The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section of the CPA Exam reviews a CPA’s role within the business environment, and covers topics relating to a variety of business areas, from operations to corporate governance. It’s important for CPAs to understand the business environment, whether they work internally within a company or externally for a public accounting firm.
To help you get more comfortable with the BEC CPA Exam, we’ve put together everything you need to know about BEC, including the exam structure, content, scoring, and best practices.
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Structure of BEC
BEC CPA Exam Format
The BEC section format is broken down into the following:
- Section 1: Welcome and Launch Code
- Section 2: Confidentiality and Section Information
- Testlet 1: 31 Multiple Choice Questions
- Testlet 2: 31 Multiple-Choice Questions
- Testlet 3: 2 Task-Based Simulations
- Testlet 4: 2 Task-Based Simulations
- Testlet 5: 3 Written Communication Tasks
BEC CPA Exam Questions
BEC has two types of questions within the 5 testlets:
Multiple Choice Questions – These are one sentence to paragraph length questions with four potential answers. Of the total 62 MCQs on the BEC Exam, 12 are pretest questions and do not count toward a candidate’s score.
Task-Based Simulations – These are practical questions requiring candidates to type in answers, and may include a research question, journal entries, ratio calculations, or cost accounting questions. Of the 4 task-based simulations, one is a pretest question and does not count toward a candidate’s score.
Written Communication Tasks – Clearly and effectively communicating information is essential in the business environment, and these are questions that test a candidate’s ability to communicate through writing. Unlike task-based simulations, written communication tasks require candidates to give a written response to a question; this might be in the form of a memo directed at a specific audience. Of the three written communication tasks, one is pretest.
Each section of the pre-exam takes 5 minutes for a total of 10 minutes before the exam starts.
The actual BEC CPA Exam is four hours long with one 15-minute break built in between the first and second task-based simulation testlets. There are also two optional breaks, one after the first multiple choice testlet and one after the second multiple choice testlet, although the timer does run during these breaks.
When taking the exam, candidates should keep track of the time in relation to how many questions they have completed and how many they must finish. A good way to discover how to best allocate your time is to take a few practice exams and make mental notes on when you need to move on from certain sections of the exam in order to finish each part in time.
Candidates do not need to take the entire four hours on the exam and are not penalized for finishing early.
Like all four parts of the CPA exam, the content of the BEC Exam is unique and covers the business and industry side of the profession.
A High-Level Overview
CPA exam BEC questions are based on four content areas, listed below with related exam content percentages:
- Area I: Corporate Governance 17-27%
- Area II: Economic Concepts and Analysis 17-27%
- Area III: Financial Management 11-21%
- Area IV: Information Technology 15-25%
- Area V: Operations Management 15-25%
Within these content areas, different skill levels are tested, which are listed below with their exam content allocation percentage:
- Level I: Remembering and Understanding 15-25%
- Level II: Application 50-60%
- Level III: Analysis 20-30%
Candidates should have a strong understanding of concepts and feel comfortable applying them to a variety of business situations. Candidates will likely face more application and analysis within the task-based simulation and written communication portions of the BEC Exam.
To help you better understand what specific topics will be covered within each area of BEC, we’ll go over the specific content groups within each area.
Area I: Corporate Governance
- Internal control frameworks
- Purpose and objectives
- Components and principles
- Enterprise risk management (ERM) frameworks
- Purpose and objectives
- Components and objectives
- Other regulatory frameworks and provisions
Area II: Economic Concepts and Analysis
- Economic business cycles
- Market influences on business
- Financial risk management
- Market, interest rate, currency, liquidity, credit, price and other risks
- Means for mitigating/controlling financial risks
Area III – Financial Management
- Capital structure
- Working capital
- Fundamentals and key metrics of working capital managements
- Strategies for managing working capital
- Financial valuation methods and decision models
Area IV – Information Technology
- Information technology (IT) governance
- Vision and strategy
- Risk assessments
- Role of information technology is business
- Information security/availability
- Protection of information
- Logical and physical access controls
- System disruption/resolution
- Processing integrity (input/processing/output controls)
- Systems development of maintenance
Area V – Operations Management
- Financial and non-financial measures of performance management
- Cost accounting
- Cost measurement concepts, methods and techniques
- Variance analysis
- Process management
- Approaches, techniques, measures, benefits to process-drive management driven businesses
- Management philosophies and techniques for performance improvement
- Planning techniques
- Budgeting and analysis
- Forecasting and projection
CPA Exam Scoring
In the BEC CPA Exam, 50% of a candidate’s score is derived from multiple choice questions, 35% is derived from task-based simulations, and 15% is derived from written communication tasks. An exam score of 75 or more is required to pass.
