Pursuing a career as a certified public accountant can be a long journey, but provides numerous benefits if accomplished.

Becoming a CPA provides a bevy of professional opportunities, and can catapult your career no matter what stage of life you’re in. However, it’s no easy feat to get to this point. From the rigorous education requirements to difficult exam questions, individuals will face a great deal of hurdles.

One of the most challenging struggles for aspiring Certified Public Accountants is the CPA test.

The Uniform CPA test was created to protect the public; it ensures that only the most qualified individuals become licensed CPAs. If you’ve decided to become a CPA and you’re prepared to take the CPA Exam, this is what you’ll face.

Qualifying to Take the Exam

In order to take the CPA exam, you must fulfill a few requirements. Each state and territory has its own CPA Exam requirements, but most of them are similar. Most state boards require individuals to complete a minimum number of college credits regarding various business law and accounting topics, which means you generally must obtain a bachelor’s degree before being able to sit the exam. Typically, states will also require that individuals have a master’s degree in professional accounting or finance.

The most common requirements in various states say individuals must take 150 semester hours of education. While states determine individual study requirements, there’s typically a core balance of accounting, business, and general education classes. Some individuals may achieve the allotted number of hours before achieving their master’s degree. Some may get a bachelor’s degree then take a few courses at the graduate level, while others will enter into an integrated 5-year professional accounting school. If budgetary issues have thwarted your higher education goals, consider student loans for graduate students.

Because these requirements can vary by location, it’s always a good idea to check in with your individual state’s laws.

Exam Structure and Content

Overall, the exam features 324 multiple choice questions (70 percent of your total score), 20 task-based simulation questions (20 percent of your total score), and three long-form writing questions (10 percent of your total score). There are four parts to the CPA Exam, which are given at different times. The test takes a total of 14 hours to complete, with each portion taken individually. The four parts include:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD): This section will require you to show understanding of international accounting standards, and ask you to explain standards on preparing reports for audits, among many other topics. You’ll also be tested on ethics and independence as required by the AICPA.
  • Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR): This section tests your knowledge and comprehension specifically on the financial reporting framework used by government entities, business enterprises, and other organizations. It will ask you about standard inclusions in statements, how to account and report in government agencies and not-for-profit organizations. You’ll be tasked with preparing financial statements and entering data into ledgers after reviewing source documents. You’ll need demonstrate understanding about the roles the SEC, FASB, IASB, and GASB play in accounting standards.
  • Regulation (REG): This section is based on professional responsibility ad ethics. You’ll be asked about tax procedures and accounting, and questioned on business law and federal taxation issues. You’ll need to demonstrate understanding of the responsibilities of a CPA, and describe the legal implications of business transactions in terms of accounting, financial reporting and auditing.
  • Business Environment & Concepts (BEC): Many test takers cite this section as the easiest of the test.

There’s no specified order in which candidates must take these various parts, but there are time limits: once you pass the first exam section, you have 18 months to complete the other three.

Preparing for the Test

While your schooling and work experience should prepare you for the CPA test, many individuals find themselves retaking it time and time again. There’s no overstating the difficulty of this exam, but with the right amount of preparation, you can become poised to pass on first attempt. Start studying as far in advance as possible, take any related review courses like those from Beat the CPA, and give yourself enough time between the various sections to review the related material.

Passing the CPA exam requires intensive research, countless hours of study, and tenacity, but it’s a worthy investment of your time, money, and hard work.