Hitting the Books for the New CPA Exam? Read This First

by Monette Anderson | May 12, 2016
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You've probably heard by now that some major changes are coming to the CPA exam. Before you hit the books, here's what you need to know.

The last major change to the CPA exam was 5 years ago, and the new version of the exam debuting April 2017 has been 3 years in the making. In 2014, the AICPA conducted a practice analysis and received national input from multiple sources including academic institutions, public accounting firms, industries and businesses, state societies, and boards of accountancy. This practice analysis concluded that the profession was in support of making changes to the test to measure the high-order skills that better reflect the responsibilities and tasks of newly licensed CPAs. It’s no secret that problem-solving and critical thinking are de rigueur of the CPA profession, and these changes are meant to better reflect the analytical requirements of the profession as opposed to traditional test-taking skills of memorizing and recalling information. The weight of remembering and understanding will still be important applications going forward, but their weight in the scoring will decrease from 60%-40% to about 50%-50% in AUD, FAR, and REG.

BEC and REG will see the biggest changes, as evidenced by the testing time increase of one hour for each of these sections. Task-based simulations are completely new to the BEC exam, and candidates can expect 4-5 of these simulations in addition to the written communication portion that is unique to this exam, and will remain the same. In BEC, multiple-choice questions will make up 50% of scoring, while 35% will come from task-based simulation and 15% will come from the written communication section.  REG is the only section in which multiple-choice questions will increase (though only by 4 questions), and task-based simulations will increase from 6 to 8-9.

In contrast, AUD and FAR will decrease multiple-choice questions by 20% and 27% respectively and will only see an increase in 1 or 2 task-based simulations. Also, candidates taking the exam in the first few testing windows of the new exam should expect to see significant delays in score reporting. The AICPA says it may take up to 10 weeks as candidate performance is analyzed and calibrated after the first window, though the next few cycles will only take an additional 10 days or so, and soon after they expect the current 20 day window will resume. One more new feature of the 2017 exam will be the inclusion of a 15 minute standardized break that won’t count against your test time. Finally, many candidates will be excited to see Excel soon offered as a replacement to the generic spreadsheet currently used in the exam, though sadly not until 2018.

Before you panic about these changes, let’s cover sitting for the exam prior to April 2017.  Historically, there has been a large influx of students wanting to take an exam before changes are implemented and steps are being taken to address the expected increase of candidates.

  • Beginning in April 2016, 10 days will be added to each quarter’s test month and stretch into traditional dark months. This will give you 40 additional test days until the second quarter of 2017, when the new exam takes effect.
  • It is recommended that you start taking the exam in the order of sections most impacted by changes. This would mean to take BEC first, then REG, AUD and FAR.
  • If you don’t pass all 4 parts before the changes you still keep the passing scores for those you did pass (the 18 month testing window still applies).
  • Keep in mind that Washington is one of the states that does allow you to sit for the exam 180 days before you complete your 150 credit hours. Consider whether it makes sense for you to start studying and taking parts of the exam before you graduate. Remember, it can take a few weeks between applying to sit and getting approval, so put those waiting weeks to good use and start studying.

Candidates should look to their CPA review course provider for more information and guidance on the exam. These professionals are well under way to ensure students are prepared for the changes. You can also visit to learn more and even take practice simulations.

Tysiac, Ken “What will be tested on the next CPA exam.” Journal of Accountancy May 2016: 27-30

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Monette AndersonMonette Anderson, Academic Relations Coordinator

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