I am a CPA in a tax practice. I am also currently studying for Level 3. Somebody asked me how the CFA exam compared to the CPA exam. The two are difficult to compare, for many reasons. Nonetheless, here’s my take:
—Scheduling the Exams—CPA is MUCH easier—
With the CPA exam, there are four sections, and you can take them in any order you want. You can take as many as you want in a quarter, but if you fail, you have to wait until next quarter to take the exam again. That means that if you fail a section on March 31, you can take it again on April 1. And since these are computer-based exams given at the local Sylvan Learning Center, you can always reschedule if you get sick, want to go on vacation, or just don’t feel ready.
With CFA, you can take it on June 1. If you don’t want to take it on June 1, you’re welcome to wait until next June 1. That gives you a whole year to:
- forget everything you learned (if you failed),
- get distracted with a new job
- get distracted with a new family
- move to a different city
- have a car wreck or other disaster,
- get depressed about your failing score.
This makes the CFA exam exponentially more difficult, both because of the unforgiving nature of CFAI, and the fact that you can’t just study for a few more weeks and take it again. (I should know–I got score band 10 on Level 2. If I could have studied 2 more weeks and taken it again, I’m sure I would have passed. But I had to wait a whole year and study for a whole year to take the test again. )
—Candidacy for the Exams—CPA is MUCH more difficult—
With CFA, if you have a Bachelor’s degree, you are qualified to take the exam. Doesn’t matter what degree, what major, what school. A Bachelor of Arts in Art Appreciation from Local State University is good enough.
With CPA, requirements vary from state to state. Most states, however, require:
- a Bachelor’s degree, PLUS an additional 30 hours (for a total of 150 hours),
- 30 of the 150 have to be in upper-level accounting, AND
- another 30 of the 150 have to be in upper-level NON-accounting business courses.
This makes the CPA candidate fairly prepared for the CPA exam, even though they haven’t even registered for the exam yet. In my experience, almost all undergrad accounting courses teach 100% to the CPA exam. I don’t know if that’s by design, or if that’s just the standard body of knowledge for an accountant.