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This article is authored by Anvita Bhardwaj, a student pursuing BA LLB from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article extensively discusses all the aspects involved in attaining a CPA certification and its relevance. 

Introduction 

A Certified Public Accountant, hereafter referred to using the abbreviation (CPA), is a distinguished and licensed accounting professional that is committed to safeguarding the public interest. The basic objective of a CPA is to inform investors regarding the financial position of an organization, the same is done by him by offering financial statement audits and other attestation services. Around the world, CPA offers various organizations financial reporting and advisory services to help them make decisions strategically and advance their success. 

It is pertinent to know that only with extensive education can an accounting professional pass the meticulous four-part exam and meet the experience requirements to become a Certified Public Accountant. A CPA has to adhere to a Code of Professional conduct that further requires them to be competent, objective, independent, and upright.  

With a basic understanding of what a CPA is, let us now understand how to apply for the exam, the eligibility and skill set required for the same along with other details relevant to the topic. 

How does one apply for the CPA exam

Eligibility 

In the United States, there are 50 states and 5 U.S. Territories. There are 55 jurisdictions to take this exam, each has its unique Board of Accountancy. Please click here to check out the various Boards and their requirements. 

Candidates will be eligible if they meet the eligibility and licensure requirements set by the Boards for their jurisdiction’s candidates. 

The candidate must pass all four sections of the CPA Exam within 18 months. The calculation of when this 18-month timeframe begins varies by and depends on the jurisdiction. You can refer to the link mentioned above to check the timeframe of the jurisdiction you are interested in appearing for. The fees, i.e, the cost of appearing for the examination also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on where you are looking to be licensed. You can check it here. The fee for international students has been mentioned in the table below. 

CPA exam typeFees
Auditing and Attestation$356.55
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)$356.55
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)$356.55
Regulation (REG)$356.55

Therefore, it is very important to first select the jurisdiction, based on that you can obtain the application, complete and submit it as directed. It must be coming to your mind if some jurisdictions have easier examinations than others. That is not the case, however, in the rare situations where that does happen, you must remember that the question difficulty is accounted for during scoring. 

Credit hours

Candidates wanting to pursue US CPA must have a 120 credit score in the field of commerce. According to the US, each year of university education in India is equivalent to a 30 credit score.  An Indian student must have a master’s degree in the field of commerce or MBA or be a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India or a member of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India to fulfill the criterion of 120 credit score. If a student has pursued a B.Com degree and has obtained a first division from a NAAC ‘A’ accredited university, such an Indian student will get the benefit of an additional 30 credit score. Therefore, such students are eligible even with their three-year bachelor’s degree programme and do not have to pursue a masters degree to become eligible. 

Examination centres 

Indian students can give the exam in the USA or in any such Middle East country where there is a recognised examination centre for US CPA. However, due to the pandemic, the US has administered the CPA exam at eight centres in India. They are Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Trivandrum. 

Notice to Schedule (NTS) 

  • After CPA Exam application has been processed and you are eligible to take one or more sections of the CPA Exam and you’ve paid all fees, NASBA will issue an NTS to you.
  • It will be issued to you via your e-mail.
  • You would be required to sign into your account in the NASBA Candidate Portal and print your NTS. 
  • The NTS will list the section(s) of the Exam you are approved to take. 
  • This allows you to contact prometric to begin the scheduling process. The details regarding the same are printed at the back of the NTS.
  • When you receive the NTS, verify that all information is correct. If the information is incorrect and your ID and NTS do not match, you will not be admitted into the testing center. Therefore, immediately contact your Board of Accountancy or its designated agent to request a correction in case of incorrect information.
  • Remember to bring your NTS with you to the testing center. Without it you will not be admitted into the test center. Further, you will forfeit all fees for that section.
  • Your NTS includes the Exam section identification number for each approved section of the Exam. This number is also used as the Exam “Launch Code” (password) for each approved section. You will enter the Launch Code on the computer as a part of the login process.
  • NTS is valid for only six months. Schedule and take your exam accordingly. You will not be able to extend the time or receive a refund of fees. Canceling an Exam appointment doesn’t change the expiration date of your NTS. 
  • If an NTS expires, you will need to submit a new application, including application and testing fees.

Skills required 

This is a computer-based test. Only basic computer skills are required in order to take this exam. The candidate needs to be familiar with the usage of the mouse and keyboard. As far as software is concerned they need to have a basic knowledge of using spreadsheets and word processing functions. The word processing application used by CPA is similar but not identical to Microsoft Word

Apart from that, one must have knowledge of the English language as the exam is only offered in English. 

Please check out the sample tests by clicking here and learn more about the functionality of the CPA exam. The exam varies from candidate to candidate but is made equivalent. The questions in front of you are drawn from a pool of test questions as per defined specifications. So though you take different examinations, the specifications ensure that the results are comparable.

Structure and format of the CPA exam 

Each part of the examination is divided into question blocks. They are known as testlets. Testlets contain questions of either description i.e., MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions) or TBS (Task-Based Simulations). There is a written test component present in one section of the exam. 

Multiple Choice Question (MCQs) 

Using the reference of the image presented below, I will now be elucidating how the MCQs testlets work. 

