CPA Exam Application Process

If you’ve decided to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential, you need to understand how to apply, schedule, and take the exam.  If you don’t have a good understanding as to how this process works, you may be delayed in taking the exam or you may end up paying more money if you have to reschedule or retake sections. 

Read on to find out how to apply, schedule, and sit for the CPA exam.

CPA Exam Requirements

The first thing that you need to do is decide where you want to become licensed.  There are 55 states and territories that offer the CPA credential.  Once you’ve done this, visit the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, or NASBA, to learn what requirements you want to meet. 

The CPA exam is uniform, meaning it will be the same regardless of where you take it.  However, the specific requirements that you need to meet to be eligible for the exam will vary based on where you take it.  Every state and territory sets their own rules for;

  • Which college-level courses you need to take
  • How many total credit hours are needed
  • When you are allowed to sit for the exam
  • How much professional experience you must have before you can become licensed

If you do not meet your state’s requirements, it can interfere with your ability to sit for the exam.

CPA Exam Application Process

Once you’ve met the eligibility requirements to sit for the exam in your state, you can now begin the application process.  The process may be different, depending on where you plan to become licensed. 

NASBA – Some states require you to submit your application form directly to NASBA.  If this applies to you, visit CPA Central to complete your online application. 

State Board of Accountancy – Currently, 21 states and territories require that you contact their Board of Accountancy to learn how to apply to sit for the CPA exam.  NASBA includes this list in their Client Bulletin.  For these states, you will complete the application according to their directions.  If your application meets their standards, they will forward this onto NASBA on your behalf.

The CPA exam is administered in certain countries outside of the United States such as Japan, Germany, and England.  If you plan to take the exam in an eligible country, you will follow the steps above for the jurisdiction that you plan to become licensed in.  For example, if you plan to sit for the CPA exam in Brazil and want to become licensed in Florida, you will follow the application rules for Florida. 

To help you navigate through this step, NASBA offers an online Pathway to the CPA Exam Quiz.  After answering a few questions, you can find out what steps you need to take in order to complete your application.

Paying CPA Application and Exam Fees

When you apply and sit for the exam, you are responsible for paying both a fee to apply and a fee to take the exam.  How and when you pay this will vary based on the state or territory that you are applying to.  This is typically done in one of two ways;

  • Combined fees – Under this scenario, you will pay both the application fee and fee for the exam(s) that you are planning to take directly to your state’s board of accountancy or to their designated agent.  Once your state board has reviewed your application, they will let NASBA know which sections of the exam you are eligible to take. 
  • Separate fees – You will pay the application fee to your state board of accountancy or its designated agent.  Once your state board has reviewed and accepted your application, they will let NASBA know which sections of the exam you plan to take.  You will receive a payment coupon notification from NASBA, at which time you can go online and make your payment.  

Receiving Your Notice to Schedule The CPA Exam

Once you have approved to sit for the section(s) of the CPA exam that you applied for and have paid in all fees, you will receive a Notice to Schedule, commonly referred to as an NTS.

An NTS is an important document and you should understand how this process works.

  • Available online – You will receive an email from NASBA that tells you that your NTS is ready and can be printed.  You will access this form on the CPA Candidate Account section of the NASBA website. 
  • If you submitted your application through NASBA, you will already have an account setup.
  • For those who submit their application directly to their Board of Accountancy, you’ll receive an email that will direct you to the CPA Candidate Account section to access your NTS.
  • Verify your NTS – Be sure to review and check your NTS.  Verify that your name is spelt correctly and exactly matches your identification.  If there is a misspelling or error, be sure to get this fixed immediately.  If your identification does not match the NTS exactly, you will not be able to sit for the exam. 
  • Your NTS has an expiration date – Your NTS is only good for a certain period of time, typically six months.  The time limit is determined based on where you sit for the exam.  If you do miss this timeframe, you will forfeit any fees that you’ve paid and will need to reapply and pay the exam fee again.  For this reason, it is often recommended that you only schedule one section of the exam at a time in order to avoid losing your money and experiencing the time delay of reapplying.

Schedule the CPA Exam Section

After getting your NTS, your next step is to schedule the exam section(s) that you are authorized to sit for.  You will take the exam at a testing facility run by Prometrics.  You can schedule your exam here.    

When scheduling your exam, you will need the information provided on your NTS.  You will be able to select the location, time, and exam that you would like to take. 

The CPA exam is administered during 4 testing windows throughout the year which are;

  • Q1 – January 1 – March 10
  • Q2 – April 1 – June 10
  • Q3 – July 1 – September 10
  • Q4 – October 1 – December 10

You can schedule any section of the exam that you have been approved for during these windows.  You are not required to take the exam sections in any order.  The 4 sections of the CPA exam include;

  • Business Environments and Concepts (BEC)
  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

When you schedule your exam, there are some best practices that you should follow;

  • Try to schedule your exam early in the testing window.  If the exam gets canceled for any reason, you may have enough time to take it at a later time in the same window. If you miss the window, you can schedule to take it again in the following window as long as your NTS is still good.
  • If you don’t pass a section of the exam with at least a score of 75, you can’t retake it in the same window.
  • You can take multiple sections of the CPA exam in the same window.
  • When you take the exam, you will be required to certify that you have reviewed the tutorial, sample exam, and Candidate Bulletin.  To properly prepare for the exam, be sure to review these items which are available on the NASBA website here.

Keep in mind – once you have passed one section, you have 18 months to pass the remaining 3 sections.  If you don’t pass all 4 sections within that time period, you will have to retake any section that is older than 18 months.

When You Take the CPA Exam

Other good practices to follow when taking the exam include driving out to the facility to make sure you know where it is located, arrive early on the day of the exam, and be sure to bring your NTS and proper identification.  If you forget to bring the NTS form or if your identification doesn’t match your name, exactly – you will be turned away.  Finally, get plenty of rest and eat a good meal before you take the exam.