Certified Payroll Professional Exam

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The American Payroll Association (APA), founded in 1982, implements the Certified Payroll Professional Exam (CPPE). Believing that a national organization was needed to educate, share information, publish relevant material, and promote professional development, the APA sought to become the chief advocate for payroll professionals.[1] While payroll was long considered a technical skill, over the last several decades it has become a professional discipline. Thus, a nationally recognized examination gives more credibility and stature to payroll professionals. The APA states that its goals include establishing a standard for payroll professionals in the business community, to support professional growth, to provide knowledge, and to recognize professionals who have met national standards. A need for professionalization has been welcomed as the APA has grown to include over 20,000 members.[2]


CPP Study Guide

As a way to provide certification, the APA designed the CPPE, which credentials men and women in the payroll industry. This examination is completely voluntary, though companies, schools, or organizations can require this test for acceptance or advancement. The majority of test-takers are current payroll professionals looking for national certification that could aid in job advancement.[3] Individuals must first meet eligibility requirements prior to applying for the CPPE. There are 3 criteria established by the APA to determine if one meets the requirements. The 1st includes being a payroll professional for 3 out of the past 5 years. This could include being involved in payroll administration, production, reporting, and accounting. The 2nd criterion includes both experience and education. If a person has been employed as a payroll professional for at least the last 2 years and has completed several payroll courses in the last two years then they are eligible. The 3rd criterion includes being employed as a payroll professional for at least the past 18 months, obtained Fundamental Payroll Certification, and passed several payroll courses in the last 18 months.[4] If a person determines that they meet the eligibility requirements then they must fill out an application form and have the “Verification of Application” section signed by a supervisor attesting that the eligibility requirements are met. Completed applications can be submitted either through email or fax.[5]

Test Administration

CPP Flashcards

This test of offered twice per year, once in the fall and again in the spring. There is a $365 fee for taking the exam.[6] Pearson VUE administers the test and it is computer based. Test questions are created by several committees within the APA. Examinees have four hours to complete 190 multiple choice questions, of which 165 are scored. 25 of the test questions are used for statistical purposes only, but test-takers will not know which questions count and which do not. Since there is not penalty for wrong answers, it is highly advised that all questions be answered.[7]

Test Format

Sections of the CPP Test
CPP Test Subject Areas Percentage
Core Payroll Concepts 27%
Compliance/Research and Resources 21%
Calculation of the Paycheck 20%
Payroll Process and Supporting Systems and Administration 9%
Disposition of Materials with Hazards 11.8%
Payroll Administration and Management 10%

Test Environment

The CPP Exam has a current fee of $355.00. Administration of the CPP Exam is offered at APA Learning Centers, and Pearson VUE. The test gives each candidate four hours to answer all 190 multiple choice questions.[8]

Test Structure

The Certified Payroll Professional Exam is made up of 190 questions that cover the following content: Core Payroll Concepts; Compliance/Research and Resources; Calculation of the Paycheck; Payroll Process and Supporting Systems and Administration; Payroll Administration and Management; Audits; and Accounting. The exam gives candidates four hours to complete all 190 questions.[9]

Sample Questions

More free CPP practice test questions.


A score of 300 is necessary to be considered passing.[10] This number is decided upon by a panel of payroll professionals who have studied the exam. Exam scores are available immediately following the test. The APA also receives a copy of the score report. Within 6 weeks of the exam date, the APA will email successful test-takers with information on how to receive a complimentary CPP certificate and lapel pin. If a person fails the exam, retests can be taken, but only once during each testing window. For example, if a person fails a test during the fall of 2014, they must wait until the spring of 2015 to take a retest. The APA states that this rule is in effect so candidates can have additional time to study. Accommodations can be made for those with disabilities. Extra time, a separate testing room, or an exam reader is available as long as appropriate documentation is presented. Inquiries regarding such accommodations should be made to Pearson VUE.[11]


  1. ^ Rainier Chapter of the APA 1 March 2014
  2. ^ San Antonio News 1 March 2014
  3. ^ Degree Directory 16 March 2014
  4. ^ American Payroll Association 1 March 2014
  5. ^ Application Form 16 March 2014
  6. ^ Financial Certification 16 March 2014
  7. ^ Certified Professional Handbook 1 March 2014
  8. ^ CPP FAQ 19 June 2014
  9. ^ CPP Content Outline 19 June 2014
  10. ^ APA Certification 16 March 2014
  11. ^ Certified Professional Handbook 1 March 2014

External Links