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CPA Subjects – what order & combination works best?

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Choosing your CPA subjects can be tricky, and at KnowledgeEquity we often get asked:

‘what order should I do my CPA subjects in?’ and ‘what CPA subject electives should I choose?’, so we hope this helps.

The CPA Taxation offering changed in 2019. There are now two taxation subjects, “Australia Taxation” and “Australia Taxation – Advanced”. Read Russell’s detailed blog on the changes.

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Most candidates start the CPA Program with the Ethics & Governance subject as this provides a good background to the profession and the professional, ethical and governance issues facing the professional accountant. However, many are unsure on what CPA subjects to do next.

We recommend that you complete the core subjects first and then choose your electives.

Our advice on elective subject selection is simple – do the subjects that are likely to assist with your future career direction. Getting your accreditation as a CPA is critical but you should have also mapped out some idea of where your next career steps will likely be.

The tables below give you some useful examples:

For instance if you intend to pursue a career in Public Practice, then in addition to the core subjects, the selection of elective subjects is almost ready made for you in that Advanced Audit and Assurance and Australia Taxation – Advanced would be the best fit.

If consulting or working inside a business and performing a broader range of tasks suits you better, you will focus more closely on managerial type subjects such as Contemporary Business Issues.

For those interested in Financial Planning there are also several tailored electives to choose from.

CPA subjects order and combination

Public Practice or Technical Accountant

Consultant or Adviser

CPA Subjects - consultant or business adviser

Financial Planning

CPA Subjects for a Financial Planner

Find out more about Financial Planning here.

CPA Subject choice tips

– Don’t leave FR until last, even though it is really tough. If you get stuck on FR you want to find out earlier rather than later, so you can decide whether to continue with your studies.
– Don’t do AAA before FR; Audit involves careful consideration of financial reporting and standards, so you need FR knowledge to do this well.
– If you are not sure of your career plans then choose subjects that interest you. Why? Because if you are motivated this generally translates into good results.

CPA subject electives

If you have not completed Auditing and Taxation (Australia or local variant) at an under graduate level, these two subjects will be compulsory.

In reality there are only six combinations of electives (excluding Financial Planning):

CPA subject elective combination

If your preference is for conceptual subjects then combination 1 is ideal (CBI and FRM) and if your preference is for theoretical subjects (that is, subjects that have frameworks, standards, law / legislation) then combination 6 is better (AAA and Australia Taxation or Australia Taxation – Advanced).

There is no magical formula but by completing subjects in a logical order it can mean that you are better prepared or have the right background knowledge.

Doing Two CPA Subjects or more in a Semester

Integration combined apple orange_000004876605_LargeHigh study workloads coupled with hard subject combinations often leads to poor results. So at Knowledge Equity do not recommend this for most students. However, people do ask us for advice here – so if you are going to try it, here are some tips to provide greater chances of success and to protect your sanity.

  • Avoid Australia Taxation with another subject as there is a significant volume of study material (please note that the Taxation offering has been changed for 2019 – Learn more in this blog), especially if it has been some time since you completed taxation at university level.
  • Avoid Financial Reporting with another subject – it is also very long, very difficult, and requires significant effort.
  • If you are working full time you will find it very difficult to do two subjects well unless you are extremely disciplined.

Strategic Management Accounting goes well with Ethics & Governance, or Contemporary Business Issues or Financial Risk Management. If you are really disciplined and organised, then you may consider Financial Reporting and Advanced Audit and Assurance together.

Try to ensure that you have allowed yourself sufficient time between exam dates (perhaps schedule one exam at the start of the exam week and the other exam at the end). You will need to be disciplined with your study technique to ensure that you are allocated an adequate amount of study time to both subjects.

Some other things to keep in mind are

  • Try not to use previous semester CPA pass rates as a factor to inform your subject selection.
  • Try not to be influenced by the opinions of others on the difficulty levels of subjects. This is as what one person finds difficult, another person might find easy.
  • Length of the study guide (for instance number of modules or number of pages) is not always relevant. Some people find it much easier to master technical, rule based content – while others prefer conceptual and narrative based reading.

