CPA Ethics Exam: Study Tips, Course Guide, & Requirements

Complete Guide to the AICPA CPA Ethics Exam, Requirements, & Study Guides

cpa-ethics-examMost State Boards of Accountancy require CPA candidates to take the CPA Ethics exam once they’ve passed the CPA exam to be eligible for their CPA license and certification. The AICPA Ethics exam is a remote test that can be taken at home or in the office online.

It includes a study textbook that you are allowed to use during the test itself, which makes the exam much easier, but don’t take this test for granted. Although not as challenging as the CPA exam, the Ethics exam does come with its own quirks that you need to be aware of before you attempt it.

Let’s review the AICPA Ethics exam and analyze its format and requirements, so you can see how to register, sign up, and pass the exam on your first try.


How to Pass the AICPA Ethics Exam

The best way to pass the ethics exam is by understanding its format, features, and requirements. Once you understand the ethics exam structure and the timeframe you have to take it, you will have a much easier time passing it.

CPA Ethics Exam Format

The AICPA ethics exam is a remote test made up of 40 multiple-choice questions that candidates can take online or in written format through the mail. Most candidates choose to take the test online because your results will be available immediately after you submit your test. It’s also processed immediately through the AICPA database. There is no waiting around for mail to be delivered.

Candidates who decide to take the paper-based exam will receive an answer booklet in the mail that they should fill out. After filling out the answer sheet, you have to send it to AICPA to be graded and scored. Your results may take several weeks to be available since the AICPA has to manually grade your test and notify you of your score.

Unless you have extended circumstances, you are better off taking it online.


What is the CPA Ethics Examination & Who Administers the Test?

The CPA ethics exam is a test administered and written by the AICPA to prepare future CPAs for the complex ethical challenges that they are likely to face in their public accounting careers. This multiple-choice test is designed to help CPA candidates think about accounting and business ethical topics in order to make moral decisions throughout their careers.

The exam is a remote test that can be taken at home or the office either online or on paper using the answer booklet the AICPA provides. Although you can use your textbook on the exam, you won’t have time to look for every answer. The test is timed, so it’s a good idea to study the textbook before you start your test.


CPA Ethics Exam Requirements

Generally, most states require CPA candidates to pass the ethics exam within two years of completing the CPA exam. This is often beneficial because some states also permit candidates to use the exam as CPE credits for that calendar year.

Keep in mind that not all state require prospective CPAs to take the AICPA Ethics exam. It’s a good idea to check with your State Board to see if they need to take Ethics exam before you register for it through the AICPA.

Keep in mind, every state doesn’t allow this, so it’s a good idea to check with your state board before you include this in your total CPE for the year.


How to Register, Take, and Pass the CPA Ethics Exam by the AICPA

Before you can pass the ethics exam, you’ll need to take a several steps. Here’s a guide on how to register for, take, and submit your ethics exam.


Register and Purchase the Self-Study CPA Course Materials

First, you will need to register for the ethics exam and buy the study materials through the AICPA website.

The cost of the Ethics exam varies from state to state, but generally it’s between $150 and $190. After signing up for the Ethics exam, you will receive either a study textbook or a CD-ROM with study materials on it in the mail.

This study book is called Professional Ethics: The AICPA’s Comprehensive Course. Make sure you get the book that is labeled for “licensure” and not the one that is intended for CPE credits.


Review The AICPA Ethics Exam Study Materials

Second, read the study materials. A lot of candidates don’t take this exam seriously because it is open book and they just finished the CPA exam. Many of these candidates end up failing it. It’s a pretty simple test, but if you aren’t prepared, it can be challenging.

Read the entire book and study the key areas to make sure you will remember the topics when you start your exam. If you fail the test, you can retake it, but you will need to pay an additional fee.

Study the course materials and take as many notes as you need to be ready for the exam. This isn’t the CPA exam where you can get a score of 75 and still pass. The ethics exam requires a score of 90% in order pass. That means you can’t answer too many questions incorrectly if you want to pass.


Submit Your Exam Answers

You can submit the answers in two ways depending on the format in which you sat the test.

Online Submission: for those taking the exam online, it is easier to submit, and you do it immediately after finishing the test by clicking the submit button. You will receive your score immediately since it will be graded automatically.

Paper Submission: if you prefer taking the exam on paper, you need to send your exam answers in the mail and wait a few weeks before the results are out. Your answer sheet that came with your study textbook will include the AICPA mailing address where you should send your answer sheet to.

CPA Ethics Exam Study Tip: Before mailing your answer sheet, always make a photocopy or it, so you have a copy for your records. You never know what is going to happen to the mail, so it’s a good idea to keep a copy just to be safe. Also, use certified mail to mail your answer sheets, as this is the only way to track it to see if the AICPA receives them.


CPA Ethics Exam Questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the AICPA ethics exam.


Does Every State Require the CPA Ethics Exam?

Surprisingly, not all states require CPA candidates to take the AICPA ethics exam. Only 35 states have the CPA Ethics exam requirement before candidates are eligible for CPA licensing.

However, most state boards are leaning towards this requirement, so it’s probably that the rest of the states will require some type of ethics exam requirement in the future.


How Difficult is the CPA Ethics Exam?

The CPA Ethics exam is not difficult. It is an open-book test that allows you to reference your study textbook throughout the exam. Since the test is only 40 multiple-choice questions, you will have ample time to complete the test.

Even though the passing score is 90 percent, the MCQs are straightforward and far less challenging than the CPA exam.


Can You Pass the Ethics Exam before Passing the CPA Exam?

Yes, CPA candidates can take the AICPA ethics exam before passing the CPA exam, but it isn’t necessary. The ethics exam is easy and there isn’t a compelling reason to complete this before pass the harder exam.

Don’t get ahead of yourself. Stay focused on preparing for the CPA exam. After you pass that, you can worry about completing the ethics exam.

Keep in mind, some states don’t even have an ethics exam requirement, so you may not need to take it at all.


What the best CPA Ethics Exam Study Guide?

The AICPA issued study textbook is the only available study guide for the ethics exam. This 100-page textbook has all of the information you need to pass the ethics exam. You won’t need anything more than that.

Don’t worry about trying to find another supplemental study guide, you won’t need it.


When Do I Have to Take the AICPA Ethics Exam?

AICPA requires candidates to complete the ethics exam within 1 year of registering for the test. Otherwise, their course materials and exam account will expire. Most states, however, require CPA candidates to complete the ethics exam within at least two years of passing CPA exam.


Can I Retake the CPA Ethics Exam if I Failed?

Yes, the AICPA allows candidates to retake the ethics exam online as many as three times. If you are unsuccessful on you third attempt online, the AICPA requires that you use the paper answer sheet that came with your textbook to mail in your answers manually for your forth attempt.


Take the Next Step to Become a CPA

Before you worry about taking the ethics exam, you’ll first need to pass the CPA exam.

The only way to make sure you are prepared for the exam and have the best shot at passing it on your first attempt is to find a CPA study course that matches your schedule and study style. There are a lot of different courses out there, but not all of them will work for you in the same way.

You need something that suits your style and fits in your budget. Check out our list of review courses to find the right one for you.

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