What Is the Best Order to Take the CPA Exam?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: March 10, 2022  •  4 min read  •  Financial
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Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a big step. You will have to pass the CPA exam to achieve this status. This test exam has four different tests you will have to take. With four parts, many students wonder what is the best order to take the CPA exam?

You have to pass all four sections, which include:

These tests don’t have to be taken all at the same time. You can space them out and take them over several months if you prefer.

Before you decide which section of the CPA exam to take first, you should consider what to expect. Each test will cover different concepts and will be weighted differently. There also may not be a black and white answer to what is the best order to take the CPA exam?

For many test-takers, the answer will depend on your accounting expertise and your preferences for test-taking. Are you an “eat the frog” type of person looking to get the most difficult portion done first? Do you prefer to start with something easier?

Taking the Most Difficult CPA Test First

If you prefer to get the most difficult section out of the way, this is the right strategy for you. The key here is to make sure you pass the hardest section first so you can take the other three before the 18-month window expires.

Having to retake the hardest section won’t be fun. With this strategy, you want to make sure you leave enough time to retake the hardest section, if you don’t pass, and still have time to take the other three sections and pass them.

Taking the Easiest CPA Test First

A more popular strategy for taking the CPA exam is to take the easiest section first. This type of strategy allows you to have a better chance of passing and gaining some confidence. Plus, if the 18-month window does expire, you won’t have to take the hardest section over. Instead, you’ll be taking the easiest section over.

Often, the easiest section will line up with the type of work you currently do or the last course you took in college if you just graduated. For example, if you work as an auditor, you might want to start with the Auditing and Attestation Section of the CPA exam.

Choose the section you feel most comfortable with, and pass on the first try.

Which CPA Exam Sections Should I Take Second and Third?

While choosing the first and last sections is often easy, the middle sections can be more difficult. If you take the easiest section first, it makes sense that you might take the hardest last. You can flip this strategy if you prefer to deal with the most difficult first.

The second test you should take will likely need to be one of the more difficult ones, regardless of your strategy. Those choosing to “eat the frog” will want to go from most difficult to easiest, while those choosing easiest first will still want a more difficult section second.

If you started with your best and most comfortable section, you should have some confidence going into the second test. A very popular choice for this one is the Financial Accounting and Reporting section. It’s considered one of the more difficult options and it’s also much longer than other sections.

The third one in the order will likely be an easier section. For those starting with the most difficult, you are not onto your second to last, so it will be an easier choice for you. Those starting off easy will want to go easy here, too, because you just came off a difficult one and you’re probably sick of studying.

Which CPA Exam Should be My Last One to Take?

The final one will either be the easiest if you went with the “eat the frog” strategy or it might be the second hardest. Those taking the easiest one first probably followed it with the hardest, so now, you’re taking the second hardest for you.

A Summary of Both Strategies for Taking the CPA Exam

When answering the question, what is the best order to take the CPA exam, there are two strategies. Here’s a quick summary of both.

Eat the Frog (Most Difficult First)

Simply put, you will start with the most difficult and finish with the easiest CPA exam section for you.

Easiest First

If you choose this strategy (it’s the most popular), you’ll start with the easiest. Then, you’ll take the hardest, followed by the second easiest and the second hardest. In other words, you will rotate easy, hard, easy, hard.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!