Some useful links to other sites include the CPA Australia CPA Program discussion on CPA subjects structure and requirements.

Using Facebook? Want to connect with other students?

There are also Facebook groups for CPA subjects as follows:

CPA Financial Reporting

CPA Strategic Management Accounting

CPA Global Strategy and Leadership

CPA Ethics and Governance

CPA Advanced Audit And Assurance

CPA Financial Risk Management

CPA Contemporary Business Issues

CPA Australia Taxation

Regards,
Courtney

October 24, 2019

61 responses on "CPA Subjects - what order & combination works best?"

  1. Are you able to advise regarding the requirements for being able to provide financial advice – I understand from the information on the cpa website that there are two base modules then one of two electives to complete. I already know that I want to do advanced tax as part of the cpa program, which only leaves one elective. What are the avenues for completing the remaining requirements?

  2. Hi Tracie,
    With the current structure you would be required to complete any additional subjects of study after you have completed the CPA program to meet the requirements. There is a bit more detail in this blog post: https://knowledgequity.com.au/cpa-financial-planning-fundamentals/

    Kind regards, Courtney

  3. Hi Courtney..
    I have done EG and I am doing SMA this semester (2018 sem 1)
    In Q1 &Q2, I am hectic at work. Although you suggest CBI after SMA, if I decided to take FR as my 3rd subject, would that be much of an impact?
    Thank you in advance.

  4. Hi – doing FR 3rd is also an appropriate choice, and many students do this after E&G and SMA so that they have completed the 3rd core unit. Just make sure you understand the level of work involved in FR. CPA recommends 165 hours, and I would say this is a minimum to get through the material and be confident of performing well in the exam.

  5. Hi Courtney
    I’ve completed EG & SMA last year (1 subject per semester) and have recently completed FR exam.
    Would you recommend doing CBI & GSL together for 2018 Sem 2?
    Is there any overlap in the material that could be beneficial to do them in the same semester?
    I’m contemplating on doing FRM as my second elective and trying out to work out plan.
    Thanks
    Sumit

  6. Hi Courtney,

    I’ve enrolled E&G in s2 2018. And I am preparing daily now by watching your videos, even though without receiving the study guide yet. I can study on CPA full-time in May as I are starting to work in June. Thereby, I am wondering to do FRM in S2 as well. I’ve done the math, indicating that 25hrs weekly study is manageable for me. Do you think my plan of preparing two subjects from May to Sep is viable? And which subjects goes best with EG?

    Thank you so much!!

    Kelly

  7. Hi Courtney..
    I have done EG in Semester 1 2018. Would you recommend SMA or FR for my second subject?
    Thank you in advance.

  8. Hi Seema, (I also emailed you as well).
    I would recommend Strategic Management Accounting first and then do Financial Reporting after that. I do this for several reasons:
    • It is another core subject, and it is important to finish these earlier in the program
    • It is different to E&G – it focuses on helping add value and improve businesses. So, this is a good balance after all the focus on governance, rules and ethics.
    • It is not as hard for most students compared to Financial Reporting – so we recommend you do this before Financial Reporting, to get more experience completing CPA subjects.
    • The pass rate is quite high (compared to E&G and Financial Reporting).

    I hope this helps you make a decision.

    Regards, Courtney

  9. Hi Courtney,

    Just a curiosity about exam dates? if you take exam last days are the papers are more hard than compare to to early dates ?

  10. Hi Niru, the difficulty doesn’t change. CPA use several different exams (to stop students sharing questions/answers) and the scores from these are evaluated so you receive a scaled score. Although those students sitting a later exam have ‘more time to study’ in reality this normally means the student starts studying later. As CPA give you the PDFs now as soon as you enrol the semester is closer 16 weeks long, so there is no real difference.
    Regards, Courtney

  11. Hi Courtney, I’m about to sit my first exam -EG and am wondering if FR would be good to do in the first semester 2019. The reason for this is that I would have an extra month to study over Christmas and from what I hear FR needs the extra time and effort?

