The CPA Exam: Is It Worth It?

By Antoine Roberts, Client Director

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination was originally developed as a precursor to join the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession. The test was an admissions requirement for membership. As reported by the Journal of Accountancy in their article, “What it was like to take the 1917 CPA Exam,” the AICPA started offering the exam to state accounting boards around the country for use in general licensure in 1917.

The exam takes a total of 16 hours to complete, and it is broken out into four separate sections. As many as two sections can be taken in a given day or each section can be taken on separate days. The basic outlines of the exam sections are as follows:

  • Auditing and Attestation (4.0 hours): (AUD) – This section covers knowledge of planning the engagement, internal controls, obtaining and documenting information, reviewing engagements and evaluating information and preparing communications.
  • Business Environment and Concepts (4.0 hours): (BEC) – This section covers knowledge of business structures, economic concepts, financial management, information technology, and planning and measurement.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (4.0 hours): (FAR) – This section covers knowledge of concepts and standards for financial statements, typical items in financial statements, specific types of transactions and events, accounting and reporting for governmental agencies, and accounting and reporting for non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations.
  • Regulation (4.0 hours): (REG) – This section covers knowledge of ethics and professional responsibility, business law, Federal tax procedures and accounting issues, Federal taxation of property transactions, Federal taxation – individuals, and Federal taxation – entities. (Wikipedia)

Up until 2003, the CPA exam could be taken but just twice per year, and it was by paper and pencil only. In 2004, the exam became computerized. To commemorate 10 years of the computerized CPA exam, in 2014 the AICPA shared these interesting stats about the exam:

  • Between 2004 and 2014, 412,388 unique candidates sat for the computerized exam
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a 31 percent increase in the number of testing center seats available for CPA candidates
  • 3,700 testing workstations at almost 300 testing centers are available for the CPA examination (10th Anniversary of Computerized CPA Exam)

Today, the CPA distinction continues to be highly regarded in the finance and accounting profession. But is taking the exam worth it?

Here is my own personal short list of some of the biggest pros and cons of taking the CPA exam:

  • The act of studying for the CPA exam will sharpen your mental toolbox of accounting competencies
  • Taking and passing the CPA exam can result in more job opportunities, effectively expanding the pool of jobs for which you are qualified
  • According to the World Economic Forumaccountants are the seventh most respected profession, and the CPA distinction is coveted
  • The journey to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is quite long and arduous
  • Considering you will likely already be working 50+ hours a week as a CPA, getting the required continuing professional education (CPE) credits to maintain certification often comes at the expense of your own personal time

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to take the CPA exam comes down to your personal and professional goals. Are you considering a career move that would benefit from, or requires, taking the CPA exam? Do you have the time to dedicate to studying and taking the exam?

What is on your list of pros and cons when considering taking the CPA exam? To talk through your career goals and options, get in touch with me by emailing or by connecting with me on LinkedIn. I have over 15 years of experience in finance and accounting staffing and recruiting, and I would be happy to be your sounding board.