Candidates should keep in mind that there are no penalties for wrong answers. A correct answer gains points, no answer gets zero points and a wrong answer gets zero points. Therefore, it is always good to guess at an answer as opposed to leaving it blank; if you get it right, you’ll receive points toward a passing score.
Multiple Choice Question Scoring
Each candidate is presented with a multiple choice testlet of ‘medium’ difficulty first. This difficulty level refers to the difficulty, on average, of the questions in the testlet. Some may be harder, some may be easier, but on average, they are of a medium difficulty.
If a candidate does well on the first testlet, the second testlet will, on average, be more difficult. If a candidate does average or not well on the first testlet, the second testlet will remain at ‘medium’ difficulty.
Difficult questions are worth more than medium questions. A candidate who does well on the first testlet but struggles with the second testlet with more difficult questions is not penalized since correct answers on this testlet are worth more. Keep in mind, it is still possible to pass the exam if a candidate gets two medium testlets. If a candidate performs well on the second medium testlet, she or he can still pass the exam provided a good score is achieved on the task-based simulations.
Task-Based Simulation Question Scoring
BEC CPA Exam simulations are pre-set and do not change in relation to a candidate’s performance. However, candidates can receive partial credit on non-research based task-based simulations by answering part of the question correctly.
Written Communication Question Scoring
BEC CPA Exam written communication tasks are also pre-set and do not change in relation to a candidate’s performance. Most written communication answers are scored by a computer grading program calibrated using human scorers. However, if a candidate’s score is on the edge of passing, her written communication tasks will be re-graded by human graders.
BEC CPA Exam Tips
Many of the concepts on BEC you’ll see on other exams, and vice versa, but it does dig much more into the business side of the profession. If you’re looking to take BEC soon, check out these 6 tips to help you pass with flying colors.
Tip 1: Brush Up on Your Writing Skills – Since 15% of your score is directly related to the written communication tasks, you need to be able to write well. This means correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as the ability to set a business tone and articulate a point. Spend some time on written communication tasks and have friends, family or co-workers look through them and give you feedback.
Tip 2: Allocate Your Time Based on Your Writing Skills – Some people can jot down essays as quickly as they can think, and some people like to take a little more time. Consider what kind of writer you are and take some time to see how long it will take you to answer three written communication tasks. Since they are at the end of the exam, you want to leave plenty of time to finish them.
Tip 3: Take Practice Exams – If you want to get better at written communication and task-based simulations, you need to take practice exams. They’ll help you prepare yourself for business-related questions and apply business concepts to certain situations. They’ll also help you get more comfortable with finishing task-based simulations and going right into written communication tasks.
Tip 4: Make Sure Your Study Materials are Up to Date – BEC is updated to reflect new standards within the industry, including new regulations created at the federal level. You should have learning materials that update with changes to the CPA Exam brought about by regulation or standard updates. Surgent’s study materials are updated to reflect any updates to the CPA Exam, saving you the hassle of searching for up to date study materials.
Tip 5: Use BEC As a Bookend Exam – BEC covers material from all other exams. To make the most of this, you can take BEC at the beginning and know some material going into the other exams, or you can take it last and study less since you’ll have a grasp of a variety of BEC concepts presented on other exams.
Tip 6: Find Study Materials that Help You Study More Efficiently – Candidates are often told there is a certain hour threshold that must be met before an exam can be passed. However, not everyone learns the same, and candidates often waste time trying to attain a certain number of study hours even if they’re completely ready to sit for the exam. To study more efficiently, look for a CPA Review course that is adaptive and can help you efficiently learn difficult topics. Surgent’s learning materials feature A.S.A.P. Technology, which helps students pass in half the time, and ReadySCORE which helps candidates objectively know when they’re ready to sit for the CPA Exam.