    Cheers,
    Andy

  12. Hi Andy – yes, FR certainly needs much more time than most of the CPA subjects. CPA (and we) recommend 165 hours because of the depth of the content and the repetition/practice required to get up to speed. Semester 1 is usually 11 weeks long as well (compared to semester 2 which is only 10 weeks) so that is an additional benefit. As such, I would recommend it for you. Regards, Courtney

  13. Hi Courtney, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here but I’m curious about which elective to pick. I would like to eventually start a public practice and am wondering if FRM would be better than AAA in terms of useful knowledge. I need to complete AT.

    I like to content of FRM and I think it would be great information to have when advising clients. I don’t technically need to do AAA and I’m not sure if I’d be auditing any client etc but at the same time I’m wondering if the information would be useful to have and might be handy? Or is it just a bunch or rules and laws that won’t help much in terms of increasing my knowledge.

    Any idea if it is possible to complete an extra 7th subject in case I want to do both? Would the result affect my CPA completion?

    Kind Regards,
    Andy

  14. Hi Andy – my thoughts on this are linked to what you enjoy and what you plan to offer in your practice. A more traditional approach to practice will focus on compliance – Tax and Audit related activities. However, FRM – especially helping small business that can’t afford to have full time treasury experts, is a really important ‘value offering’ to customers that goes beyond compliance. Helping people effectively manage FX risk and structure debt/equity etc properly is very valuable.

    My recommendation – do FRM as your elective, and then do AAA as your ‘CPD” in the future. (You get 120 hours of CPD for doing a CPA subject – I did this with Advanced Tax several years after I completed the program, just to keep my knowledge up to date).

    I hope this helps. Courtney

  15. hi courteney 🙂 i’ve completed SMA, FR and hoping to pass my ethics exam this semester. for next semester i have to do audit or introductory tax… which do you suggest i do first? thanks
    vatt

  16. Hi – I would do Audit. Tax is still a very uncertain subject based on the new content released this semester. I would wait until that has settled down before attempting it. Regards, Courtney

  17. Hi Courtney,

    Are you able to recommend an elective to me which will go well with Global Strategy Leadership in 2019 Semester 1?

    Currently I’ve finished all compulsory subjects expect for GSL and would like to study 2 subjects in the next semester.

    I’ve done auditing subject while I was in uni so I’m pretty flexible to choose any elective subject.

    Thanks

  18. Hi – I would recommend CBI. It is most closely linked to concepts of improving business performance, and being across more areas than just pure accounting. So, this makes it similar to GSL which is about guiding an organisation to be successful. It is also manageable in terms of length and difficulty.
    Regards, Courtney

  19. Hi Courtney, thanks for your precious input, what do you recommend for electives if i am working in FP&A , i am think about financial planning fundamentals and investment strategies as they are the most relevant
    Thank you

  20. Definitely the financial planning subjects, as these link with your career. Regards, Courtney

  21. So CPA have moved the goal post again. I was previously required to complete “Advanced Tax” but now I am required to complete “Australian Taxation”, which is not the advanced version. However I want to do the Australian Tax-Advanced subject as I want to register with the TPB. Would you suggest doing both the tax subjects at the same time or would that be tax overload?

  22. Hi Andy – doing both at the same time would be quite a stretch. The new edition was extremely long, difficult, and in some places was not written very clearly or concisely. So, I would suggest you would struggle doing both. (I just saw the pass rate as well – which wasn’t encouraging, only about 54%). Regards, Courtney

  23. Hi Courtney
    I have completed EG, SMA and last semester Advanced Taxation which I did relatively well in (credit) but found extremely draining and stressful in the final few weeks. I was planning on doing FR next, however this article has me questioning whether I want to take on another difficult one straight away. I am planning on doing superannuation and retirement planning or CBI as my other elective. How does FR compare to the new AT?

  24. The new AT seems to be very hard and tough and can be confusing. We recommend doing the core subjects first but if you need s break I would choose CBI over tax.

  25. Hi Courtney,
    Due to my workload is heavier in second half of the year, here’s my sequence and choices of subjects:
    1. E&G
    2. SMA
    3. FR
    4. CBI (Elective)
    5. GSL
    6. FPF (Elective)
    Could you please advise if the sequencing is appropriate? I am a Commercial Analyst and I am taking E&G Sem 1 2019.

