check for spelling, formatting, grammar, punctuation, coherence, and clarity.
Irrespective of how flawless your answer may look, re-reading it may bring out some relevant mistakes. Shorten the lengthy sentences and re-write the parts. If possible, get it reviewed by a professional too.
- Brush up on your writing skills
This is a no-brainer! Practice writing as many professional documents as you can. Keep the tone as simple, straightforward, and coherent as possible. Use accounting jargon only when applicable.
Don’t use too long or too short sentences. Instead, adopt an interactive writing style. Ensure to be approachable but not indecorous. This way, you can guarantee a polished second draft.
- Stay on topic
Include plenty of relevant definitions, examples, and data to demonstrate your subject knowledge. Don’t jump from one topic to another. Instead, be focused and do not stray away from the subject.
Use the topic keywords in your business letter. Then, read the drafted response from your audience’s point of view. Omit the distracting information and keep relevant details on the top.
Needlessly, a better understanding of CPA Exam Questions is essential to score well and earn the esteemed title. Moreover, each of the tips mentioned above will help you prepare for every question type with ease.
Attempt every question with the same amount of dedication and commitment. Also, if possible, take at least one practice test a day before your Exam Day. It will boost your confidence level for facing the D-day!
This has been a guide to the CPA exam questions. Here we discuss the different types of CPA Exam questions and the tips that will help you prepare for every question type with ease. You may also have a look at the below articles to compare CPA with other examinations –