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

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

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

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: November 9, 2023