  26. Hi Cecelliako, It’s great to see you have planned this out already. I think E&G and SMA and then FR is the best way to approach the CPA subjects, as they get progessively harder / more time consuming. This means you get the main core subjects completed before your electives. CBI is useful to your role and links closely with GSL, so this order also works well. FPF is less closely linked to the other subjects, but if you enjoy this area and want to learn more, then this is a great way to finish the program. Good luck in Semester 1 (I hope you have signed up to our free E&G course).
    Regards, Courtney

  27. Hi Courtney

    I am planning on starting CPA in sem2 2019, I am expecting to do my exams in the below order.

    1) EG and SMA
    2)AAA and FR
    3)CBI and GSL

    I am flexible with work this year as I am working as an expat in PNG hence I thought to do 2 subjects per semester.
    I wanted to first do Australian Taxation as my elective but was concerned on the load I need to do for that and changed to do CBI. But I need the knowledge in AT for future.
    My questions are, are the subject combinations advice-able and can I still do AT after i finish my CPA as an addition later on?

    Thank you
    Regards
    Dilusha

  28. Hi Dilusha,
    This is a well matched plan. My only advice is – see how well you do with E&G and SMA together. If you do well, go for AAA and FR together. But, most people find FR takes 165 hours (twice as long as other subjects) so you might not have time to do both. I would avoid the Australian Taxation subject for a few semesters, because there have been lots of issues with the Tax subjects with CPA in the last 12 months. I would do tax after you finish your CPA as a CPD (professional development).
    Regards, Courtney

  29. Hi Courtney

    I am going through a job change at the moment (redundancy), and I am degree qualified accountant with over 10+ years experience, no professional qualifications. I am completing my first CPA paper (E&G) shortly, the extra support from Knowledgequity has been great.

    I have been thinking of taking some time out of paid work to complete 3-4 papers over the next 6 months (semester 2- 2019) – is this doable? Potentially taking, FR, SMA & CBI in one semester.

    I have my experience signed off, but would like to fast track the papers if I can.

    Thanks
    Tanya

  30. Hi Tanya – yes, this can be done. If you are not working and you are very disciplined it is a great way to get ahead. If you enrol when CPA opens enrolments (approx 11 June 2019) then you can start studying immediately, which gives you about 17 weeks for the semester. By enroling in 3, and then tracking progress, if you need to defer one of them because you have fallen behind this usually costs only $330.
    Regards, Courtney

  31. I’ve just applied today to begin my CPA next semester. My application was accepted and now I’m nervous!
    I finished my degree 13 years ago, then took time off for kids etc and been back in the workforce for 4 years.
    I am only working 3 days per week so hoping I can fit the study in the other day.
    Would I be best off starting with Ethics and Governance? I’m looking for the most “gentle” introduction back into study!!

  32. Hi – Exciting times. It can be daunting after such a break. My guess is if you can juggle kids and working then you will be organised enough to get through your CPA as well. I would definitely do Ethics & Governance first. You can start studying when you enrol (around 11 June) which is 6 weeks before semester officially begins. This gives you 16 weeks to get ready for the exam. If you read and study consistently you will keep on track, and this is a very manageable subject in that way.
    Regards,
    Courtney

  33. Hi Courtney,
    I m gonna start my CPA studies by Sem2 2019.
    I wonder if I can do 2 subjects together. I m planning for EG and SMA for this sem. I have completed my foundation courses Business finance and FAR in April and May Respectively. These subjects took me a month to clear each. Do u think I can try the same in CPA subjects as well. At least 2 sub for a sem. Seeking input as a new bee.

  34. Hi – Yes, you can do two at once if you are organised. Enrolments open around 11 June, so you can start reading through the PDF as soon as you enrol. This means you have about 16 weeks until your exams. If you find the workload too much you can always defer one subject later in the semester (it costs $330 with CPA). Doing 2 is a good way to get through the program quickly, as long as it doesn’t impact too much on family/work. Good luck with Semester 2!! Regards, Courtney

  35. Hi Courtney,
    I am about to start the CPA program studies in the second semester. I am working full time in a public practice firm. I have a strong academic background with recognized experience and was wondering if I would be able to complete the program in 2 semesters? That way I will have to take 3 subjects per semester. I have taken audit and tax subjects undergrad, so not necessary to take them again for the CPA program. Is this doable? And how do I split the subjects?
    Kind regards,
    Ruan

    • Hi Ruan, Sorry I missed replying to this earlier.

