Difference Between CPA and Bar Exam
Both CPA and Bar exams are licensure exams that qualify professionals to practice their respective professions, namely, accounting and law. The primary difference between CPA vs bar exam is that while passing the CPA exam fulfills the licensing requirement for an accountant, clearing the bar exam grants a lawyer admission to the state bar.
While the CPA license is optional to pursue an accounting career, the law license is mandatory to practice law. Both CPA and Bar exams differ on many accounts. The significant ones being content, exam structure, testing schedules, exam timing, pass rates, and difficulty level.
CPA vs Bar Exam Comparison Table
Both the CPA exam and bar exam are very challenging. Qualifying these exams gives you a stable, distinguished, and long-lasting career. Both exams have an extensive syllabus and require countless hours of dedicated studying. The following table outlines their significant differences.
|Particulars||CPA Exam||Bar Exam|
|Regulatory body||AICPA and NASBA||NCBE, ABA, and state bars|
|Jurisdictions or states approving the exam||55||40|
|Eligibility criteria||At least 18 years old 120-150 credit hours or bachelor’s degree Accounting or finance coursework (may vary as per the state board)||JD or LLB from an ABA-approved Law School|
|Overall cost||Application – $150 (approx.) |
Exam – $224 per section (approx.)
|$250-$1500 (non-attorneys) |
|Exam structure||4 sections (AUD, BEC exam , FAR, and REG exam)||3 tests (MPT, MEE, and MBE)|
|Exam time||16 hours (4 hours each section)||12 hours (6 hours each day)|
|Passing score||75 out of 99 for each section||260-280 (as per jurisdiction)|
|Pass rates||50% on average||May vary as per jurisdiction |
(39.4%-86% for February 2021)
|Testing schedule||Continuous testing, i.e., throughout the year||Twice a year (February and July)|
|Benefits of taking the exams||Higher salary than non-licensed accountants |
Better career prospects
Prestige and respect
|Enhanced job opportunities |
Reduced costs for taking the exam in multiple states Better understanding of legal intricacies
Enhanced knowledge and skills
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What is CPA Exam?
The Uniform CPA ExamUniform CPA ExamThe CPA Exam assesses accounting professionals not just on their financial knowledge, but also on their ability to review and seek out key abilities. is a computerized set of tests designed to assess a candidate’s competency to practice the accounting profession. The American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) coordinates with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the 55 U.S. state boards of accountancy to conduct this exam and issue the license.
Eligibility requirements vary as per your chosen state board of accountancy (BOA). The basic requirements common to most stare boards are as follows:
- Minimum 120 to 150 credit hours of education or a bachelor’s degree
- Education from an accredited and recognized institution
- Minimum 24 credit hours in accounting and business-related course works
To sit for the CPA Examination, you need to pay the required application and examination fees to your BOA, its designated agent, or NASBA. Again, the fees may vary as per your jurisdiction. The following are the approximate fees charged:
- Application fees – $150
- Examination fees (per section) -$224
- Re-examination registration fees – $75
CPA Exam structure & format
The exam consists of four sections. The total exam time is 16 hours (four hours for each section). Each exam section consists of five testlets. These include multiple-choice question (MCQ), task-based simulation (TBS) and written communication (WC) testlets. The following table outlines the number of testlets and questions asked in each exam section.
|Auditing and Attestation (AUD)||2||72||3||8||–||–|
|Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)||2||62||2||4||1||3|
|Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)||2||66||3||8||–||–|
Testing process & scoring
AICPA follows a multi-stage testing structure for MCQ testlets. Here, your assessment progresses based on your performance. You must score at least 75 on a scale of 0 to 99 in each section to pass. Each question is scored based on the difficulty of that particular question.
NASBA’s continuous testing model allows you to take the exams throughout the year. However, you must pass all four CPA exam sections within 18 months of passing the first exam section. Also, once this 18-month window expires, you will have to retake the sections already passed. AICPA usually announces the score release dates in December and June every year.
Advantages of CPA exam vs Bar exam
It is possible to schedule and take the CPA exam any time of the year at your convenience. In addition, unlike bar exams, where you have to take all exams within two consecutive days, you can appear for one section at a time for CPA exams. Also, in case you fail, you can retake a section exam soon after.
Moreover, CPA exams require only 120-150 credit hours of education and some accounting experience and coursework as opposed to the bar exam requirement of four years of undergraduate study and three years of law school. Finally, the CPA exam does not vary per the jurisdiction, while the bar exam does, as most jurisdictions contain a state-specific exam component.
What is Bar Exam?
A bar exam is a state bar administered set of tests that a lawyer must pass to be eligible for admission to that state bar. Lawyers are granted a law license only after passing the bar exam and fulfilling other requirements. In addition, bar exams are designed to test lawyers’ expertise in discharging their legal duties.
Types of bar exams
Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) – The UBE is a standardized examination for lawyers designed and coordinated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). Only 40 out of 55 U.S. jurisdictions have adopted the UBE. Most state bars use NCBE test components along with their jurisdiction drafted exam.
State bar examination – To be a licensed attorney in non-UBE adopted jurisdictions, you need to take the state bar exam of that jurisdiction.
To be eligible to take the bar exam, you should have a Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Legislative Law (LLB) degree from an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school. However, this requirement may vary as per your jurisdiction.
The exam fees may vary as per your jurisdiction. Therefore, to know the exact figure charged as per your jurisdiction, check the ABA website. The following are the approximate fees charged:
- Non-attorneys (first-time takers) – $250-$1500
- Attorneys – $250-$3000
Exam structure and format
The UBE exam consist of three tests:
- Multistate performance test (MPT)
- Multistate essay examination (MEE)
- Multistate bar examination (MBE)
The following table presents the number and types of questions asked in each of the three tests.
|UBE Components||No. of questions||Type of questions||Total Time|
|MBE||200||Multi-choice questions (MCQs)||6 hours|
The jurisdictions or state bars grade and score the exam. The minimum passing score varies as per your jurisdiction. It is usually in the range of 260-280. Most importantly, the scores are portable and can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions for seeking admission. However, there is a stipulated time limit for transferring the scores after earning them.
The UBE is conducted only twice a year on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. So, if you fail on the first attempt, you have to wait for six months to retake it.
|Day 1||Tuesday Sessions||MEE||3 hours||6 essays|
|MPT||3 hours||2 items|
|Day 2||Wednesday Sessions||MBE||3 hours||100 questions|
|MBE||3 hours||100 questions|
Advantages of Bar exam vs CPA exam
Bar exams are more subjective with two written exam sections. CPA exams are more objective with greater emphasis on computing skills.
Most state bars do not place a limit on the number of attempts to pass the bar exam. Some states offer 2-6 retake attempts, following which you have to take special permission.
With CPA exams, you have to pass all the four exam sections within 18 months of passing the first section, or lose credit on the passed sections.
CPA vs Bar Exam Infographics
This has been a guide to CPA vs Bar Exam. Here we discuss the difference between CPA and Bar Exam. We also discuss the advantages of both the exams and also the requirements for both. You may also have a look at the following articles –