CPA Exam Sections

Updated on April 12, 2024
Article byHimani Bhatt
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

The Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam comprises four sections, namely, Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). The unique content, structure, format, and scoring of the CPA exam earn it the title of one of the most challenging professional exams.

CPA Exam Sections

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Passing the Uniform CPA exam is one of the requirements to attain CPA licensure. The CPA exam is conducted by the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in coordination with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

The following table outlines the details related to the CPA exams.

Exam particularsDetails
Exam modeOnline
Number of sectionsFour (AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG)
Eligibility120-150 credit hours or a bachelor’s degree
Accounting or business-related coursework
Education from an accredited and recognized institution
(requirements may vary as per the state board)
Duration of each exam sectionFour hours
Number of testlets (in each exam section)Five
Type of questionsMultiple Choice Questions (MCQs)
Task-based Simulations (TBSs)
Written Communication Tasks (WCTs)
Passing score (in each exam section)75 (on a scale of 0-99)
Exam fees (per section)Application Fees – $150
Examination Fees – $224
Re-examination Fees – $75
(may vary as per your jurisdiction)
Testing centerPrometric testing center
Testing scheduleThroughout the year (continuous testing model)
The time limit for clearing all sectionsWithin 18 months of passing the first section

Each time you apply to take one or more CPA Exam sections, submit the required documents and fees to your state board. After that, your state board or its designated agent will evaluate your application and contact you. 

You can take the exam in any order that suits your preference. AICPA also offers various sample tests to help you prepare for each exam section. 

This article briefly discusses each of the four sections’ content, format, and structure. This will help you prepare and schedule your CPA Exam better and maximize your odds of success.

Exam Section 1: AUD

AUD CPA exam section tests your competence in performing auditing, attestation, and accounting consulting services. It also tests your understanding of ethics and professional responsibilities.

This section includes all topics relevant to a newly licensed CPA performing a typical engagement.  From the nature, type, scope, and procedure of an engagement to planning and reporting the same, the AUD section includes all aspects of accounting service. 

Content Allocation

The AUD section includes four content areas. The following table lists these areas along with the percentage of the content tested from each one of them. 

Content AreaTopicAllocation
Area 1Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principles (Including independence, professional conduct, professional skepticism, and professional judgment)15%-25%
Area 2Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response (Including planning, risk assessment, and understanding of business processes and internal controls)25%-35%
Area 3Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence (Including planned engagement procedures, procedures to obtain evidence, and the effectiveness of internal controls)30%-40%
Area 4Forming Conclusions and Reporting (Including reporting requirements for service engagements)10%-20%

Required Skills

Every area of the AUD section requires you to master specific skills for better performance in the examination. 

Evaluation (mostly in Area 2 and 3)5%-15%
Analysis (mostly in Area 2 and 3)20%-30%
Application (All Areas)30%-40%
Remembering and Understanding (mostly in Area 1 and 4)25%-35%

Exam Format

The section includes five testlets, two MCQs and three TBSs.  The overall weightage of these two segments is equal.

AUD testletsQuestion types
MCQ            TBS
Testlet 136
Testlet 236
Testlet 32
Testlet 43
Testlet 53
Scoring weightage50%50%

Pass Rate (2015-2020)

Since the last five years, there has been an impressive growth in the AUD pass rates. The cumulative pass rates in the AUD section have increased from 47% in 2015 to 53% in 2020. 

2020 Quarter 2 has witnessed the highest pass rate of 65% in the last five years. Besides, the rest of the quarters have also shown a positive trend.

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CPA Exam Section 2: BEC

The BEC CPA Exam Section tests your competency in performing the following services:

This section assesses your understanding of the general business environment and your duties and responsibilities towards it. Also, it ensures you possess effective communication skills to discharge your duty as a CPA.

This is the only section with an extra segment of written communication tasks. Please note that the BEC exam result can be delayed by a week or so beyond the target release date. This is due to the extra analysis required in evaluating WCTs. 

Content Allocation

The BEC section includes five content areas. The following table lists these areas along with the percentage of the content tested from each one of them. 

Content AreaTopicAllocation
Area 1Enterprise Risk Management, Internal Controls, and Business Processes (Including provisions of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, 2002 financial reporting and risk identification in business processes)20%-30%
Area 2Economics
(Including business cycles, economic Indicators, and financial risks)
Area 3Financial Management
(Including capital structure, metrics associated with it, and financial modeling/valuation)
Area 4Information Technology (Including cyber risks, access and authorization controls, and business resiliency plans)15%-25%
Area 5Operations Management
(Including business operations, cost accounting, and variance analysis techniques)

Required Skills

Similar to the AUD section, BEC also aims at testing higher-order skills. However, the latter does not test the content at the evaluation skill level. It is because you are not expected to display that skill concerning BEC content. 

Let’s see which skill(s) will be helpful to master the several BEC content areas. 

Analysis (All except Area 5)20%-30%
Application (All Areas)50%-60%
Remembering and Understanding (All Areas)15%-25%


BEC section incorporates five testlets with 62 MCQs, 4 TBSs, and an additional element of 3 WCTs (Testlet 5). The following table outlines the breakup.

BEC testletsQuestion types
Testlet 131
Testlet 231
Testlet 32
Testlet 42
Testlet 53
Pretest questions1211
Operational questions5032
Scoring weightage50%35%15%

Pass Rate (2015-2020)

The section had reported a significant growth from 56% in 2015 to 66% in 2020. The performance of this section over the years has been incredible. This section is considered to be the easiest of the lot. This reflects in its pass rates.

