The Internal Revenue Service announced that the competency exam for registered tax return preparers will be available starting at some point this month.

For those tax preparers who plan to take the exam in the next few months, the forms and publications they should study are from tax year 2010, the IRS noted in an e-mail to tax professionals in mid-September. The IRS has included a list of the 2010 versions of the forms and publications on a new information page that it set up on its Web site.

The IRS wants people to avoid printing out too much paper, however. "We encourage you to go green (some of these are large files) and download electronic copies of the reference material for study purposes," said the IRS. "Simply click on the publication. Once it opens, select 'File' and then 'Save As' to save it to your computer."

The specifications identify the major topics that will be covered by the test, which will be available starting this fall. While individuals who already have a PTIN from the IRS do not have to pass the exam until Dec. 31, 2013, they may take the exam at any time once it is available.

The test will have approximately 120 questions in a combination of multiple choice and true-or-false formats. The questions will be weighted and individuals will receive a pass or fail score, with diagnostic feedback provided to those who fail.

Test vendor Prometric Inc. worked with the IRS and the preparer community to develop the new test. The time limit for taking the test is expected to last between two and three hours. The test must be taken at one of the roughly 260 Prometric facilities nationwide.

To assist in test preparation, the following is a list of recommended study materials. The list is not all-encompassing, the IRS noted, but a highlight of what the test candidates will need to know:

Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax;

Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return;

Form 1040, Instructions;

Circular 230, Regulations Governing Practice before the Internal Revenue Service (rev. 8/2/11);

Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business;

Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education;

Publication 1345, Handbook for Authorized IRS e-file Providers;

Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax - Individuals;

Form 6251, Instructions; and,

Form 8879, IRS e-File Signature Authorization.

Some reference materials will be available to individuals when they are taking the test, the IRS added.

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