How Long it takes to complete CPA Exam?

Updated on April 22, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

You must complete all the CPA exam sections within 18 months for successful licensure. An average CPA candidate requires 9-14 months to pass all the sections of the CPA Examination. However, this period may vary as per your familiarity with the material, acquired skills, and study time devoted.

How Long it takes to complete CPA Exam

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CPA Exam is a four-section, 16-hour long computerized assessment. It is one of the most demanding professional exams. It aims to assess a candidate’s ability to practice as a licensed accountant.

The exam is organized by the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in association with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the 55 US State Boards of Accountancy (BOA).

The exam uses the Continuous Testing Model that permits testing all year-round. However, there is no predetermined order to take up the four sections. Hence, you can develop a sequence suiting your comfort level and lifestyle. 

Furthermore, AICPA suggests dedicating as much time as possible for the exam preparation to improve your chances of success.

How long is the CPA Exam?

The exam is an overall 16-hour long assessment. Now, the 16-hour duration is broken down into four sections, each spanning four hours:

You need to pass every exam section with at least 75 points. Each section is categorized into five testlets with a fixed number of pre-test and operational question types. They include

  • multiple-choice questions (MCQ)
  • task-based Simulations (TBS)
  • writing communication tasks (WCT) 

Besides the four hours testing time, the CPA Prometric appointment time includes an additional 30 minutes. This extra time is allotted for exam login, standardized break, and candidate survey at the end of the test. However, you cannot use this additional time for taking the test. You must finish the test within four hours.

Candidates with testing accommodations must refer to their BOA or its designee for the actual exam length. 

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Arrival Time

Nevertheless, arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled CPA exam appointment time. This will give you plenty of time to complete the following formalities: 

  • Signing-in
  • Getting scanned via handheld metal detector wand
  • Submitting digital photograph and fingerprints
  • Reviewing security and test center policies
  • Getting seated at the designated workstation

Know that arriving any time after the scheduled start time or without Notice-to-Schedule (NTS) will lead to candidate termination. You will have to reapply to take the exam. Also, there will be no refund of fees.  

Introductory Exam Screens

Once you enter the launch code (from NTS), review the subsequent introductory exam screens within the five minutes. Otherwise, the session will automatically terminate, and you may lose your CPA exam fees and will have to reapply. 

The testing timer will start once you proceed from the introductory screens. Once the exam starts, keep a close watch on the countdown timer at the top of the computer screen. 

Break Policy

Furthermore, there are two types of breaks offered throughout the examination:

  • Standardized break – It is a 15-minute break offered after the third testlet and does not count against your testing time.  
  • Optional break – It is a five-minute break offered after each testlet, but it counts against your testing time. 

Please note that it is not mandatory to take up these breaks. Also, Prometric will report any optional break of over 10 minutes to your State Board. 

CPA Exam Structure

The following is the breakdown of the total appointment time (4 hours 30 minutes):

  • Introductory screens – 5 minutes
  • Testlet 1, 2, and 3 – 2 hours
  • Standardized break – 15 minutes
  • Testlet 4 and 5 – 2 hours
  • Survey – 5 minutes

You can take optional five-minutes breaks after each testlet but remember that the exam timer will not pause. 

CPA Exam Structure

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CPA Exam Process

To get yourself familiar with the exam-taking process, take a trial run at the Prometric test center before the exam.


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What if you don’t pass in 18 months?

Once you pass the first CPA exam section, you get 18 months to pass the remaining sections. Please note that the starting of the 18-month window may vary for a few jurisdictions. So, kindly check with your BOA before proceeding. 

However, if you don’t pass all four sections within the said period, you will lose your exam credit for the passed sections. Consequently, you will have to reapply for the test and pay up the required fees. Hence, practice time management to pass the exam within 18 months.

Plan out your exam order at the time you apply. Also, schedule the exam appointment soon after receiving your NTS. Moreover, give yourself a breather of at least two weeks between exam sections. 

Maximum possible attempts

There is no limit to the number of times you can retake the exam. However, you need to pass all four exam sections within 18 months. 

The age limit for a CPA aspirant may vary for different jurisdictions. However, a majority of jurisdictions have a minimum age limit of 18 years. This is because it takes this much time for a person to fulfill the education and experience requirements. 

Although there is no maximum age limit, ensure to sit for the exam as soon as you graduate. This will provide you with better job opportunities from the beginning of your career. 

Tips for Time Management

As mentioned above, CPA Exam comes with a lot of time limits. Hence, you need to brush up on your time management skills to save time and prepare better. Keeping this in mind, here are a few tips to consider. 

Make an intelligent study schedule

First things first, develop a customized study plan as per your professional and personal commitments. Then, give equal attention to every topic with an effective strategy in mind. 

Don’t forget to take notes and keep revising them. Also, reserve weekends for outside professional assistance. Take frequent breaks in between to refresh your mind. 

Use a CPA review course

Take up a suitable CPA review course as per your preferences. Know your learning style. Choose a video-equipped review course or one with hands-on learning materials as per your suitability.

Go through AICPA’s user-generated CPA Exam Prep Reviews. Then, mold your daily routine around the review course in a way to practice 2-3 quizzes. 

Do a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat) analysis

Know your strengths and weaknesses to focus your time and energy in the right direction. Give a bit more attention to the areas in which you lack expertise. However, don’t undermine the easier ones and keep revising them from time to time. 

Take up a learning method that is both time-saving and effective. Pick a complex topic on every alternate day. This way, you won’t let the difficulties overwhelm you. Studying in a balanced way will help you perform better. 

Take (plenty of) mock tests

Mock tests help you get used to the real exam-like environment. They contain the same number and type of questions as that of the actual CPA Examination. Hence, solving them is the best way to master time management. 

Put on a timer while solving the questions. Then, stop it at the end of each testlet and note down the time taken to complete the section. This way, you will learn to finish the exam within the stipulated time. 

All in all, the duration to complete the CPA Exam depends upon your readiness, skills, study plan, and review material. Moreover, the keyword here is time management. As long as you know which section deserves how much time, you’re good to go! 

This article is a guide to How long it takes to complete CPA Exam. Here we discuss the duration and timing of the CPA exam with time management tips. You may also have a look at the below articles to compare CPA with other examinations: –

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