The Uniform CPA Examination is a standardized test that an individual must pass before becoming a Certified Public Accountant in any of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, or the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Passing the test is not in itself enough to become a Certified Public Accountant-education and experience are also necessary-but it is a critical component.
Individuals with a CPA enjoy instant respect and prestige in their careers. The CPA certification provides evidence of drive, determination, and proficiency. CPAs work in public accounting firms, professional service firms, government, and even education. Being a certified public accountant makes it easier to find jobs, keep jobs, and gain promotions. Also, people with CPA licenses are the only ones allowed to perform the mandatory audits of publicly traded firms in the United States.
The CPA exam is offered through the joint efforts of three organizations: the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and Prometric, a part of the Thompson Corporation. The purpose of the examination, according to the CPA Examination Mission Statement, is “To admit individuals into the accounting profession only after they have demonstrated the entry-level knowledge and skills necessary to protect the public interest in a rapidly changing business and financial environment.”
The examination is offered in a computerized format and covers four broad topic sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Three of the topic sections include multiple-choice questions and condensed, simulated case studies. The fourth topic section, Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), currently includes only multiple-choice questions. There are plans to include simulated case studies in the Business Environment and Concepts topic section at some point in the future.
All questions on the examination are drafted, reviewed, and finalized by experienced CPAs. This helps ensure the validity and relevance of test materials. In addition, experts in the science of testing (a field known as psychometrics) help design, develop, and implement the test materials at every stage of the development process. Finally, experts in the field of test development aid in the process of creating every question.
You can apply to take the Uniform CPA Examination in any of the 54 scheduling jurisdictions in which the examination is currently offered. Keep in mind that the examination is not currently offered in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. It is offered during two months of every quarter; these two-month periods are known as “testing windows.” Testing windows include January and February; April and May; July and August; and October and November. That means testing is not available in March, June, September, and December.
Candidates can take the individual topic sections of the examination in any order they wish, and in any testing order they wish. It is not necessary to take the topic sections all at one time. However, a candidate is not allowed to take the same topic section more than once within the same testing window. Once a candidate has passed one topic section, most state accountancy boards allow the candidate another 18 months to complete the other three topic sections. This rule varies in different jurisdictions. Candidates should check with their accountancy board for more specific information.
Who Certifies Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)?
The Board of Accountancy for the state, district, or country in which a CPA practices is responsible for licensing CPAs to work in that state, district, or country.
Accountants and CPAs
While all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants are CPAs. In some states, anyone can say that he or she is an accountant. But the same is not true about a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). An individual must complete a rigorous program in the “three E’s”-Education, Examination, and Experience-and be certified by the Board of Accountancy where he or she practices before he or she can become a CPA.
It is not easy to become a CPA; it takes hard work, lots of studying, and plenty of experience. Therefore, people respect CPAs and the services that CPAs provide. CPAs are considered reliable, knowledgeable, and a key part of success in the business world.
An Advantage in Marketing Your Services
Because people respect the CPA certification, CPAs may get jobs or promotions that others do not, and they can charge more for their services. Some studies suggest that a CPA can charge as much as 10% above what a regular accountant can charge.
Professional Development and Networking Opportunities
Being a CPA grants additional opportunities for professional development and networking. Many organizations provide these types of benefits to CPAs. One example is The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Visit their website at www.aicpa.org for more details.
CPA Examination Registration
Apply to a State Board
Begin the application process by deciding the board of accountancy to which you want to apply. The procedures and requirements vary depending on the jurisdiction you select.
Review the Uniform CPA Candidate Bulletin
The Uniform CPA Exam Candidate Bulletin offers information to help you understand how to apply for, register, and take the Examination. Find it at http://www.cpa-exam.org/cpa/bulletin.html.
Each jurisdiction has its own educational requirements. Visit the website of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NSABA) at www.nasba.org for more specific details.
Whom to Contact to Apply
Contact CPA Examination Services (CPAES) at 1-800-CPA-EXAM to apply in these states:
Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Contact Castle Worldwide at 1-800-655-4845 to apply in the state of Washington.
Contact individual state boards of accountancy to apply in all other states.
There is no application period for the Uniform CPA Examination. Candidates can apply for the Examination at any time during the year.
Application Review Process
The application review process takes 6-8 weeks. If your application is accepted, you will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS).
Notice to Schedule
The Notice to Schedule (NTS) identifies a 90-day time period during which candidates must pay the examination fees to NSABA, schedule an Examination appointment with a Prometric testing center location, and complete the Examination at that Prometric testing center.
During each year, there are four “testing windows” during which candidates can take the Examination. Each window is roughly 60 days long. Testing windows are the first two months of each financial quarter (i.e., one testing window is in January and February, and the next is in April and May).
Tests are available during the months of January, February, April, May, July, August, October, and November.
Tests are not available during the months of March, June, September, and December.