Passing the Uniform CPA Examination is a must if you want to become a licensed certified public accountant. As most people in the profession will tell you, the exam is a significant undertaking, comprising four four-hour sections. The Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section — considered one of the two most difficult parts of the CPA exam — focuses on the information and skills an entry-level CPA typically needs to perform audits, attestations and reviews, to name a few areas. This exam doesn't test technical financial accounting principles, but instead concentrates on ethics, professional conduct, planning, execution and documentation of audit and attestation services, as outlined in professional standards and by governing bodies.
Last year, just 49% of test-takers passed the AUD exam, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The following AUD exam overview and 13 exam tips can help you be one of those who celebrate when scores are released.
How Long Does It Take to Study for the AUD CPA?
Several estimates suggest that it takes about 100 hours to study for the AUD section of the CPA exam. CPA candidates who are already working as auditors — a typical entry-level position for recent accounting graduates — may need less study time because they should be familiar with the material covered, such as professional standards and opinion templates. Additionally, they may find the application of concepts and the task-based simulation questions easier, based on their day-to-day experience.
For those who are not in an audit-related job, AUD often requires extra study time. It's not an extensively covered topic; most accredited college accounting programs spend less than 10 credit hours on auditing as part of the 150-hour curriculum. It's also unlike more typical, numbers-heavy accounting courses. A long gap in time between taking a few auditing classes in college and taking the exam may also mean extra study time is advisable.
A helpful starting point in preparing for the CPA exam is to understand which content areas to study and how much of the exam focuses on each one. The following AICPA chart can guide you.
How Do I Pass the AUD?
You must score 75 points to pass the AUD section of the CPA exam. Points are earned for correct answers to multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. You don't lose points for incorrect answers. The AUD exam is designed to evenly weight points between the multiple-choice questions and the task-based simulations.
The passing threshold of 75 isn't the same as getting 75% of the questions correct because each question has a different point value depending on its level of difficulty; you won't know these values. One difficult question answered correctly may be worth more points than several medium-difficulty questions. Because of this weighting, the AUD exam is not curved.
The AUD exam is given on computers at testing centers and uses a multistage, dynamic testing approach for the multiple-choice sections. This means that the level of difficulty for the second set of multiple-choice questions is based on how well you do in the first set. If you do well on the first section, which contains questions of medium difficulty, you will be given difficult questions in the second multiple-choice section. Otherwise, your second section will contain additional questions of medium difficulty, which means you'll need to answer more of them correctly because each one is weighted lower. Likely, you won't be able to tell which second section you were served.
It's also noteworthy that only operational, or "real," questions accumulate points. The AUD exam mixes pretest questions — those being evaluated for future exams — with operational questions in every section. You won't know which questions are operational and which are pretest. Of the 72 multiple-choice questions, 12 are pretest, and of the eight task-based questions, one is pretest. In other words, the 75 points needed to pass are based on 60 multiple-choice questions and seven task-based questions.
AUD CPA Exam Sections
The four-hour AUD exam has five sections, called testlets. Testers can take a 15-minute break between testlets 3 and 4, without cutting into their overall time to complete the exam. The first two testlets are the multistaged, multiple-choice sections, each containing 36 questions. Testlets 3, 4 and 5 are task-based simulations. Testlet 3 has two task-based simulations, and testlets 4 and 5 each have three, for a total of eight.
The five sections of the AUD exam are designed to assess different skills that the profession has determined necessary for new CPAs. The exam concentrates on the following four skills, listed in ascending order of complexity:
- Remembering and understanding: Comprehension of general audit knowledge, such as rules, tasks and templates, is the most basic skill.
- Application: Demonstrating appropriate use of auditing techniques, use of technology and sampling techniques, and proper documentation of day-to-day tasks show a higher level of understanding.
- Analysis: This skill includes uncovering data interrelationships, understanding cause and effect of accounting processes and identifying evidence to support conclusions.
- Evaluation: Assessing problems and determining proper courses of action based on evidence, judgment and appropriate levels of professional skepticism is considered the highest skill level. AUD is the only CPA exam that tests for this.
The 72 multiple-choice questions are mostly straightforward and mainly geared toward assessing your remembering and application skills. These skills involve understanding and memorizing principles and standards, but they can also extend to knowing when and how to apply them. Content areas include ethics, professional responsibilities and auditing standards. They also include reporting requirements and comparisons of the several types of service engagements.
Task-based simulations can be thought of as condensed case studies. Each task-based simulation usually incorporates several questions and may require reading provided documents and applying data from them, researching reference literature and using spreadsheets. Typical forms of AUD task-based questions are document reviews, free-response numerical calculations, journal-entry creation/correction, problem-resolution option lists and research exercises. Task-based questions test your analysis and evaluation skills by requiring assessment and synthesis of information from multiple sources to form an evaluative decision that may also require some judgment. While these questions may sound intimidating, keep in mind that you can receive partial credit on the task-based simulations, which contributes to the 75-point threshold needed to pass.
13 AUD CPA Exam Study Tips to Know
The following 13 study tips were curated from several industry sources and interviews with licensed CPAs, including an Elijah Sells Award winner, an honor bestowed upon those with an average composite score over 95.5 for all four sections of the CPA exam, taken in a single sitting.
