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How to Pass the CPA Exam

Friday | March 29, 2019 | by Ken Boyd

pass CPA exam international students

Ken Boyd is an Expert Ambassador and former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who brings a wealth of business experience to the world of education. In this blog post, he tackles the subject of the CPA exam, one of the most difficult professional exams in the U.S. Keep reading to see his insights on preparing for—and passing—the CPA exam.


If you want to become a Certified Public Accountant in the United States, you need to take the CPA exam. The exam consists of four sections, each four hours long: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).

You must pass all four sections within 18 months and score at least 75 on each—or you will need to start retaking them.

So how can you make sure you pass?

Make Sure You Are Eligible to Take the Exam

There is no point wasting your application fee ($50 to $200 USD, depending on your state), so check that you are eligible to take the CPA exam before you commit your money.

You need to be a U.S. citizen in about half of the states. You also need a valid Social Security number. These requirements are not a problem for most candidates, but if you are not a U.S. citizen, do your research on the 26 or so states that will allow you to sit the exam.

Most states require a bachelor’s degree or 120 college credit hours for candidates to be eligible. Some even require a degree in accounting or a related field. If you were educated outside of the U.S., you will need to present a credential evaluation to the state accountancy board.

Choose a Great Course You Can Use—Until You Pass

The CPA exam is not a test you can study for by reading a book or a few articles. Unless you are highly self-disciplined, you will likely need a thorough review course that will help you practice and lead you step-by-step through everything you need to know.

CPA review courses are not cheap. They usually cost between $2,000 and $3,500 USD—but discounts are widely available, so make sure you are using them.

Although you might be hoping to get through all the material quickly and pass the exam on the first try, it is smart to recognize that that might not happen. Make sure the review course you select provides access for as long as you need it. You do not want to pay for a pricey course only to find that your access is cut off after just 12 months.

Determine How Much Time You Will Need and Plan Accordingly

Preparing to pass the CPA exam takes time—a lot of it. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants recommends that you devote between 300 and 400 total hours to studying—not simply watching lectures, but reading, poring over practice questions and solutions, and ensuring that you thoroughly understand what you are learning.

You have only 18 months to pass all four sections of the exam, so make sure to plan your time accordingly. If you are about to embark on a particularly busy season in your life (such as a new job that requires long hours), then you might want to wait until things are less hectic for you.

When it comes to studying for the exam, nothing is better than having a realistic study schedule and sticking to it. This may involve creating study blocks and prioritizing the subjects that are most difficult for you. Be sure to allow some slack in your schedule for times when things go awry, as they tend to do in life.

Passing the CPA exam will not be quick or easy, but if you know the requirements, thoroughly prepare, and work out a realistic plan for committing the time you need to study, then you will be in a great position to pass. Good luck!

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Ken Boyd, a WES Expert Ambassador, is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA).