What’s the best strategy for passing all 4 CPA Exam parts in an amount of time that fits both your lifestyle and the AICPA’s timing restrictions? Should you spread the sections out over a few months or take them all as close together as possible? Well, it depends how much time you have as well as how committed you are to passing fast. I’ll provide some background on the CPA Exam parts and my own personal experience to help you determine the best approach for you.
Discovering the CPA Exam Parts
The Uniform CPA Exam has 4 parts, each covering a huge number of topics in accounting, business, law, audit, tax, and regulations.
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
A testing time for each section is 4 hours, so the total number of exam hours is 16. You can take the 4 CPA Exam parts in any sequence, but you can only sit for them during the 4 annual testing windows:
- January 1-March 10
- April 1-June 10
- July 1-September 10
- October 1-December 10
Also, you must pass all 4 sections within a rolling 18-month window, which starts as soon as you pass your first section. You will lose credit for the section you passed first if you don’t pass the remaining 3 sections in 18 months.
Taking the CPA Exam Parts All At Once: My Experience
I took all 4 sections in one single trip — 2 sections per day for 2 days. Here are my story and my reasoning.
Why Did I Take All 4 CPA Exam Parts at Once?
My wedding was coming up, so I gave myself just 9 months to pass the exam. I was also living outside of the US at that time. Taking all 4 parts together saved me a lot of time and money.
My CPA Exam Parts Strategy
Fist, I had a solid plan. I went for the best review course (it was the wrong pick for me, but you should still choose your best option based on your own learning style) and divided my study time out among the 4 parts.
Then I spent every Saturday and Sunday studying and working on practice questions after each chapter. When I got bored with FAR, I switched to AUD, then to REG, and so on. During the shuffling, I made sure to not get significantly behind on any one part.
We are talking about quality studying hours here. Back then, there was neither Facebook nor smartphones. I was able to fully utilize the 15 studying hours I had each weekend.
Time management was critical because if I didn’t study enough in time, I would fail all 4 parts. I never really ran out of time, but if I did, I would have skimmed through the book and spent more time on the practice questions.
I passed all 4 CPA Exam parts on my first try with scores from 87 to 92. It was a lot of work, but I was glad to have done it all in one go.
My Thoughts on Taking All 4 CPA Exam Parts at Once
After 9 months of craziness, I concluded that this course of action is doable but certainly not for everyone. If you are considering taking all 4 sections together, ask yourself:
- Do I have the stamina?
- Will I be able to have quality study time without no distractions, e.g. kids at home?
- Do I absolutely need to get this done in one go?
You’ll need a great deal of motivation to maintain this pace. So, if you aren’t in a hurry, you may want to take each section one by one. For most candidates, I would recommend taking and passing the CPA Exam one section at a time and within one year, which means one section per quarter.
Arranging the 4 CPA Exam Parts — Which One to Take First?
If you decide to take one or two parts at a time, here are my suggestions for the order of the CPA Exam parts:
I would start with FAR because FAR covers the widest range of topics but is not that difficult (relatively speaking). FAR is challenging and can require the most amount of studying. Starting with FAR lets you finish all of that study time outside your 18-month window and doesn’t jeopardize your credit for any other sections if you fail.
The content of AUD is closely related to that of FAR, so I recommend taking AUD at the same time or right after FAR.
I personally think REG is the most difficult. Therefore, the order will depend on whether you want to finish the harder one sooner (then REG would be third) or want to finish the easier one quickly by putting BEC first and leaving REG for last.
BEC is fairly easy, so you can schedule it for the busiest time of your year. Or, you can take it after you’ve passed all the other sections so you don’t need to be too scared of not passing and going beyond the 18-month window.