Do you know what’s on the Enrolled Agent syllabus? After all, in order to become an enrolled agent (EA), you must pass the Enrolled Agent exam (officially known as the Special Enrollment Exam or SEE). Once you pass, you’ll enjoy benefits like certified tax expertise, a federal designation, increased income, and more job opportunities. Therefore, to help you get ready, I’ll explain the Enrolled Agent exam syllabus. I’ll also discuss the topics covered by each IRS SEE exam part.
If you’re a tax preparer who would like to represent your clients before the IRS, you can benefit from becoming an enrolled agent. You can also use the IRS EA designation to improve your marketability, differentiate yourself from other tax return preparers, and become more knowledgeable about tax laws.
The EA exam testing window is available from May 1-February 28 (29 in a leap year). Moreover, all questions are related to the prior calendar year.
The IRS updates the SEE exam during the months of March and April. Then, the IRS introduces a new version of the exam each May. Basically, the IRS bases the new version on the most recent tax law through December 31 of the previous year.
The EA exam requirements do not include an education or experience requirement. Rather, to take the SEE exam, you simply must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
First of all, the EA exam has 3 parts:
Furthermore, you can take the IRS exams in any order.
The IRS exam syllabus includes the topics covered on the Enrolled Agent test. The IRS syllabus also specifies how many questions the exam allots to each topic.
In the following chart, you’ll see the EA syllabus for 2022. To be more specific, this is the list of topics to study if you’re planning on taking the EA exams from May 1, 2022, to February 28, 2023. However, remember that the EA exam syllabus actually tests on the Internal Revenue Code, forms, and publications that were current through December 31, 2021.
SEE Part 1: Individuals
SEE Part 2: Businesses
SEE Part 3:Representation, Practices, and Procedures
|1. Preliminary Work with Taxpayer Data – 14 questions||1. Business Entities and Considerations – 30 questions||1. Practices and Procedures – 26 questions|
|2. Income and Assets – 17 questions||2. Business Tax Preparation – 37 questions||2. Representation before the IRS – 25 questions|
|3. Deductions and Credits – 17 questions||3. Specialized Returns and Taxpayers – 18 questions||3. Specific Areas of Representation – 20 questions|
|4. Taxation – 15 questions||4. Filing Process – 14 questions|
|5. Advising the Individual Taxpayers – 11 questions|
|6. Specialized Returns for Individuals – 11 questions|
To ensure that the IRS SEE Exam always covers appropriate topics, the Candidate Bulletin explains that Prometric periodically reviews the subjects tested. This review basically involves surveying the enrolled agent community and IRS subject matter experts. In addition, Prometric completed its most recent review in 2020.
Generally speaking, the major areas of SEE exam content are the same from year to year. For instance, the IRS Enrolled Agent exam will always cover broad areas like tax preparation, practices, and procedures. On the other hand, the number of questions in those broad domains can change. And of course, the exam changes when the U.S. tax code is altered.
Therefore, as of May 1, 2022, the Enrolled Agent exams have the following additions from the previous year.
I’ve listed the 2022 EA exam changes for you, but keep in mind that your EA course syllabus should already include these updates. Put another way, a good Enrolled Agent exam course is one that is updated every time the EA exam changes. For example, Gleim EA and Surgent EA both update their course content on a regular basis to reflect EA exam changes. (You can find more EA course details in a separate section below.)
Each part of the Enrolled Agent exam contains 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs). These 100 MCQs include 85 scored questions and 15 experimental questions. So between the three EA exam parts, you’ll have to answer 300 questions.
The IRS weights the 85 scored questions equally. Furthermore, the IRS does not score the 15 experimental questions. Rather, the IRS includes these questions in order to test their suitability for future exams. The experimental questions spread throughout the exam, and you will not be able to identify them as such. Therefore, you must answer all of the EA exam questions to the best of your ability.
All of the Enrolled Agent exam questions provide four options from which you must choose your answer. You must always choose the one answer option that is the best.
The Candidate Bulletin explains a scenario in which you would select the best answer to a SEE exam question. The example question asks about the Form 1040 filing deadline. In this instance, the answer to the question should be April 16 because the normal filing deadline fell on a holiday. If the answer April 16 isn’t available, but the option April 15 is, then April 15 is the single best answer. April 15 is generally the filing deadline, so you should select that answer option.
The IRS uses three different MCQ (multiple-choice question) formats for the Enrolled Agent exam questions.
This type of MCQ simply contains one sentence that asks a question.
Which of the following entities are required to file Form 709, United States Gift Tax Return?
This question type provides a sentence or two of information and ends with an incomplete sentence. Therefore, the answer completes the sentence.
Supplemental wages are compensation paid in addition to an employee’s regular wages. They do not include payments for:
This format makes a statement and then asks for the answer option that does not meet the criteria of the statement.
Here’s an example:
There are five tests that must be met for you to claim an exemption for a dependent. Which of the following is not a requirement?
The total testing time for each Enrolled Agent exam part is 3.5 hours. However, your total time at the Prometric testing center will be 4 hours, as your appointment includes 30 minutes for a pre-exam tutorial and a post-exam customer satisfaction survey. Moreover, you should arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time.
