Fundamental Payroll Certification Exam

The Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) exam assesses a candidate’s fundamental knowledge of payroll practices. Developed by the American Payroll Association (APA), the FPC is an entry-level certification based on knowledge, and not experience. The certification is voluntary and not required for practice in any state.

General requirements

The FPC examination is an entry-level certification. There are no prerequisites required to sit for the exam. Before the APA confers the certification, the successful candidate must agree to abide by the APA Code of Ethics.

Test Design

The Fundamental Payroll Certification is a computer-delivered, 150 multiple-choice question exam with a three-hour time limit. 25 of the 150 questions are pre-test and do not count against or for an individual’s final score.

The FPC examination will test your knowledge, skills, and abilities in seven content areas:

  • Core Payroll Concepts – 29% of the exam

As a payroll administrator, you are the expert in employee pay and benefits. The concepts tested on this examination include your knowledge of laws and regulations protecting the employer and employee. The governing regulation, the Fair Labor Standards Act, guides everything a payroll administrator touches including vetting an employee’s eligible worker status, payment of taxes, and the delivery of a worker’s paycheck.  You will be tested on employee benefits, required forms, and your professional responsibility as a payroll administrator.

  • Compliance/Research and Resources – 17% of the exam

Your knowledge of reporting, required retention of payroll records, and escheatment is tested under this content area. As a payroll administrator, you need to be comfortable with the methods in place to ensure compliance with applicable regulations as well as with the company’s operating procedures while maintaining a high rate of accuracy in payroll processing.

  • Calculation of the Paycheck – 24% of the exam

Before you can issue paychecks to employees, you have to be able to calculate deductions, taxes, compensation, and benefits. You are responsible for accurately determining gross and net pay, and you must be able to explain each deduction when requested.

  • The Payroll Process, Supporting Systems, and Administration – 7% of the exam

Payroll administrators are responsible for the basic maintenance of the files used for payroll distribution. This knowledge includes understanding master file components, concepts, and function of the program’s purpose. Your ability to implement the business continuity plan in the case of loss, cyber threat, or other intrusion is necessary as well.

  • Payroll Administration and Management – 7% of the exam

You are a customer-facing professional within the work environment. You must be able to relay information to your customers (employees) in a manner that allows for open communication and understanding of payroll policies and procedures.

  • Audits – 8% of the exam

In this section of the exam, you are asked to exhibit your knowledge of internal and payroll system, and accounting system controls. In addition, your understanding of audit policies and procedures is examined in this section.

  • Accounting – 8% of the exam

The questions asked in this section will examine your knowledge, skills, and abilities in accounting principles, financial reporting, payroll entry, and account reconciliation.

Each question has four possible answers with only one possible correct answer; the answer to one question is not reliant on the answer from another question. Tables required for calculation are provided in electronic format, and you may bring a battery-operated, silent calculator that is not programmable.

Registration and cost

Before scheduling the FPC exam, you must complete an application with APA and pay the exam fee. The testing fee is $320.00 for APA members or $395.00 for non-members. You can pay the exam fee by credit/debit card or personal check. Once your application is approved and the exam fee paid, you may register for the exam.

The application for certification by examination can be completed online, by email, by fax, or by U.S. mail. Registration for the examination (after your application is approved) can be completed online or by phone.

As testing times are on a first-come, first served basis, schedule your exam as soon as possible. There are two testing windows annually – in the fall and the spring. Reservations for fall testing usually begin in July and ends in the middle of October, and reservations for spring testing begins in January and ends in the middle of April.

Testing centers are located worldwide with different testing windows for Military bases and other countries. Active Duty Military and Veterans may be eligible for reimbursement through their G.I. Bill or vocational rehabilitation funds.

Test Day

On the day of your exam, arrive 30 minutes before your appointed time. Be prepared with two forms of identification, one of which is a valid government-issued ID. Your photograph, signature, and palm vein will be captured at check-in. A locker is provided to stow your belongings.

The test facility provides you with an erasable booklet and marker, and you can bring your battery or solar-powered silent calculator.  At your testing station, a brief tutorial will take you through the delivery method for the exam. Once completed, your test begins.

Exam scoring and results

At the conclusion of your exam, an official report is provided. The report will indicate your pass or fail status. Your raw score is converted to a scaled score to account for the differences between test versions. A scaled passing score is 300 (scale of 0 to 500). The APA does not publish a passing raw score.

Your passing score is based on the number of questions you answered correctly. There is no penalty for incorrect answers, so it is beneficial to answer all questions, even if you have to guess.

How Can I Prepare for the FPC 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: March 30, 2020