      It can certainly be done – several people in our team have done the CPA program this way, and we have had a few students in the last few years also achieve this. If you are disciplined, have strong undergraduate foundations (i.e. remember your main accounting standards, how to do Costing, how to do NPV, etc) and work hard you will get through.

      The best way to do it is to get through the core first. EG, SMA and FR. Note that FR is usually seen as being twice as hard as the other two and requires around 165 hours for most people to get through. What you can do is enrol now, and start studying in June. Then – in early September do a review and if you are on track – go for all 3 exams. If you have slipped behind, you can defer one subject (only $330 before the cut-off date, or $450 up until exams start). This way you can get through the program faster, but have a backup plan as well.

      Good luck!!
      Regards, Courtney

  36. Hi Courtney,

    I would be enrolling to Ses 2 19’.
    I would like to finish up my last two paper (GSM) and one elective (CBI).
    Is this two combination appropriate to take together?

    Thanks.
    Alex Kuan

    • Hi Alex,

      GSL and CBI both go well together. They are not compliance based (like EG / AAA / FR) and focus on understanding a business more broadly and how to add value. There is not a large amount of overlap (although there is a focus on stakeholder management and analysis in both subjects).

      Regards, Courtney

  37. Hi Courtney,

    I would be enrolling Sem2 19′ and I would like to finish EG and CBI this sem. Would this combination good for me as I am working full time?
    Thank you in advance.

    Regards,
    Beth

    • Hi Beth,

      Doing 2 subjects and working full time is very risky but it can be done. It also means you will have very little ‘outside life’ because each subject will take over 100 hours each of study. You would need to start as soon as you enrol in June rather than waiting for July 22 when the semester formally begins.

      Because you can defer a subject for only $330 during semester, it can be worthwhile to enrol in both, study hard, review your progress in early September, and then decide to continue with both or to just focus on one. This means you can get through the program faster.

      Regards, Courtney

  38. Hi Courtney,
    I got a Distinction in FR (Sem1, 2019). I have now completed 2 papers – EG & FR. Planning on doing two papers in Sem 2 2019 but not sure which paper goes best with SMA. Can you help?

    Secondly, I am not yet able to make up my mind with which electives I should be taking? I am not working in a public practice and do not intend to be a Tax accountant or Auditor so that eliminates AAA & AT. This leaves me with FRM, CBI and Investment Strategies. I like the content of FRM but I am confused between CBI and IS.

    Regards,
    Kevin Bedi

    • Hi Kevin, I think I was also able to reply to you on this via email earlier. I would recommend CBI as it ties in closely with SMA. Both subjects focus on helping / advising business to improve performance. CBI is more broad than SMA and looks at big data, stakeholder management, HR management and communications.
      Regards, Courtney

  39. Hi Courtney, looking at taking FRM and CBI this semester but a little worried as CBI has a new study guide, Is it changing much? Also was wondering if the CPA exams will be harder now that your resources are available to all students?
    Thanks
    Nicole

    • Hi – This is what Chris who has just reviewed the new study guide has to say:
      New Module 1 is quite similar to old. Module 2 is part of the old module 5. Data security and innovation and risk. But there is also new stuff – blockchain and AI. Old Module 3 is gone. It was everyone’s favourite – Business Crime. Bad luck. New Module 3 is lots of old Module 5. Innovation, entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, microfinance. Module 4 is also no longer. That removes talking about how to make an IFRS (I know you gonna miss that), the GFC, Islamic Finance, integrated reporting and non-financial reporting. Module 4 is a mix of HR from module 2 and Module 6 with topics like knowledge sharing. Module 5 is the old Module 2 and module 6 is some things from Ethics and Governance, and similar info from the old Module 6 on social media and comms, and module 5 on reputation management. So that should all be straight forward.

