How is the CPA Exam Structured?

With the commitment of time and resources required to earn the credential, it is only natural that aspiring certified public accountants want to know as much as possible about the CPA exam structure. Fortunately, the American Instituted of CPAs makes this information readily available, allowing participants who are preparing to sit for this daunting, computerized, 14-hour exam to know exactly what challenges they face.

Four Sections

The Uniform Standard CPA Exam has four parts:

  • Auditing and Attestation section – covers topics like planning, internal controls, gathering, documenting and evaluating information, and preparing reports and communications.
  • Business Environment and Concepts section – quizzes test takers on business structures, computers and information technology, assorted economic concepts, financial management, and planning and measurement.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting section – assesses participants’ comprehension of financial statement and various types of events and transactions. It also includes questions about accounting and reporting for government agencies, nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental entities.
  • Regulation section – covers areas like federal taxation, business law, and professional responsibilities and ethics.


Each section of the exam is timed. Participants have four hours to complete the Auditing and Attestation and Financial Accounting and Reporting sections. For the Business Environment and Concepts and the Regulation sections, test takers have only three hours to complete each section.  Candidates do not have to pass all four sections in one sitting. Rules are set by the respective state’s Board of Accountancy, but aspiring CPAs generally have 18 months from the time they pass the first section to successfully compete the remaining three.


The Uniform Standard CPA Exam structure includes two types of questions arranged in segments called testlets. Multiple-choice testlets are clusters of 24 to 30 multiple-choice questions. Task-based simulation testlets are mini case studies set up to assess candidates’ knowledge and skill at tasks common for entry-level CPAs. In the course of a task-based simulation testlet, candidates may be required to work with spreadsheets and forms, search databases, or engage in written communication chores like writing an appropriate memo or letter. In each of the four exam sections, multiple-choice testlets are presented first, followed by simulation testlets. Test takers can answer questions within a testlet in any order and they can review or change their answers while it is open, however, once they close a testlet, they cannot return to it.


The Auditing and Attestation and the Financial Accounting and Reporting sections each consist of a trio of multiple-choice testlets and one simulation testlet that includes seven task-based simulations. When these sections are scored, multiple-choice testlets account for 60 percent of the sections’ score. Results from the simulation testlet make up the remaining 40 percent. The Business Environment and Concepts section contains three multiple-choice testlets and a simulation testlet that consists of three written communication tasks. Here, 85 percent of the section’s score is attained through the multiple-choice testlets, and 15 percent is earned through the simulation testlet. The exam’s final section, Regulation, is made up of three multiple-choice testlets and a simulation testlet containing six task-based simulations. In terms of scoring, 60 percent comes from the multiple-choice testlets, and 40 percent comes from the simulation testlet. Once the test is completed, participants are assigned a total score between 0 and 99 with a passing score set at 75 or higher.

Sitting for the Uniform Standard CPA Exam is the culmination of years of academic study and hard work. Understanding the CPA exam structure allows candidates to feel comfortable with the format of the test and to prepare themselves effectively for this notoriously challenging test.