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CPA Review Instructor Wants to Know Where BEC Got Its Start

Ah, CPA review instructors, got to love them. They teach you everything you need to know, invade your home, isolate you from your spouse and get those annoying mnemonics stuck in your brain.

This one reached out to us to get a bit of background on the CPA exam to share with her students, who I’m sure will appreciate a primer on what becomes many candidates’ favorite exam section.

Hello Going Concern – I have a question about the BEC (Business Environment & Concepts) portion of the CPA exam. I know this is a fairly new section – at least in its current structure. Didn’t it come into being with the advent of the computerized exam, on the 18-month pass window, in the mid-2000’s?

The reason I ask – I am an instructor for one of the CPA review course companies, and I will be teaching the BEC portion of the exam soon. I would just like to give students a little history & overview. I cannot really find anything on the AICPA’s website.

Any help or comments would be appreciated.


You are sort of correct that no one knew what a BEC was until 2004 when the computerized exam arrived on the scene. Prior to that, the four sections of the exam were Business Law, Audit, ARE and FARE. We all know that FARE has since evolved into FAR, likely dropping the extra E to better match with the other three CPA exam sections (fun fact: when I started in CPA review in 2007, the E was still in use by a large number of students). At that time, ARE covered accounting and reporting, tax, and government/non-profit accounting.

Some components from the Business Law (shortened as LAW pre-2004) became the BEC we know today but it is fairer to say LAW became REG, which is why up until this year, some areas of BEC and REG overlapped and covered the same material.

I like to call BEC the junk drawer of the CPA exam, as they’ve tend to stick whatever they can’t stick anywhere else in that section. It seems to have gotten better with CBT-e but it’s too early in the new exam’s form to say that for sure.

When comparing the paper-and-pencil exam to its current computerized form, it’s pretty clear that the breadth of topics covered has increased. BEC has allowed examiners to stick in technology, IT (unrelated to audits), economics, corporate governance and ERM, among other things.

Hope that helps!