      The exams won’t be harder – they should stay exactly the same. CPA have partnered with us to help improve student performance by giving more resources to help understand the materials and a more structured study path to help you keep on track.

      I hope this helps. Courtney

  40. Hi Courtney!

    I have completed EG and SMA and was thinking of enrolling in CBI in S2 2019. As per CPA I need to complete AT, FR and GSL for my core subjects. Would you recommend for me to take CBI as an elective?

    Regards,
    Ronil.

    • Hi Ronil,
      CBI is a good elective, and covers similar concepts to SMA. but I would also suggest you consider finishing Financial Reporting as a core subject before doing an elective. Sometimes people do not do FR in semester 2 because it is a shorter semester, and don’t want the pressure. But, otherwise it is worth doing.
      Regards, Courtney

  41. Hi Courtney,
    I’ve completed EG and FR, I haven’t done previous tax studies so I’m required to do one of the tax subjects. I’ve just enrolled in AT in order to get it out of the way and also am keen to learn about tax. However reading your other comments, you suggest leaving tax for the minute. Would you advise me the same?

    Cheers,
    Andy

  42. HI Countney,

    I’ve completed FR and EG finally but I had failed 2 times and also SMA I failed 2 times…and I re-enroll SMA again for this semester, can you please advise me what course should I enroll in order to pass SMA for this semester ?

    Thank you.
    Cheers,
    Jenny

  43. Hi Courtney

    I have taken up GSL and AAA this semester. These are my 5th and 6th subjects.
    I have already started my studies, both the exam dates are 10days apart.

    Do u think i will have enough time for the AAA study as its the first one? I was also thinking of enrolling to the Live webinars for AAA for extra help.

    Thanks
    Tania

    • Hi Tania,
      Yes, you will have plenty of time to get through both AAA and GSL if you are organised. Semester only starts in 4 days, and then you have 10 weeks of semester. So, the key here is to start reading, studying, summarising as quickly as possible. You need to aim to be a few weeks ahead by week 7 (so that if something goes wrong – if you get sick, or work gets busy – you don’t fall behind).
      With the live webinars – the first thing to do is see if you can be disciplined watching the recordings. We will be releasing them early, and the content will be similar. After doing this – you may find that this is enough, but you may decide that having the live webinars will help keep you on track. So, maybe wait until the end of July to decide.
      Remember – if you fall behind, you can always defer one subject (with CPA for $330), so you don’t need to be stressed if the pressure starts building.
      Regards, Courtney

  44. Hi Courtney,

    You have replied me before on the subject that i will be enrolled which is GSL and CBI.
    You have mentioned that it is fine taking together.
    As I am working and taking this two paper at the same time, will it be too heavy for me? Further, new syllabus are being introduced for CBI, will it affect me taking this two paper at the same time?

    Thanks.
    Alex Kuan

    • Working and doing two papers is tricky and risky. We find that a lot of students either have to sacrifice a lot of their ‘life’ to just do work and study, or they do not allocate enough time. If you are disciplined and organised then this can be done. But, make sure you don’t fall behind. CBI and GSL usually need about 12 hours each per week, so start as soon as possible.
      Regards, Courtney

  45. Hi Courney, if I passed FR this semester, I will have E&G, SMA, AT,AAA and GSL to do. I plan to finish them in 3 semesters: E&G paired with SMA for sem1-2020, AT for sem2-2020 and AAA with GSL for sem1-2021. Do you think it is a good idea? which one of those should be done separately? I heard Tax is very hard but I will do AT and not ATA so is it ok to combine it with other subject? just so I will have more choices of combinations. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Thi Ha,

      This is possible, but normally a good idea, because if you are also working or have family things get very tiresome. E&G and SMA do go well together, AT can go with AAA (they are not really aligned, but they are both focused on compliance). Finishing with GSL last is a good choice. The combinations go well, but just determine if you want to finish in 4 semesters or 5 semesters instead of 3.
      Regards, Courtney

  46. Hi Courtney,
    I am thinking of doing GSL, CBI and singapore taxation this semester. have yet to enroll. not sure if its suitable or how the passing rate is like.

    Thank you,
    Nov

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