Certified Payroll Professional Study Guide

Certified Payroll Professional Exam is a computer-based test that allows
examinees four hours to complete 190 multiple-choice questions. Of these
questions, 25 will not count toward your score.

In order to
be eligible to take this exam, you must meet one of three criteria. 1. Have
been practicing as a payroll professional three of the last five years. 2. Have
been working in payroll for two years, and within the last two years, have
completed specific courses outlined by the American Payroll Association. 3.
Have been working in payroll for 1.5 years, have received the FPC designation,
and within the last 1.5 years, have completed specific courses outlined by the American
Payroll Association.

If you
require special accommodations for a medical condition covered under the
Americans with Disabilities Act, you must make this request in writing at least
ten days before scheduling your exam.

accommodations that can be provided include a separate testing room, extra
testing time, and a reader for those who are visually impaired.


What are the categories and topics covered on the exam?

The seven categories assessed are:

  • Core Payroll Concepts – 24%
  • Compliance/Research and Resources – 16%
  • Calculation of the Paycheck – 20%
  • Payroll Process and Supporting Systems and Administration – 12%
  • Payroll Administration and Management – 10%
  • Audits – 9%
  • Accounting – 9%

Core Payroll Concepts

The topics that will be covered under this category include worker status, Fair Labor Standards Act, employee and employer forms, employment taxes, employee benefits, professional responsibility, and pay methods and timing.

Compliance/Research and Resources

The topics that will be covered under this category include escheatment, compliance and accuracy of payroll processing, reporting, the preservation of records, penalties, global compliance, and multi-state taxation/reporting.

Calculation of the Paycheck

The topics that will be covered under this category include compensation & benefits, taxes and deductions that are involuntary, deductions that are voluntary, employer taxes and contributions, and total payroll.

Payroll Process and Supporting Systems and Administration

The topics that will be covered under this category include maintaining master file components, concepts and functionalities of the payroll process, business continuity plans, technology evaluation, system maintenance/updates, and system/project implementations.

Payroll Administration and Management

The topics that will be covered under this category include policies and procedures, communication and customer service, skills and practices of a manager, and staffing, the development of employees, and core competencies.


The topics that will be covered under this category include internal controls, payroll system controls, accounting system controls, audit policies and procedures, and third party controls.


The topics that will be covered under this category include financial reporting, accounting principles, payroll journal entry, and account reconcilliation.

How do I register for the exam?

Before registering for the exam, you must complete the application for certification by examination. This application can be submitted online or via standard mail. Payment can be made via credit card (using the online option) or mailed check.

Once you have received notice that your application has been approved, you will be given one year to schedule and take your exam. Scheduling the exam can be done online or by calling the testing center.

What is the cost of the exam?

If taking the exam in North America, as a member of the American Payroll Association, the fee is $380. As a non-member, the fee is $550.

What are the testing dates and locations?

There are two testing windows each year that are approximately three months long. Check the APA website for more information on the test dates available to you.

There are many testing centers located throughout the world.

What should I do the day of the exam?

Arrive at the testing center 30 minutes early.

Be prepared to present two forms of Identification. One must include your name, signature, and photo, while the other at least has your name and signature.

You are not required, but allow to bring a basic, silent calculator in case you need it. Items that are prohibited from the testing area include a cell phone, books, and purse, among other personal items.

Can I take a break during the exam?

Although the exam proctor may allow you to take a restroom break, this time will lessen the amount of time you have for completing the exam.

What happens after I take the exam?

Before leaving the testing center, you will receive your score report, which indicates whether you have passed or failed the exam.

If you pass the exam, approximately a week after taking the exam, you will receive instructions from the American Payroll Association on how to order your certificate and pin.

What is the minimum passing score on this exam?


What happens if I don’t pass the exam?

If you do not pass the exam, you can re-take it during the next testing cycle. You are permitted to take the exam as many times as necessary to pass. Keep in mind, you must pay the fee each time you re-take the exam.

How Can I Prepare for the Certified Payroll Professional Test?

That’s a great question.  We’ve broken down the answer into three parts.

  1. Do yourself a favor and study.  Do not walk in unprepared. We have recommended prep materials below, but that only helps if you actually try.  Plus, studying is actually proven to be the best antidote to test anxiety.
  2. Take care of yourself.  Make sure you’re eating well, exercising, and sleeping.  All of these things are scientifically linked to brain performance.  If you take care of your body, you’ll be helping your grades.
  3. Get a study guide or set of flashcards.  Some people study better a certain way. Find your study strengths and make the most of them.  We’ve tried to make it easy for you by tracking down the best study guide and flashcard set for your exam.  Below you’ll see links to both!

Study Guide



Last Updated: November 9, 2023