Plus, keep in mind that an on-screen timer shows the time you have remaining for the exam. The EA exam does not include any breaks, though. Nevertheless, you may leave the testing room to drink water or use the restroom, but the exam timer will not stop.
The EA exam dedicates Part 1 to individual taxation. As a result, this part covers income from various sources, deductions and credits, and specialized items such as estate and gift tax. Part 1 also touches upon an enrolled agent’s advisory role. Here is the breakdown of the topics in Part 1:
1.1 Preliminary work to prepare a tax return
2.2 Retirement income
2.3 Property, real and personal
2.4 Adjustments to income
3.1 Itemized deductions and QBI
5.1 Advising the individual taxpayer
6.1 Estate tax
6.2 Gift tax
6.3 International information reporting
Because EA exam Part 1 focuses on individual taxation, it is relatively straightforward. For this reason, most EA candidates start with this part. (Remember, you can take the Enrolled Agent exam parts in any order.)
However, the EA exam Part 1 pass rates have dropped in the last couple of years, going from 72% a few years to 66% in the 2020-2021 testing window. This pass rate decrease could indicate that many recent candidates didn’t prepare as well for this exam part as candidates of the past did, as Part 1 had a reputation for being easier.
While Part 1’s pass rates are the lowest Enrolled Agent exam pass rates, they are still very encouraging for EA candidates. After all, some other professional exams like the CPA Exam have much lower pass rates.
EA exam Part 2 covers business taxation. Additionally, Part 2 tests three domains:
Corporate taxation, in particular, is more complex than individual taxation. Consequently, among the parts of the EA exam, candidates usually consider Part 2 to be more difficult than Part 1.
1.1 Business entities
1.3 Corporations in general
1.4 Forming a corporation
1.5 S corporations
2.1 Business income
2.2 Business expenses, deductions, and credits
2.3 Business assets
2.4 Analysis of financial records
2.5 Advising the business taxpayer
3.1 Trust and estate income tax
3.2 Exempt organizations
3.3 Retirement plans
3.5 Rental property
The pass rates of EA exam Part 2 have increased and surpassed those of Part 1 in the past few years. Part 2’s pass rates jumped from 57% in 2015-2016 to 65% in 2017-2018 and then all the way to 74% in 2020-2021. So does this mean that the Enrolled Agent exam Part 1 questions are harder than Part 2? Not necessarily. Although Part 2 had a reputation for being harder, candidates who sat for this part more recently may have prepared better than their counterparts who came before them.
Similarly, the candidates who pass Part 2 are usually candidates who passed Part 1, so they have experience with the exam. And this experience can help increase the Part 2 pass rates.
Finally, most candidates start with Part 1, and when some of them fail, they cease their pursuit of the EA designation. As a result, fewer candidates sit for Part 2.
A basic knowledge in accounting is helpful for passing Part 2. You should also spend more time on practice questions for this part.
Part 3 specializes in requirements for enrolled agents, the specific types of representation before the IRS, and the filing process. The Part 3 topics include:
1.1 Practice before the IRS
1.2 Requirements for Enrolled Agents
1.3 Sanctionable acts
1.4 Rules and penalties
2.1 Power of attorney
2.2 Building the taxpayer’s case—preliminary work
2.3 Taxpayer financial situation
2.4 Supporting documentation
2.5 Legal authority and references
2.6 Related issues
3.1 Representing a taxpayer in the collection process
3.2 Penalties and/or interest abatement
3.3 Representing a taxpayer in audits/examinations
3.4 Representing a taxpayer before appeals
4.2 Record maintenance
4.3 Electronic filing
Ultimately, EA exam Part 3 seems to be the easiest for most candidates. The Part 3 pass rate has hovered between 83-86% in the last 3 years. After all, most candidates find the Part 3 EA subjects to be the easiest to master.
To start, you can download a limited number of practice questions from the IRS. However, the IRS doesn’t give you enough free EA questions to pass the exam. For instance, the IRS only has 20 free questions for the Enrolled Agent Part 1 exam. So really, your best place to find questions is right inside your EA course. Although Enrolled Agent course details vary, most courses will include thousands of questions.
First of all, you can download the latest Enrolled Agent syllabus from Prometric, the testing center where the EA exam is given. And second, check the Enrolled Agent course syllabus that is included with your EA course. What’s more, your course should have an Enrolled Agent study guide to follow, too.
Now that you know all about the Enrolled Agent syllabus and structure of the IRS Special Enrollment Examination, you may want to discover the Enrolled Agent exam dates. You should also learn about EA exam scoring. But, most importantly, you should find an enrolled agent course to help you learn the content of the SEE. Your EA course will also provide you with enrolled agent exam sample questions. Additionally, all our favorite EA review courses include unlimited enrolled agent practice exams.
Yes—you need an Enrolled Agent course. As you can see from this post, the syllabus for the SEE Enrolled Agent exam is long. What’s more, the syllabus changes from time to time. Therefore, you don’t want to get caught studying outdated material. As a result, using a good Special Enrollment Examination course is going to be critical to your success.
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.