Is there a CPA Ethics Exam?

It goes without saying that ethics lie at the very foundation of being a CPA. Despite a few scandals including Enron, Satyam, WorldCom, and Waste Management that involved unethical behavior, the profession as a whole tries its best to uphold ethical principles in all things accounting. In response to the aforementioned scandals and many more not included, the federal government attempted to restore faith in the business community and the accounting industry by enacting key legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. As a result of the grave importance that ethics has on the profession, ethics is tested on the CPA Exam and several jurisdictions require that aspiring CPAs take an ethics exam written by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). In short, we, as a profession, take ethics very seriously.

Business Ethics

As you can see in the video above, business ethics is not just something that you may read about in The Wall Street Journal or learn about in class. Although jokingly in Billy Madison, the importance of business ethics has been planted into our culture.

Ethics on the CPA Exam

Underlying every section of the CPA Exam is that you, the CPA Exam candidate, act ethically in taking the Exam. Unethical behavior such as copying Exam questions or attempting to have an impersonator take the Exam for you will not be tolerated and is grounds for dismissal.

There is no CPA Ethics exam, but each section of the CPA exam touches on ethics in some capacity. In AUD, the topic of ethics is addressed in the discussion of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) Ethics and Independence Standards, and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. In BEC, the topic of ethics is addressed in the discussion of Corporate Governance, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and the COSO Framework. In FAR, the topic of ethics is addressed in the discussion of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) Statements of Financial Accounting Concepts (SFAC) and in particular SFAC No. 8, which discusses qualitative characteristics of useful financial information. In REG, the topic of ethics is addressed in the discussion of the IRC Code of 1986, Treasury Department Circular 230, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Securities Act of 1933, and Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Ethics is not taken for granted, and you can expect to see ethics on every section of the CPA Exam.

State Ethics Requirement

Outside of the CPA Exam, most jurisdictions require a separate ethics exam. Several jurisdictions will accept the AICPA ethics exam, which is titled Professional Ethics: The AICPA’s Comprehensive Course. This exam is composed of 40 multiple choice questions and is open book. To ensure that you receive credit for your ethics exam, you need to score a 90 percent or higher. If you have questions of whether your jurisdiction requires the separate ethics exam, please check

Throughout studying for the CPA Exam and the rest of your career, it is very important to uphold the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. Learn from the mistakes of the profession that happened before you and act with integrity and objectivity. Even when times are tough, you need to use your ethical compass. Without your credibility, you have nothing. As always, remember to breathe.




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