ACCA Vs CPA | 9 Key Differences to know : Which is Best

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ACCA Vs CPA | 9 Key Differences to know : Which is Best

ACCA vs CPA – Which one to choose?

There are endless job opportunities in finance because of the various domains in the field. No company can start without or continue its operations without having a finance team in the organization. With the great demand for qualified professionals, multiple organizations offer courses to churn out quality finance professionals. 

Two top-notch courses are CPA- Certified Public Accountant and ACCA- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. 

What is CPA?

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants administers the CPA course. A Certified Public Accountant offers financial statement audits to study the company’s financial health and keep the investors informed about the same. 

CPAs are also qualified to give individuals and families financial and tax planning advice. It is often said that ‘All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs’. There is a difference between an accountant and a CPA in the sense that an accountant performs a narrow set of functions, and a CPA is qualified to perform a broader set of activities. 

What is ACCA?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants is a globally recognized institution that offers the Chartered Certified Accountant certification. ACCA is a UK-based program that can be practiced in various other countries. The course covers 13 subjects, providing comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of the field of Accounting and Finance.


To identify the best possible course for you, let’s have a quick comparison between ACCA vs CPA syllabus :

CPA Syllabus 

To become a CPA, you will have to pass a Uniform Examination, This exam has four sections

  1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  2. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and 
  4. Regulation (REG). 

Each of these sections has 4-5 topics covered under them. A candidate will have to score a minimum of 75 on a 0-99 scale in each section to pass the examination. 

To become ACCA certified (ACCA), a candidate will have to pass 13 exams. These exams are divided into three stages.  

A. The Applied Knowledge Stage – Stage 1 comprises three exams, namely:-

  1. Financial Accounting (FA)
  2. Management Accounting (MA)
  3. Business and Technology (BT)

B. The Applied Skill Stage – Stage 2 consists of six exams, namely:- 

  1. Taxation (TX),
  2. Corporate and Business Law (LW)
  3. Performance Management (PM)
  4. Audit and Assurance (AA)
  5. Financial Management (FM)
  6. Financial Reporting (FR)

C. The Strategic Professional Stage – Stage 3 consists of two compulsory exams – 

  1. Strategic Business Leader (SBL)
  2. Strategic Business Reporting (SBR). 

Apart from that, the candidate has four options, out of which two need to be selected. The options are

  1. Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)
  2. Advanced Performance Management (APM)
  3. Advanced Taxation (ATX)
  4. Advanced Financial Management (AFM). 

Apart from these exams, a candidate must pass an Ethics and Professional Skills Stage and carry 3 years relevant years of work experience. Above mentioned are detailed syllabus on ACCA vs CPA

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Exam Pattern-ACCA vs CPA 

Before committing to any certification, take the time to learn about the exam pattern for both ACCA and CPA. We have outlined the exam pattern for ACCA vs CPA.

  • Every CPA examination consists of MCQs, Task-based questions, and written communication. Each of these questions has its weightage in every paper. 

  1. For stage 1, there will be 50 MCQs worth two marks each.
  2. For stage 2, the MCQs will carry 60% weightage, and it will be divided into two sections- 15 direct MCQs and Scenarios-based MCQs (3 scenarios with five questions each). And the other 40% will be long answer questions. 
  3. For the final stage, it would be a scenario-paper-based exam. Wherein section A would be a single case study for 50 marks, and section B would have 3 cases, of which two have to be attempted for 25 marks each. 

Preparation time for exam-ACCA vs CPA 

  • The recommended time to study to pass the CPA exam is 300-400 hours. This means approximately 100 hours per part. But these are just averages. Some parts may require 150 hours, while others may require only 90 hours. An average candidate can clear all the parts within 6-12 months. Once you pass the first CPA exam, you will have 18 months to pass the rest. 

  • The ACCA exam is more time-consuming than the CPA due to the sheer fact that it has more syllabus to be covered than the CPA. An average candidate takes about 2-3 years to complete the entire course, but one gets seven years to finish the course. The recommended prep time is 120-150 hours for every exam. 

Exam Dates- ACCA vs CPA 

  • CPA exams are held for most of the year, with the only non-testing month being March (this also has specific dates). Apart from that, if you fail an exam, you cannot sit for a re-attempt in the following month. 

