If you haven't paid attention to the industry lately, CPA Ethics is a hot topic given the number and nature of corporate scandals and failures we've seen in recent years. But even prior to some of the most noted scandals, CPAs have always been required to pass the ethics exam, and take ethics related courses as part of their ongoing continuing professional education (CPE).
Each State has its own requirement dictating the amount and nature of ethics related CPE a CPA must take each year. Ethics is one of the CPA exam requirements and such a hot topic that full blown regulations have been formed to govern corporate behavior. The two most notable compliance regulations of recent are the Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) and the Dodd-Frank Acts.
Though the CPA ethics exam does not guarantee inappropriate behavior, it is meant to provide the foundation that would likely curb inappropriate behavior. The CPA ethics exam is part of the CPA license requirements, required by most States after a CPA candidate has passed the CPA exam. Although many choose to take the ethics exam prior to the CPA exam (most States allow you to do that), I recommend waiting until after so that you can focus all your energy on passing the CPA exam, which is the tougher one.
Who Governs and Administers the Ethics Exam?
The CPA ethics exam is usually administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), except in a handful of States where another party administers the exam. There are some States that do not require a candidate to take the CPA ethics exam. However, candidates are required to take a short ethics course within a certain time frame after passing the CPA exam. (Note: The ethics course is not like one of the many and heavily advertised CPA courses online that are geared toward the Prometric CPA exam)
According to my son who recently took it, the CPA ethics exam is not too difficult given some practice of multiple choice questions. The AICPA's ethics course is a self study course that you can take online at your convenience. It mostly goes through the AICPA Code of Conduct, which you can read about on the AICPA's website. The material focuses heavily on the concept of "Independece", or the objectivity necessary to be a "good" CPA.
You take the ethics exam electronically and get your scores instantly upon submission. Each exam packet comes with its own unique serial number that you have to input online. When you first go online to take the exam, you may see a large overwhelming answer sheet. Don't worry, you won't have to complete all of it. The exam itself is only 40 questions.
If you are a better test taker using pen and paper, you will have the option to do so and mail in your answer sheet directly to the State Board of Accountancy. However, the snail mail method can take weeks before you find out your score. If you decide to go this route, remember to make a copy of your test sheet before sending it in. I am personally very paranoid about the mail system.
AICPA Ethics Exam Tips and Must Know Information
Keep in mind that you have a full two years to study and take the exam from the time of your purchase. In the unfortunate event that you miss the deadline, you can ask for a 30 day extension by contacting AICPA directly. You can reach them at 888-777-7077.
The exam is fairly straight forward, but in the event you need assistance, there is a really cool free resource called the "Ask the Ethics Expert". This is a website where you can ask up to three questions about the AICPA CPA Ethics exam and get answers for free.
How Much Does the CPA Ethics Exam Cost?
Not nearly as much as the CPA exam! You can purchase the CPA Ethics exam online from the AICPA website for under $150.
If you are an AICPA member, you pay a discounted price closer to $100. If you wish to shop around for more cost effective options, you can contact your State board and ask them for recommendations. They will usually have a list to share with you. I cannot guarantee that other programs will be more cost effective.
If you end up getting it from the AICPA, the course you want to get is the one titled: "Professional Ethics: AICPA's Comprehensive Course".
Here is what you get with the AICPA's version of the CPA ethics exam:
11 Hours of CD Courses
2 Year Time Frame to take the exam from the time you purchase the course
40 multiple choice question test (you need a 90% to pass)
Electronic submission capability
Studying for the CPA Ethics Exam
I and my son both admit that studying this material for 11 hours can be quite brutal. The good news is that you don't have to. There is some material you can do away without, but you have to use your best judgment to ensure you are not doing without the critical information you need to know to pass the exam.
As I was looking at some of the more recent questions on the exam, the single best tip I can give you is not to settle on the first best answer that sounds correct. The exam is multiple-choice and is geared to trick you. Be careful and read every option in detail before arriving at your final answer.
In the unfortunate event that you fail the exam, you can retake it up to 2 more times for a total of 3 times if you prefer the online method. However, you can retake it again after your third attempt but this time you will have to mail in your answer sheet.
So there you have it. A complete synopsis of the CPA Ethics exam. See, back in the day, I had some heavy books to study to prepare for the exam. Now days, you have some pretty slick, interactive online resources that are easier to digest and work with. I recommend you check it out.
My suggestion to you is to take the ethics exam as soon as you finish the CPA exam and get it out of the way. I wish you all the best in passing the CPA ethics exam. Go get that big CPA salary. Please let me know if I can be of any help to you.
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