Bookkeepers maintain their employers' financial records by using accounting software and other tools. As they play such a significant role in determining their companies' success, employers want only the most highly trained and ethical bookkeepers. As a result, employers prefer bookkeepers with industry certification.

The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) currently award certification to bookkeepers who pass an exam and meet other requirements. Employers view both certifications equally, and this article focuses on the latter certification.

Certification can benefit bookkeepers in many ways. Their resumes should receive greater attention from employers, and the salary for certified public bookkeepers typically exceeds that of their non-certified counterparts. Finally, as these professionals take continuing education courses to maintain their certification, they become lifelong learners who gain more valuable skills throughout their careers. This article covers how to become a certified public bookkeeper (CPB) and provides useful resources on preparing for the NACPB exam.

Why Become a Certified Public Bookkeeper?

A professional certification shows employers that you possess knowledge, skills, and dedication to your field. Bookkeepers with little professional experience or education can earn the CPB license, making it the perfect certification for entry-level professionals. This certification alone will not automatically qualify you for the highest-paying careers, but it does look good on a resume. The five benefits below describe just a few ways that a CPB can improve your career prospects.

  • Set Yourself Apart: Human resources employees often review more than 100 resumes a day. To simplify their work, they scan for distinguishing features, such as advanced degrees, experience, or certifications. With a certified public bookkeeper title, hiring managers may pay closer attention to your resume and cover letter.
  • Higher Starting Salary: During a salary negotiation, you can use certification to your advantage. Along with experience and education, certification can play a significant role in companies' initial salary offers. If you feel that you deserve more than what a company offers, mention your CBP status while presenting a counteroffer.
  • Essential Knowledge and Skills: Earning a CPB license requires you to possess knowledge and skills vital to the bookkeeping profession. As a result, employers know that you do not need extensive on-the-job training.
  • Promotion: Becoming a certified public bookkeeper indicates to employers that you can handle more responsibility than employees with less education or training. If you excel at these advanced tasks, you may enjoy promotion faster than other employees who started work at the same time. Rapid promotion increases your salary potential, as well.
  • Ethical Behavior: Bookkeepers who earn certification through the NACPB must abide by strict ethical standards. Employers require and respect these standards to ensure that bookkeepers do not perform illegal activities. CPB-certified professionals can quickly establish trust with their employers, making them excellent applicants.

Understanding the Certified Public Bookkeeper Exam

Before registering for the certified public bookkeeper exam, you should fully understand what a CPB is and what the exam entails. By reading this section, you can gain a complete understanding of what this valuable certification requires.

Frequently Asked Questions for the Certified Public Bookkeeper Exam

  • What Does a Public Bookkeeper Do? Public bookkeepers work for companies, nonprofits, and governments to process deposits and ensure that employees and contractors receive payment on time. They also audit their companies' financial records to find and remedy mistakes. As with many professions, bookkeepers can specialize in one industry or skill set. For example, education bookkeepers keep track of accounts that pay for sports and student activities, while project management bookkeepers oversee teams to ensure that those teams stay within their budgets.
  • When is the CPB Administered? The NACPB does not use testing windows common to many other standardized tests. You can start the exam at any time before 5:00 PM EST.
  • Where Can I Take the CPB Exam? The NACPB does not require you to take the exam at a testing center. You can take the exam anywhere that has an internet-connected computer.
  • How is the CPB Exam Taken? The CPB exam takes place 100% online and uses multiple-choice questions. This open-book exam allows you to use notes, books, or other study materials you need.
  • How Often Can I Take the CPB Exam? You can retake sections as many times as you need. Due to testing regulations, you may need to wait 24-72 hours between registering for and attempting a retake.

Fulfilling the CPB Exam Requirements

Certified public bookkeepers must meet NACPB education and experience requirements before taking the certified public bookkeeper exam. These requirements take approximately one year to fulfill, and you can apply your experience and education to help you succeed on test day. Even so, you should still seek out test prep resources to ensure that they pass the exam on the first try.

Educational Requirements

You have two options to fulfill the NACPB's educational requirements. Professionals with an associate or bachelor's degree in accounting qualify automatically. NACPB also offers an Education Alternative which involves taking four courses, one for each part of the certification exam. Each course includes a self-paced curriculum, and NACPB members receive an approximately 20% tuition discount. Bookkeepers who bundle courses also benefit from significant tuition savings. Once bookkeepers pass all four courses, they qualify to sit for the certified public bookkeeper exam.

 

CPB Experience Requirements

The NACPB requires that each bookkeeper applying for certification possesses at least one year of experience as a bookkeeper or accountant. Bookkeepers must complete this requirement before attempting the certification test.

 

Exam Composition and Timing

The NACPB allows you to take the certified public bookkeeper exam from any internet-connected computer. You take only one part at a time and must complete the exam in sequential order. Each part uses a two-hour time limit. Scheduling an exam takes only a few minutes, but give yourself plenty of time to prepare before your exam day.

