Frequently Asked Questions about the CPA Exam and Related Issues
1. How is the Certified Public Account (CPA) designation different from other designations in accounting?
The major difference is that the CPA is a state-sanctioned and state-monitored license to practice, which permits the holder to perform certain accounting-related duties and sign off on financial statements. The other well-known certifications in accounting are issued by private, not-for-profit accounting organizations. For example, Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is a certification issued by the Institute of Management Accountants, and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) by the Institute of Internal Auditors.
2. What are the requirements to sit for CPA examination?
Since the CPA is a license issued by a state government in the United States, each state has its own set of rules about who is qualified to appear for the exam, how many attempts are allowed, what length of time is allowed to pass all parts of the exam, etc. The exam taken by applicants in all states is a similar, computer-generated exam thus it is called a uniform CPA exam.
If you apply to sit for the exam through the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy then the following applies:
- Clark University's Master of Science in Accounting graduates automatically fulfill all educational requirements and are eligible to sit for CPA as Massachusetts applicants. This is because the board has approved the MSA as a level 1 program.
- Clark University's MBA with expanded accounting concentration also fulfills the educational requirements to sit for the CPA exam, but an applicant will have to apply to the board to get the educational credentials evaluated (see the link below).
- If you have a Clark MBA (with a concentration other than expanded accounting) or an MSF, you must have 6 graduate accounting courses and 6 graduate business courses to qualify to sit for the CPA exam. The accounting classes must include courses in financial accounting, management accounting, auditing and taxation. Applicants may need to take additional accounting and other business courses beyond those taken for MBA or MSF. You will need to apply to the board to get the educational credentials evaluated to determine what additional courses are required in your case (see the link below).
For situations other than ones mentioned above, such as an undergraduate degree in accounting, graduate degree from other than Clark University, mix of accounting courses taken at the undergraduate and graduate levels, etc. visit Education, Experience and Other Requirements for Issuance of Certificate as Certified Public Accountant, Section 2.07 (2) (a).
Students can initiate educational credential evaluation at NASBA's Massachusetts licensing page.
3. What are the two levels of CPA certification?
Some states, including Massachusetts, allow two levels of CPA certification. An applicant achieves the first level when he/she passes the CPA examination and receives what is generally called a non-reporting certificate or license. A non-reporting license holder is not permitted to sign off on financial reports. After acquiring required work experience, you may apply for the reporting license. Reporting and non-reporting license holders both may use the CPA designation.
The following two links provide more information about the experience requirements:
4. What are the different sections of the CPA exam?
The CPA exam has four sections: 1) Auditing and Attestation 2) Financial Accounting and Reporting 3) Regulation 4) Business Environment and Concepts. The exams on the first two sections are each four hours long and the exams on the next two sections are each three hours long.
- Auditing and Attestation: This section covers generally accepted auditing standards and standards related to attest engagements, auditing procedures, and ethics.
- Business Environment and Concepts: This section covers general business environment and concepts and accounting implications of business transactions.
- Financial Accounting and Reporting: This section covers generally accepted accounting principles for profit, not-for-profit, and governmental entities.
- Regulation: This section covers federal taxation, ethics in tax practice, professional and legal responsibilities, and business law.
Additional information is available at Granting of Full or Partial Credits to Candidates Who Pass Examination in One or More Subjects; Re-examination Section 2.06.
5. Is there a booklet that provides introductory information about CPA exam?
Yes, you may want to download the following booklet: Candidate Bulletin - Information for Applicants.
6. I have taken accounting courses outside the United States, can they be considered in satisfying the educational requirement to sit for the CPA examination?
Yes. You will need to get your course work evaluated to determine whether and how it will be counted. For more information, visit one of the following two websites:
7. What kinds of services do the CPAs provide?
“CPAs provide a wide range of services and are employed in public accounting and other professional services firms, business and industry, government and education. CPAs in public practice are engaged by their clients for a variety of services including accounting, auditing, tax, personal financial planning, technology consulting and business valuation. CPAs employed in business, industry and government are likewise responsible for activities from accounting and financial reporting, implementing and managing internal controls and information systems, to compliance with tax and other laws and regulations and other areas of business and financial management.” (This description is from the AICPA documents.)
8. How often is the exam given, how often can I take it?
The examination is offered 5 or 6 days per week during the first two months, of every calendar quarter. These testing windows are available in January & February; April & May; July & August; and October & November. You can sit for any given section of the exam just once during a testing window. You can take all four sections in one testing window, or spread them over a few testing windows. You do not have to take them in sequence or pass one section before sitting for another. Massachusetts allows you 18 months to pass all four sections after the first part is successfully completed.
9. Should I take business law and business and society courses in the MSA program?
Even though courses in business law and ethics are not required, if you are pursuing graduate degree qualification to sit for the CPA, it is highly recommended that you take the following two courses (1/2 unit each) as one of your group 2 electives in the MSA. Both of these courses are important from professional practice perspective and their contents are covered in the CPA exam..
- MGMT4708: Business Law
- MGMT4709: Business in Society
10. I am an MBA (or an MSF) student. What business courses (other than accounting courses) should I take?
A. We strongly recommend that you take the following courses. It may be possible to take these courses as part of your MBA/MSF program.
- MGMT4708: Business Law (1/2 unit)
- MGMT4709: Business in Society (1/2 unit) (part of MBA core)
- MIS 4500 Management Information Systems (part of MBA core)
- One finance course (part of MBA core)
11. What types of questions are found in the CPA examination?
Test on a section of the CPA exam (for example, Financial Accounting and Reporting) is divided into smaller test segments. Some of these segments contain only multiple choice questions, and others contain only short cases (called task-based simulations) and essay (word) answers.
12.What special computer skills do I need to take the computer-based CPA examination?
No special advanced skills are needed. You will be provided with a four-function, simple, online calculator. You should be familiar with simple word processing and spreadsheet operations. Even though no special skills are required, it is important that you visit the CPA Examination Tutorial and Sample Tests and review the tutorial and take a sample test to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the format, navigation and functionality of the test. This will help you save time during the exam and improve your score on the test.