Practice test-question pacing.
Although there are no official time restrictions on any of the testlets, good time management can help keep you moving along because, don't forget, you have four hours to complete them all. A rule of thumb is to allot 1.25 minutes to each multiple-choice question (for a total of 90 minutes) and 18 minutes per task-based simulation (for a total of 144 minutes).
Double-check multiple-choice questions before submitting.
Testlets 1 and 2 can't be reopened or changed once they're submitted, even if you have time left after submitting all five testlets. Therefore, it's important to check your answers carefully before hitting the submit button.
Take note of word clues.
AUD questions may include certain terminology that points to a specific set of requirements. For example, the "issuer" and "non-issuer" entity types should trigger different rules in your mind. Additionally, terms such as "auditor," "accountant" and "practitioner" can be clues for the type of engagement being tested. Another tip: Avoid answers with universal terminology like "all" or "never," because this is hardly ever the case in real life.
Take a professional review course.
Many CPA review courses are available that can help provide you with a good framework for studying. The courses cater to different styles and methods of learning — auditory, visual, online, in-person — so do some homework to find one that fits best.
Time the test strategically.
Make a plan for completing the four sections of the CPA exam within the allowed 18-month window. Each section is administered four times per year. Plan to take the AUD section closest to the completion of auditing classes or after being hired as an auditor. Depending on your state's eligibility requirements, you may be able to sit for the exam prior to college graduation.
It is nearly impossible to cram for the AUD CPA exam. Consider a 10- to 12-week time frame to properly prepare while maintaining a life balance.
Memorize the audit reports.
There's just no way around this. Expect many extremely specific questions about the unqualified audit opinion and all its variations. These can be easily scored points when committed to memory.
Master the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct.
This is fodder for a hotbed of potential questions on the AUD exam, aimed at probing your ethical and professional responsibilities as a CPA. The AICPA provides a helpful, plain-English resource to assist with studying.
Take practice tests.
One of the best ways to study is by taking practice tests. Taking past exams can help increase familiarity with the way questions are structured and with timing. The AICPA offers downloadable past exams on its website, and professional review courses offer practice tests with an interface similar to the exam.
Thoroughly study the perennial "favorite" topics.
If there's anything "predictable" about the AUD exam, it's that it will cover the following topics. Focus on memorizing the real-life applications of:
- Internal controls.
- Physical inventory counting.
- Engagement letters.
- Sampling methods.
- Search for unrecorded liabilities.
Don't skimp on studying task-based simulations.
It's easy to bang away at past multiple-choice questions, but now that task-based simulations are weighted evenly, it's important to weight your study emphasis equally as well. This was not always the case, so beware of outdated advice from those who took the AUD exam before 2021.
Practice using the research database.
One type of task-based simulation on the AUD exam involves researching authoritative reference guidance for a given situation. Become familiar with the database so you can more easily find the best information. The Authoritative Research database is free for six months once you're approved to sit for the exam.
Know what to skip.
A few things won't be on the AUD exam, so don't waste your precious study time on them. According to the AICPA, the AUD exam does not use the written-communication type of task-based simulation. Additionally, the Board of Examiners uses a detailed schedule for determining when new or updated pronouncements — statements, standards, interpretations and other financial reporting guidelines — are eligible to be included on the CPA exam, so that should guide your study time, too. The schedule depends on the source, such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), IRS or federal law. Auditing standards have been especially active, so it's a good tip to check here for any changes when making a study plan.
|Areas of Focus||Sudy Strategies||Exam-Day Strategies|
|Memorize the audit reports||Take a professional review course||Take note of word clues|
|Master the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct||Take practice tests||Double-check multiple-choice questions before submitting|
|Thoroughly study the perennial “favorite” topics||Practice using the research database|
|Know what to skip||Time the test strategically|
|Practice test-question pacing|
|Don't skimp on studying task-based simulations|
The AUD exam is considered one of the hardest parts of the overall CPA exam. Understanding the content, format and goals of the assessment are a good first step in tackling this exam. Several additional factors can help make the 75-point passing grade more achievable, especially the 13 exam tips included here.
AUD CPA Exam FAQs
How long does it take to study for the AUD CPA?
Estimates from several sources suggest that it takes about 100 hours to study for the AUD section of the CPA exam. This estimate can change, based on whether the candidate has auditing work experience and the amount of time that has passed since finishing a college auditing class.
Which CPA exam is the hardest?
The AUD exam is considered one of the two most difficult parts of the CPA exam, with a 49% passing rate in 2021, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) exam had the lowest passing rate, at 45%.
How many testlets are in AUD?
There are five sections, called testlets, in the four-hour AUD exam. Testlets 1 and 2 are multistaged, multiple-choice sections, each containing 36 questions. Testlets 3, 4 and 5 are task-based simulations. Testlet 3 has two task-based simulations, and testlets 4 and 5 each have three, for a total of eight.
Is 75 passing on the CPA exam?
In order to pass the AUD exam, a candidate must score 75 points. Points are earned for correct answers to multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. The passing threshold of 75 is not the same as getting 75% of the questions correct; each question has a different point value depending on its level of difficulty.