One of the most common questions I get from readers interested in becoming an enrolled agent (EA) is: How long does it take to become an Enrolled Agent (EA)? The other most common question is, “How hard is the Enrolled Agent exam?”
I understand why candidates ask that first question. Before you get too far into the process of becoming an EA, you want to know if it is worth the time, effort, and funds required. But the benefits of the EA include increased job opportunities, income, status before the IRS, and tax expertise, so I believe the designation is very advantageous. One of the main reasons people choose to become an EA is the generous enrolled agent salary.
However, passing the EA exam (officially called the Special Enrollment Exam (SEE)) can take time, so you must prepare for that. I’ll help you determine how long it will take you to become an EA so you can develop your EA exam schedule.
Depending on your tax knowledge, becoming an enrolled agent can take 3-8 months.
You may hear some enrolled agents boast that the EA exam is easy and that they passed it in just a few weeks. Yet, the reality is that most candidates are not able to pass in 1 month.
You may need more than 1 month or even more than 1 year to pass. But if that timeline works for your lifestyle, you shouldn’t feel pressured to pass faster.
The Enrolled Agent exam allows candidates to take 10 out of the 12 months in a year. The testing window lasts from May 1 to February 28/29 of the following year.
Two blackout months (March and April) allow the exam administrators to make any necessary adjustments to the exam. They also use this time to update the content according to the most recent tax law.
How long does it take to study for the enrolled agent exam? Well, the number of months your EA exam journey will last depends on how many study hours you need. Also, the other half of the equation is how quickly you can accumulate those study hours.
For example, if you are not super familiar with the current tax code, getting ready to pass all 3 parts may take you a few hundred hours.
Specifically, Surgent EA advises candidates to plan to invest around 43 hours of total study time per exam part. Furthermore, Gleim EA Review raises the bar a little by recommending 80-100 hours for Part 1 and Part 2 each and 60-80 hours for Part 3.
The more hours you can study in a week, the fewer weeks you need to study.
|# of Study Hours
If you study with Gleim EA Review and diligently follow that system, preparing for the entire EA exam will likely take at least 4 months. However, if you are very familiar with tax, you may prefer to study with Surgent EA, as their high-tech system can help you save time.
Once you pass your first EA exam part, your credit for that section lasts for 2 years from the date you passed. Therefore, you should pass the remaining 2 sections within those 2 years to avoid losing credit for your passed section and having to take it again.
However, if you don’t pass a part of the EA exam after taking it 4 times in the same testing window, you must wait until the next testing window to try for the fifth time.
If you’d like to pass the EA exam as soon as possible, follow these tips:
First of all, when you’re thinking about how long to become an enrolled agent, remember that your success on exam day depends on your preparation. That is, reviewing with the best enrolled agent course for you enables you to study more effectively and pass more efficiently. To find the best course for you, you must consider several factors, including
With nearly all enrolled agent classes, you can study entirely through an online portal. This means you never have to leave your house to study, and you don’t have to ever visit a center to attend enrolled agent training. Plus, you can study at your own pace.
Some applicants try to study the enrolled agent test syllabus alone, without investing in any extra EA certification exam prep materials. But I strongly advise against taking this route. Ultimately, the IRS SEE exam covers a fairly narrow range of material, and studying independently without help is challenging.
To put it plainly, utilizing the appropriate study materials for the EA test makes passing the SEE exam much simpler. And which EA test review material is the best? The answer to that actually depends on your preferred method of learning. For instance, some applicants like to study EA books, while others would rather watch lectures on video or complete a ton of EA practice problems. In any case, you should definitely consider studying with an EA review course.
Which study guide is the most effective for the IRS Enrolled Agent Exam?
I’ve examined the top EA courses if you need study materials for the EA test. However, in brief, these are a few of my top picks:
If you study with an EA course that doesn’t meet your review needs and fails to prepare you no matter how long you study, you’re more likely to fail part of the exam. Consequently, failing an exam part will cost you both money and time. For this reason, I suggest picking an EA review course with a long access period. For example, sometimes an online enrolled agent course duration could be as short as a few weeks or a few months. Instead, choose a course with access to your online materials until you pass the EA exam. This way, you won’t have to purchase new enrolled agent study materials in case you fail your first attempt at the exam and your online course enrollment expires.
