Qualifications for a CPA Exam

Updated March 23, 2017

Certified public accountants (CPAs) function in a wide variety of roles. They act as tax and financial consultants to businesses, individuals, entrepreneurs, government agencies and non-profit organisations. They also perform as independent auditors, charged with safeguarding the public's interest. They are separated from other accountants by the strict certification and state license requirements they must pass to receive the CPA designation. Certified public accountants must conform to an exacting code of professional conduct based in independence, objectivity and integrity.


To meet the qualifications for the CPA exam, candidates are required to possess a knack for research and teamwork, analytical talents and strong written and verbal abilities. They must also be proficient in accounting-related technology. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) suggests that accounting majors interested in becoming CPAs complete coursework in the following areas to ensure they receive a balanced academic foundation: finance, management, cost and audit accounting, economics, business law, communication and behavioural sciences, ethics, finance globalisation, information technology; marketing, statistics and total quality management.

Work Experience

Candidates generally must have two years of public accounting experience to qualify for the CPA exam. In some jurisdictions accounting knowledge and skills gained practicing in government and the private sector will suffice; however, candidates are usually required to have the work history. Also, applicants should be aware that states operate on either a one-tier or two-tier system. One-tier systems require candidates to pass the CPA exam first. They become certified and licensed after meeting the experience requirement. Two-tier jurisdictions award candidates the certification upon passing the CPA exam. The license is earned after reaching the work experience benchmark.

General Requirements

Candidates for the CPA exam must check with the states in which they will be working to learn what the prerequisites are for taking the exam. Some states have an age requirement of 18 years; there may also be a residency stipulation. Currently, candidates do not have to be a United States citizen to sit for the exam.

Exam Content

The test takes approximately 14 hours to complete and is divided into four sections: Auditing & Attestation (4.5 hours), Financial Accounting & Reporting (3 hours), Regulation (3 hours) and Business Environment & Concepts (2.5 hours). With the heavy reliance of businesses and other organisations on computer systems, information technology has been given more weight. There is also a focus on common business concepts and practices, as well as auditing methods. Candidates can expect multiple-choice questions and several case studies are emphasised. It is important to realise, however, that the material is subject to change

Application Process

The CPA exam is offered electronically at over 300 test locations across the U.S. It is strongly recommended that candidates apply at least 45 days in advance. To find out more information or apply for the CPA exam in your state, contact the state board of accountancy.

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About the Author

John Landers has a bachelor's degree in business administration. He worked several years as a senior manager in the housing industry before pursuing his passion to become a writer. He has researched and written articles on a wide variety of interesting subjects for an array of clients. He loves penning pieces on subjects related to business, health, law and technology.