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.

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


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.

Our advice on 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.

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 you are more interested in working inside a business and performing a broader range of tasks, you will focus more closely on managerial type subjects such as Contemporary Business Issues.

CPA subjects order and combination

Public Practice or Technical Accountant versus Consultant or Adviser



CPA Subjects consultant or business adviser


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:

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 and whirlpool discussion forums.



December 11, 2018

27 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:

    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.

  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!!


  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?


  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,

  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

  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.


  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.

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