The Uniform CPA Examination: Purpose and Structure

The Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination is the examination that an individual must pass in order to qualify for licensure as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in any of the 55 U.S. jurisdictions (the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands).

CPAs are the only licensed accounting professionals. CPA licenses are issued by state boards of accountancy in the 55 jurisdictions – there is no national CPA licensure process in the U.S.

The purpose of the Uniform CPA Examination is to provide reasonable assurance to Boards of Accountancy (the state entities that have statutory authority to issue licenses) that those who pass the CPA Examination possess the level of technical knowledge and the skills necessary for initial licensure in protection of the public interest. Public interest is protected when only qualified individuals are admitted into the profession.

One of Three Licensure Requirements

The Uniform CPA Examination is one of the “Three Es” – Education, Examination, and Experience – that constitute the requirements for CPA licensure. Of these three requirements, only the CPA Examination is uniform (i.e., it is the only examination that is accepted for CPA licensure by all U.S. jurisdictions), while education and experience requirements may vary from one jurisdiction to another. Candidates for CPA licensure must meet all three requirements. As a result, passing the CPA Examination is not sufficient – in itself – to qualify for licensure.


The Uniform CPA Examination currently consists of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). These four sections represent a total of 14 hours of testing.


The Uniform CPA Examination developed from the examination that was used for admission to membership in the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). In 1917, the Institute offered the examination for use in the licensure process by Boards of Accountancy. At that time, Boards in three jurisdictions accepted the invitation. It was not until 1952 that the examination was first used in all jurisdictions.

Until the end of 2003, the Uniform CPA Examination was administered twice a year in the paper-and-pencil format. In April 2004, the computer-based CPA Examination was launched and the paper-and-pencil examination was discontinued. In 2009, the computer-based CPA Examination reached a milestone – one million administrations. A new CPA Examination release is scheduled for 2017.