  • The ACCA has four examination sessions. March (1 January – 31 March), June (1 April – 30 June), September (1 July – 30 September), and December (1 October – 31 December). You can give up to 8 exams in a year, but that is an infrequent and hectic situation. 

Certification-ACCA vs CPA 

  • For a CPA license, you will need an academic background in business and accounting with 150 credit points and a minimum of 2 years of professional work experience in the field of Accounting, Auditing, Taxation, or attesting. A licensed CPA should verify this.

  • To get certified by the ACCA, after successfully completing all the exams, you will have to pass the Ethics and Professional Skills stage and achieve three years’ worth of professional working experience in the field of finance/accounting. 

Eligibility- ACCA vs CPA 

  • The minimum qualification for taking the CPA exam for Indians is to have three years of an undergraduate degree with two years of post-graduation degree (150 credit hours). You will also have to be a member of either of the following- ICAI, ICWAI, CSI, Masters of Commerce, or MBAs. 

  • To be eligible to sit for the ACCA exams, you should have passed 10+2 in at least five subjects, two of which should have been English and Accounts (Mathematics). 

Monetary Investment-ACCA vs CPA 

  • For CPA, $250 has to be paid as registration fees. $1500 for 4 CPA papers (for those giving exams out of the US, for writing within the US, it’s $1000) and $225 as paper evaluation fees. 

  • ACCA charges a registration fee of £89 and an annual subscription fee of £122. If you are getting an exemption, the charges can be anywhere between £86-£114 depending on the stage. Additional invigilation and accommodation fees will be paid to the examination center directly. The applied skills exam fees can be between £123-£313 based on your registration time. 

  • To take the Ethics and Professional Model, you’ll have to pay £68, and for the essential exams, the charges can be between £54-£348, depending on which subjects you choose and the time of registration. The prices for these will change for the students who have exemptions. 

Exemptions– ACCA vs CPA 

  • CPA provides no exemptions to those candidates who have an ACCA, CFA, CIMA, CA, CA, etc. However, they do have exemptions for eight exams, some of which are CPA Australia, CPA Canada, CPA Hong Kong, CAI, etc. 

  • ACCA provides exemptions to their candidates. A commerce graduate gets exemptions in 4 papers, a CA IPCC cleared candidate gets exempted from 5 papers, a CA holder gets exempted from 9 papers and a CPA holder also gets up to 7-to 9 papers. 

Career Options- ACCA vs CPA 

  • After getting the CPA certification, you could work in various branches of finance and accounting as a public accountant, risk and compliance officer, financial analyst, personal financial advisor, etc. 

  • Being an ACCA-certified holder, you will be able to get jobs in the areas of finance or consulting. You could be a forensic accountant, treasurer, tax specialist, auditor, and more. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What is the testing period for CPA?

CPA exams are held throughout the year, except March (this also has specific dates). 

2. When can I take the ACCA exam?

The ACCA has four examination sessions. March (1 January – 31 March), June (1 April – 30 June), September (1 July – 30 September), and December (1 October – 31 December). You can give up to 8 exams in a year but that is not the most ideal situation. 

3. How much should I study for the CPA exam?

The recommended time to study to pass the CPA exam is 300-400 hours. This means approximately 100 hours per part. An average candidate can clear all the parts within 6-12 months.

4. What job roles do I get after a CPA?

After getting the CPA certification, you could work as a public accountant, risk and compliance officer, financial analyst, personal financial advisor, etc. 

The way ahead 

Getting a CPA or an ACCA is a big commitment in terms of the time, effort, and money spent on getting the degree and post the completion of the degree. The learning continues after attaining the degree because of the dynamic world of finance. 

Both the courses are highly in demand and are globally recognized. When it comes to choosing which one to pursue, it would entirely depend on the individual. The time you have to give to study, the amount of knowledge you have before, the work experience you have, financial constraints, etc. These are a few questions you could ask yourself before picking either course. But rest assured, whichever career path you decide to choose, we are sure that it will help you grow in the field of finance. 

If you are still confused, you can connect with the experts at NorthStar Academy to learn more.

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