This seems to be one of the top questions asked at the study groups, so here's a place to pull together opinions. There are a few ways to look at this question but at the end of the day this is your CPA exam journey so make your decision based on what makes sense for you.
Yaeger CPA Review
We are asked over and over again, what sections to take the CPA Exam in and why. Since Yaeger CPA Review has been preparing CPA candidates to successfully pass the CPA Exam for over 37 years, our strategies work…and work well!
Today, the AICPA expects CPA Candidates to have in depth knowledge with topics tested on the CPA Exam. For this reason, it’s very important to know how each of the four sections of the CPA exam “flow” and work together. The simple strategy below of what sections to take first will increase your chances in passing the CPA Exam. And at the very bottom you will see my theory as to why BEC typically has the highest pass rates.
1. Financial Accounting and Reporting-(FAR) is the foundation for all accounting. By taking FAR first you will gain the foundational knowledge to understand accounting principles and financial statements. After all, CPAs use financial accounting data and related financial statements to make informed decisions in every facet of business.
The foundation learned in FAR will greatly help in the other three sections as you will see topics from FAR in Auditing, Regulation and Business Environment and Concepts.
2. Auditing and Attestation-(AUD) Remember, in Auditing you are auditing financial statements. And guess what, financial statements were mastered in the FAR section. You are ready for section 2. Auditing also covers Information Technology (covered again in BEC) and Professional Ethics (also covered in Regulation). Now you are ready to begin Regulation.
3. Regulation-(REG) Besides professional responsibilities, federal taxation and business law, this section also covers Ethics (oh yes, familiar again from Auditing…go figure) and then the partnership and corporation accounting rolls nicely into BEC (Business Structure section). Now time for BEC.
4. Business Environment and Concepts-(BEC) is last. Why? BEC is the catch all of everything else. But wait a minute, because you understand the accounting implications from FAR, it will help conquer BEC. And oh yea, Information Technology was covered in Auditing and, the Business Structure foundation was covered in Regulation. Now Finance and Economics are all alone, but conquerable. And then the managerial or cost accounting questions will contain familiar areas from FAR such as inventory.
The Written Communication, tested in BEC, can come from any of the four sections that you’ve already covered in the FAR, AUD and REG sections. You should already have a strong foundation in many concepts that may be on your BEC exam taken in the order we suggest – BEC last – you will find that much of what you need to know for BEC you’ve already studied in your preparation for FAR, AUD and REG and guess what, the information probably stuck! Anyway, that’s my reasoning for why BEC may have higher pass rates than the other sections.
So we suggest the following exam order, approximate number of study hours, and estimated preparation time per part, based on devoting about 20 hours a week to studying:
1. FAR = 200 hours, to be done in about a 3 month period.
2. AUD = 80 hours, to be done in about a 2 month period.
3. REG = 160 hours, to be done in about a 2.5 to 3 month period.
4. BEC = 100 hours to be done in about a 2 to 2.5 month period.
The average number of study hours includes watching the videos, taking notes, working questions and reviewing.
Now see if you are ready to take the exam with the Yaeger CPA Review Assessment!
Roger CPA Review
CPA Exam Tip: How to Determine Which CPA Exam to Take First (1:55)
We're often asked, "Which CPA Exam section should I take first?" Tune in and watch as Roger Philipp, CPA walks you through our recommended CPA Exam order.
Bryce @ Crush the CPA Exam
The CPA exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Many people say to take the most difficult section first because once you get that one over with it will be smooth sailing from there. This strategy may work for some but there are a few things you should know before jumping on that bandwagon that are very important. Below I will explain why this logic is flawed and tell you which section you should take first and why.
Know that just because you think a section will be the most “difficult” does not mean it will actually be. I remember being nervous when I signed up for FAR because everyone told me it is the most difficult section but in reality it turned out to be my highest score.
Another fallacy I must point out is that there is not going to be any smooth sailing after that first exam. Each section is going to be challenging and require you to be disciplined. In contrast to my example above, I remember signing up for the BEC exam and thinking that it would be a piece of cake. After I took the test I felt like I failed for sure and remember feeling foolish for underestimating it just because of my preconceived notions.
I promise you that no single section of the CPA exam is going to be immensely harder or easier than the others. Even though you may have a particular skill in one area, that test will still require the same dedication and hard work as the others.
My biggest problem with this strategy is it defies common sense. If you choose the most difficult section first then you are giving yourself the greatest chance to fail! I respect the fact that you want to conquer the world on your first voyage but this logic is flawed and can be detrimental to your success, I'll explain why below.
Play To Your Strengths
Your first exam should be the section that you feel most confident about passing. I chose Audit because I had just finished an audit class in my last semester and I still had all the terminology fresh in my memory.
If you have been out of college for a while then you should choose the area that is most relevant to your work. If you are a bookkeeper then FAR would probably be your best bet, if you’ve been doing tax returns for the last 6 months then REG would most likely be your strong suit, and if you been working in the finance sector then BEC would likely be a good fit.
If you are coming straight out of college I would suggest taking a section that relates to a class that you did very well in or have a strong interest and desire to learn about. If no subject clearly stands out then you can always do what I did and choose a class that you just recently took because the information will still be fresh and easily retrievable.
Another option is to take one of the shorter exams first. BEC and REG are only 3 hours long and the study materials for these sections is smaller. This will allow you to digest the information much better and serves as a good stepping stone to prepare for one of the longer sections. This is particularly true for anyone that has been out of school for a while and is not accustomed to taking longer more comprehensive tests like AUDIT and FAR which are both 4 hour tests.
Confidence Is Crucial
Passing your first CPA exam will boost your confidence through the roof and that excitement and momentum will motivate you immensely for the tests to come. I remember how much easier it was to stick to my study schedule after I found out I passed my first exam. The light at the end of the tunnel becomes much brighter as the reality of becoming a CPA starts to set in.
Turning down offers to go to parties and other fun activities that I was “missing out” on became much easier after that first exam because I was overwhelmed with a new energy, motivation, and focus that I previously didn’t have. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely indulged in my fair share of fun I just saved it for the weekends : )
Please, don’t make this test harder than it has to be and let that first exam overwhelm and drown you in frustration. Play to your strengths and ease into it by taking the section you feel most confident about. The wave of energy you get from passing your first CPA exam will give you the motivation you need to CRUSH them all!
"When you take each exam section is important. Don’t set yourself up for failure by planning to sit for a section two days after a major event, such as a family wedding or completion of a large project at work. Your energy level will be low. Select a date when you will have time to study and review so your performance will be optimal. Poor exam timing selection might be part of the reason why people fail on their first attempt. They don’t take the time to match taking the CPA exam to the events of their lives. Give yourself the best possible chance of passing. Plan for it..."
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