After deciding to take the CPA Exam, one of the first questions you ask yourself is, “What order should I take them in?” Before ordering study materials for my first section, I spent hours sifting through forums and found that there’s little information on the topic and some of it is contradictory. This week I interviewed eight coworkers and friends who recently passed the CPA Exam to get their opinions.
First, I asked what order they took the exams in.
Three of the eight took FAR, reasoning that it would allow them unlimited study time on this large section and 18 months to pass the three smaller sections. Four took the opposite approach, starting with the exam they felt they would do the best on. Of those two started with BEC, which they heard was the easiest, and the other two picked subjects they were most comfortable with (one started with AUD because she worked in public accounting and the other went with REG since he’d done well in tax courses in college). The eighth person started with REG because he was able to get a deal on the study materials for that section at the time.
Next, I asked them to order the difficulty of the exams.
Nearly everyone said BEC was the easiest, and FAR was the most difficult. Most said this was due to the amount of material and less about the difficulty. I received mixed reviews on whether REG or AUD was more difficult, but when asked which one they would rather retake, a slight majority said REG. In my personal experience, having taken BEC, REG, and AUD, I would agree that BEC seemed to be easier to study for because the information was more engaging for me than the other two. Additionally, the BEC test is weighted toward multiple choice (85% vs. 60% on the other sections), and instead of simulations you’re given essays. Multiple choice and essays may favor some test takers over others and I should mention that everyone I interviewed speaks English as their first language.
Finally, I asked what order they would advise their past selves to take the sections in.
Six of eight said they would start with the easiest test first. Only one said they would start with the most difficult exam. The reasons most gave for starting with the easiest exam were primarily momentum. Most said they struggled in the beginning with managing their time, figuring out what their best strategy to study was, and getting in the habit of studying daily. A few said becoming familiar with the test taking experience at a Prometric Center decreased their test anxiety after the first exam. Other reasons given were: the second and subsequent exams went more smoothly because the stress of the 18 month timeline and knowledge of having passed one exam was motivating. Also, if you allow an exam to expire, having to retake the easiest one will be less of a setback, and elements of each section were on every other section which gives you a slight edge on later exams.
As for what to take after the first exam, the advice was mixed. Over half recommended saving FAR for last, if possible. Almost everyone said scheduling the exams to fit your life trumps any suggestion they could make on the order. For example, if you are a student you may want to take FAR during summer quarter, or if you’re working in tax you may want to save BEC for tax season. Hope this helps those of you who are still debating on which sections to take in which order. Remember to do what makes the most sense for you and what you’re most comfortable with.