Part 1: Accounting Fundamentals

Multiple-Choice Questions and Simulations: 50

Accounting fundamentals covers many foundational topics, such as accounting for purchases, analyzing business transactions, and how accounting acts as the language of business. The following parts cover these and other bookkeeping topics in greater depth.

Part 2: Accounting Principles

Multiple-Choice Questions and Simulations: 50

This test judges your competency with accounting for partnerships, long-term bonds, and the statement of cash flows, among other pieces of vital bookkeeping knowledge.

Part 3: Payroll Fundamentals

Multiple-Choice Questions and Simulations: 50

The payroll fundamentals test emphasizes gross pay computation, payroll practices and systems fundamentals, and employer payroll and labor planning. Many of the test questions involve simulations for students to apply their knowledge in real-world situations.

Part 4: QuickBooks Fundamentals

Multiple-Choice Questions and Simulations: 50

QuickBooks plays a vital role in every company's accounting department. The two tests focus on different QuickBooks programs. As a result, you should determine which test best matches your career goals before registering.

 

Registration and Fees for the CPB Exam

After you fulfill other requirements to become a CPB, you can register for the certified public bookkeeper exam. The registration process takes only a few minutes and provides tremendous flexibility regarding when and where you can take the exam.

Registering for the CPB Exam

  • How to Register - Use your NACPB account to submit documentation, pay for the exam, and maintain your certification by providing proof of continuing education. The NACPB gives detailed and up-to-date instructions on all registration requirements.
  • What is Needed for Registration? - When applying for registration, you must show that you possess the necessary education and experience. Fulfill this requirement by submitting official college transcripts and work documents.
  • When to Register - Once you pay for the exam, you have one year to complete all four sections. Use your purchase voucher to register for exam dates and times.

Paying for the CPB Exam

Each section of the certified public bookkeeper exam currently costs $100 for NACPB members and $150 for non-members. Retaking a section costs $50 for members and $75 for non-members. You pay through the NACPB website.

Scoring the Certified Public Bookkeeper Exam

Make sure to research how the NACPB scores the certified public bookkeeper exam. This section covers some typical questions test takers have about the scoring process.

  • What Score Do You Need to Pass the CPB Exam? Although the exam includes four distinct portions, the NACPB requires that you earn a 75% or higher on each to pass the exam. Test takers who fail one or more parts can attempt those sections again at a future date.
  • How Does CPB Exam Scoring Work? To attain a 75% on a section, you need to answer 37 out of 50 questions correctly. NACPB does not award additional benefits (e.g., a certificate of accomplishment) to test takers who score above 75%.
  • Who Scores the CPB Exam? As the test's four sections use multiple choice questions, a computer scores the exam. This process takes very little time and ensures an accurate score report.
  • When Are CPB Exam Scores Released? Due to computerized scoring, you receive your results immediately after the exam finishes. This benefit allows you to either sign up for the next section or retake any parts as soon as possible.

After the Exam: Maintaining Your CPB Certification

Certification does not end once you receive CPB certification. Certified public bookkeepers must complete at least 24 hours of continuing education courses each year and follow the NACPB's code of professional conduct.

 

Preparing for the CPB Exam

No matter how great their expertise, some test takers struggle with standardized tests. Even if this description does not apply to you, you can still earn a higher score on the certified public bookkeeper exam by following the five tips below.

Top 10 Tips for Exam Preparation

  1. Design and Follow a Study Schedule: You'll want to avoid cramming for the certified public bookkeeper exam. At least eight weeks before the exam, set aside some time each day to prepare.
  2. Take Two Practice Exams: Take a timed practice exam before you start your study schedule and one a few days before the real exam. This way, you can judge your growth and determine your likely score.
  3. Talk to People Who Passed the Exam: Find one or more internet forums where people discuss their exam experiences. By joining, you can ask successful test takers questions. These websites might also offer additional exam preparation resources, as well.
  4. Join a Professional Organization: Certified public bookkeeper organizations provide resources to members preparing for their certification exams. Typical membership benefits include discounts on test prep materials, tutoring services, and job boards.
  5. Eat Breakfast on the Morning of the Exam: Although you may think that eating on a stressful day may cause an upset stomach, your body needs energy so that you can do your best. On exam day, eat foods low in refined sugar and fat.

 

CPB Practice Exams and Study Resources

You should consult online CPB practice exams and study resources, many of which do not charge a fee. These resources can also provide you with additional tools to launch your career as a certified public bookkeeper.

  • National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers: NACPB offers visitors free practice CPB exams. NACPB members receive additional resources like exam training videos and continuing education courses in payroll, business management, and accounting, among others.
  • American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers: Aspiring certified public bookkeepers should consult the AIPB website, even if they plan to take the NACPB exam. The organization provides many valuable professional development resources and study guides that cover AIPB and NACPB exam topics.
  • edX: edX offers a free, introductory bookkeeping course. Over six weeks, students can master many bookkeeping subjects that the NACPB exam covers. The course does not charge a fee, and students can work at their own pace.
  • Bookkeeping Essentials: This site offers much more than free study materials. Prospective certified public bookkeepers can network with other, more experienced professionals and learn the latest bookkeeping news on its blog.

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