Though it suffered a minor setback in 2017, BEC picked up in the next year and has been thriving since then. As a result, BEC is presently the exam section with the highest cumulative pass rate of 66% in 2020.

CPA Exam Section 3: FAR

FAR Section of the CPA Exam evaluates your competence in understanding and using various financial accounting and reporting regulations and standards. The following entities issue these rules and standards:

  • US Securities and Exchange Commission (US SEC)
  • Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)
  • Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB)
  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

Content Allocation

It includes four content areas. The following table lists these areas along with the percentage of the content tested from each one of them. 

Content AreaTopicAllocation
Area 1Financial Reporting, Conceptual Framework, and Standard-Setting (Including FASB Accounting Standard Codification, general-purpose financial statement reporting, and special-purpose framework)25%-35%
Area 2Selected Financial Statement Accounts
(Including financial accounting and reporting requirements as per FASB standards for specific financial statements)
Area 3Selected Transactions
(Including financial accounting and reporting requirements as per FASB standards for specific transactions)
Area 4Local and State Governments (Including GASB standards, comprehensive annual financial reports, and Government-wide Financial Statements)5%-15%

Required Skills

Each content area in the section requires you to ace specific skills for better performance. Like BEC, the FAR exam also does not test the content at the evaluation skill level. 

Analysis (Area 1, 2, and 3)25%-35%
Application (All Areas)50%-60%
Remembering and Understanding (All Areas)10%-20%


There are five testlets in the REG section comprising 66 MCQs and 8 TBSs. Both of the item types have an equal scoring weightage. 

FAR testletsQuestion types
Testlet 133
Testlet 233
Testlet 32
Testlet 43
Testlet 53
Scoring Weightage50%50%

Pass Rate (2015-2020)

The FAR Pass Rate has gone through a roller-coaster ride during 2015-2020.  FAR is considered to be the toughest exam section with the lowest pass rates. However, Q2 2020 witnessed the highest passing rate (63%) across the entire five-year period.

While Q1 and Q3 have been a bit topsy-turvy for FAR, Q2 and Q4 have proved to be a period of growth. Moreover, the overall pass rate for the section has seen only a 3% growth from 2015 to 2020. 

CPA Exam Section 4: REG

REG CPA Exam Section analyses your competence in understanding and applying the concepts of federal taxation, business law, and ethics. This section tests your abilities and ethics while performing taxation and advisory services.

Content Allocation

The section includes five content areas. The following table lists these areas along with the percentage of the content tested from each one of them.  

Content AreaTopicAllocation
Area 1Federal Tax Procedures, Professional Responsibilities, and Ethics (Including Internal Revenue Code, taxpayer penalties, and audits, appeals, and judicial process)10%-20%
Area 2Business Law (Including contracts, agents and principle, and debtor-creditor relationships)10%-20%
Area 3Federal Taxation (Property Transactions) (Including Taxable and non-taxable dispositions, gift taxation, and related party transactions)12%-22%
Area 4Federal Taxation (Individuals) (Including gross income, pass-through entities, and passive activity losses)15%-25%
Area 5Federal Taxation (Entities) (Including C Corporations, S Corporations, and Partnerships)28%-38%

Required Skills

Here lies the breakdown of specific skills tested in the REG section. 

Remembering and Understanding (mostly in Area 1 and 2)25%-35%


There are five testlets in the REG exam section comprising 76 MCQs and 8 TBSs. Both of the item types have an equal scoring weightage.

REG testlets Question types
MCQ             TBS
Testlet 1 38
Testlet 2 38
Testlet 3 2
Testlet 4 3
Testlet 5 3
`Total 76 8
Pretest 12 1
Operational 64 7
Scoring Weightage 50% 50%

Pass Rate (2015-2020)

REG pass rate has been the highest in Q2 2020 with an impressive 76%. Though it suffered a tiny setback in 2017, there has been a significant improvement in the succeeding years. 

The overall pass rate of REG surged 13%, from 49% in 2015 to 62% in 2020. Even the onset of Q1 2021 was promising for the REG section. It witnessed a 59% pass rate. 

Ranking of Exam Sections (Toughest to Easiest)

In August 2020, NASBA conducted a survey on the difficulty of CPA exam sections. Here is the ranking of each section based on its level of difficulty:

  1. FAR – 43%
  2. REG – 27%
  3. BEC – 17%
  4. AUD – 13%

As evident, there was a general consensus that FAR is the most challenging exam section. Please note that these statistics are only to give you an idea of how and in which order to take the exam sections for better results. As long as you are well-prepared for the examination, you can take up any section with sheer ease. 

The Right Order

Going by the CPA exam section difficulty order mentioned above, here are two suggested exam orders: 


Start with a difficult section like FAR or REG and let the burden off of your shoulders in the very beginning itself. 

A pro tip here is that never take up two difficult sections in a row. This will cause mental fatigue and affect your performance. Instead, always go with an “easy-difficult-easy” or “difficult-easy-difficult” flow. 

Know that there is no proper or perfect order to sit for the CPA exam sections. Go by your preference and comfort to pass all four sections with flying scores. 

This article is a guide to the CPA Exam Sections. We discuss the four CPA Exam sections, CPA Exam content, CPA Exam format, CPA exam structure, and pass rates. You may also have a look at the below articles to compare CPA with other examinations –

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