No matter which EA course you choose, you may be able to speed up the process by skipping the reading and moving straight into the quizzes. If your review course suggests you study an exam content area more than you think is necessary, you can try to take the shortcut by answering practice questions first. In doing so, you may find that you’re already proficient in that area.
However, if you try this study strategy and score low on the practice quizzes or a sample EA test, you should do the reading. You must have sufficient comprehension of every exam topic. So, read the book or watch the videos to refresh your understanding of the material. Then, after you’ve gone back to the basics, you can return to the quizzes.
You truly save time by only focusing on your weak areas, like your EA accounting skills. If you ignore the troublesome topics, you risk failing an exam part, which makes the exam process even longer.
To focus on your weak areas, take a practice quiz at the start of each study unit. Then, use the results of the quiz to figure out which topics need more of your attention. After that, prioritize those topics in your reading and quizzes until you’ve aced them.
Thankfully, some review courses now use adaptive e-learning platforms that could help you study better. Take Gleim EA vs Surgent EA, for example. Both courses track your performance as you answer questions and figure out what types of questions you’re getting wrong. Then, they direct your studies to focus on your weak content areas.
You may be able to pass the exam within 2 years by going about your life as usual and studying for the exam in your free time. But if you want to get the exam over with so you can enjoy the EA designation ASAP, you’ll have to adjust your agenda.
To pass the exam fast, you must make a study schedule. In the process, you can carve out even more weekly study time when you temporarily drop non-essential activities from your normal routine. It might not be fun, but it will be worthwhile once you’ve finished the exam and have the EA to show for it.
This mandate may be easier said than done, but it’s the ideal goal for someone who feels the need to speed up their EA proceedings. To pull it off, you must
Passing each part the first time is possible! After all, it just takes dedication, hard work, and persistence.
You receive your results for each EA exam part immediately after you finish the test. And good news: If you don’t pass, you can register to retake the exam after 24 hours.
With this testing flexibility, you can sit for the exam again as soon as you’re ready. So, the sooner you can sit again, the less time you’ll lose!
After you pass all 3 parts of the Enrolled Agent exam, you must submit the Application for Enrollment, A.K.A. Form 23. You have 1 year from the time you pass your final exam part to fill out this document. You’ll also have to pay your enrollment fee to the IRS at this time.
Sadly, no matter how quickly you finish these steps, this part of the process can last a while. By that, I mean, about as much time as it takes to study for and pass the entire exam!
Approving your application can take up to 90 days because it involves a background check. And because this final procedure can extend so long, becoming an EA can take you anywhere from 3-8 months (or longer if life gets in the way of your study plans).
Please check out my post about the EA certification vs. other accounting certifications – there are many paths to becoming an EA!
The total time to become an IRS enrolled agent depends on the amount of time you need to study and pass each exam part.
Again, the number of hours you will need to study for the EA exam depends on your level of expertise in the subject matter and the quality of your study materials.
Although it’s not hard to meet the EA exam requirements, there are several steps. I outline all of them in my post about how to become an EA.
EA candidates must answer 100 questions per part, 85 of which are graded. The IRS then takes your raw score out of 85 and converts it to a scaled score of 40 to 130. You need at least a 105 to pass the SEE.
I do! Please see my post about the enrolled agent test dates and how to schedule your EA exam.
Each part of the IRS EA test has 100 questions. Although you should answer all of the questions, online 15 are graded. The other 15 questions are just experimental – the IRS is testing them for future use.
The answer to that questions really depends on how much you study. However, the pass rate has been hovering around 70% for the past several years. I have an entire post that breaks down the EA exam pass rate.
If you have more questions about how to pass the enrolled agent exam or how to become an enrolled agent, my enrolled agent blog can answer them. Or, for specific recommendations on which enrolled agent exam prep you should choose, feel free to leave a comment or email me. And don’t forget to sign up for my EA newsletter! Hopefully, after reading a few of my articles, you’ll see that becoming an EA isn’t too difficult, especially if you dedicate yourself to studying.
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.