Image source: https://www.ais-cpa.com/cpa-exam-sections/  

MCQs are of varying difficulty and change depending on your answer, i.e., whether the answer is correct or incorrect. Each section starts with a medium level MCQ testlet. Upon performing well in that testlet you will be receiving a more difficult one. Provided you work well on the difficult level testlet, you will be receiving an even more difficult testlet as the third one. Vice versa is also true. 

Aspirants of this exam should keep in mind that answering the initial testlet incorrectly will not help them as answering one difficult question correctly helps advance the overall score more than answering multiple easy questions correctly.

Task-Based Simulation (TBS)

It is the notion of most aspirants that TBS is harder than MCQs. The most common formats of TBS include matching and fill-in-the-blank. Every part further includes a single research question which requires the aspirant to research a topic in the authoritative literature and cite the code that discusses the current topic at hand. In this section, the problems are set in such a way that it allows the aspirants to apply their knowledge and demonstrate that they have understood the topics on which the exam is based. Please note that no two exams have a similar number of simulations and questions. You must find a way to navigate through each exam in a 4-hour time span.  

Written Communication test 

Only one component, namely, Business Environment and Components (BEC) has the written communication portion wherein a candidate is tested on their technical writing and communication skills by having them write a memo or client letter in a word processor. 

You can find the detailed structure of each section of the CPA exam here

Sections of the exam

There are four sections in the CPA exams, namely: 

  1. Auditing (AUD): This section is based on your knowledge of the skillset AICPA professional code of conduct, audit process, reviews, compilations, and attest engagements.
  2. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): This section is based on macro and microeconomics, cost accounting, management, and information systems.
  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): This section is based on the entire topics of financial accounting and reporting which includes the FASB framework, financial statement preparation, US GAAP rules, and IFRS rules.
  4. Regulating (REG):  This section is based on business and individual taxation, business law, and ethics.

To check the breakdown of how this exam is graded and weighted click here.

Content allocation 

Image source: Made by the author using PowerPoint Presentation. 

Changes in the format of the CPA exam (to be implemented by 2024)

Reason for changes in CPA Licensure model

The CPA profession is ever-evolving and adapting to new technologies, skills, and better practices. Even today, the work requirements of most CPAs are completely different from ones needed even two decades ago. As the profession evolves, so must the steps to licensure. Therefore, to meet the latest skillset needed in the accounting profession, newly licensed CPAs must adapt to these changes as they are now required to perform more advanced tasks and contribute to increasingly complex projects early on in their accounting careers. Thus, the CPA exam needed evolution in order to remain relevant.

Core-Plus-Discipline Model : 2024 CPA exam evolution

The 2024 CPA exam will consist of three core sections and three discipline sections. To earn their licensure, aspirants must pass all three core sections and at least the discipline section. The exam is expected to remain in the four sections, however, the time format would change to 16-hours.

Core overview 

  1. Accounting and data analytics;
  2. Auditing and AIS;
  3. Taxation;

Discipline overview 

  1. Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR);
  2. Information Systems and Controls (ISC);
  3. Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP).

As this model is yet to be adopted, this article will not discuss its components in detail. To know more about this, please click here. However, it is pertinent to note that the new licensure model would result in one CPA license regardless of which discipline a CPA aspirant chooses.

Relevance of becoming a CPA 

The key roles and responsibilities held by CPAs are as follows:

  • Not only is a CPA expected to develop the detailed financial records of an organization, but he is also expected to organize and maintain the same.
  • Conducting audits to make sure that old reports are accurate, up to date and compliant with the latest regulations. 
  • To organize and file tax documents at all levels i.e., federal, state and regional. 
  • Giving recommendations about the best financial planning not only to the company but also to individual clients.  
  • Cutting down costs and enhancing revenues of their respective company.

Benefits  

  • Secures your career: As CPAs continue to be in high demand. Retiring CPAs exit the market which increases the number of employment openings for freshly licensed CPAs. It is a profession that is likely to not go out of practise.
  • Reputation: Once you clear the CPA Exam and meet all other prerequisites, you will join a selected group of accountants. It is very hard to crack this exam and the people who do it are very well respected as they are assumed to have all the qualities such as hard work, determination, willpower, intelligence, diligence etc., which are required to pass this exam.
  • Financially rewarding:  Annual wages of $70,500 for accountants and auditors on an average exclusive of yearly bonuses. As per the Department of Labour and Statistics, accountants and auditors are expected to expand faster than the average for all jobs through 2024. As you gain experience, your pay scale rises.
  • Choose your own field: Candidates who pass the CPA test have the option of working in investment banks, accounting and auditing firms, hedge funds, merger and acquisition firms, research firms, mutual funds, private equity firms, commercial banks, and other areas as per their interest.

Salary 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, highlighted median annual wages of $70,500 for accountants and auditors. The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) revealed that newly qualified CPAs earn $66,000 per year on average. However, with just a few years of experience, many do achieve six figures. According to AICPA, the average CPA earns $119,000 annually. The AICPA data further reveals that most CPAs receive a very generous bonus.

Conclusion 

To conclude this article the author would say that though the CPA exam is difficult and will become more so in the near future, aspiring candidates should keep in mind that they can easily achieve certification to become a CPA with the right study resources and the right mindset. Extensive studying and practicing the blueprints is the correct path to achieve success. The key does not solely lie in hard work, one must do smart work as well and practice more and more to find a suitable strategy.

Very good luck to all the aspirants!

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References 


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