Computerized CPA Exam Only Months Away
T he Uniform CPA Examination is entering a
new era that gives individuals more flexibility as they
prepare to take the exam. A joint effort by the AICPA, the
National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)
and Prometric, a developer of technology-based testing
services, has led to a groundbreaking achievement: the
computerization of the Uniform CPA Examination. Beginning
April 5, 2004, the computer-based test (CBT) will be offered
year-round at Prometric and
state-board-of-accountancy-authorized testing centers across
the United States and its territories. The paper version of
the exam will be given for the last time on November 5 and
6. Here is a series of questions and answers providing
information about the test to help candidates prepare for
1. Why is the Uniform CPA Examination changing?
The exam has long played a role in licensing
CPAs. To keep pace with the evolution of the accounting
profession and the business world—especially in the areas of
technology and skills assessment—and to provide ongoing
protection of the public interest, the exam itself is
changing. By staying aligned with the expanding practical
requirements of entry-level CPA work and by evaluating
candidates’ skills in critical areas, the revised exam will
help ensure that CPA exam candidates continue to demonstrate
the knowledge and skills needed to protect the public.
2. Aside from its being computer-based, what’s
different about the new test?
important than the way the test will be administered are the
revisions to its content. In keeping with the nature of
current accounting practice, the computer-based test will
emphasize information technology and general business
knowledge and take a broader approach to testing candidates’
understanding of auditing concepts. Other significant
changes include increased testing of skills in areas such as
research and analysis.
3. How has the structure of the exam changed?
The revised exam will have four sections and
will be 14 hours long (the paper test is 15 1 /2
hours). Three sections—Auditing & Attestation, Financial
Accounting & Reporting and Regulation—will cover much of
the same content as the paper test. The fourth section,
Business Environment & Concepts (BEC), will address
general business knowledge. The format will change to
include multiple-choice questions and new, condensed case
studies, which are referred to as “simulations.” In April
2004 each section of the exam—except for the BEC
section—initially will contain two simulations. Those for
the BEC section will be included at a later date. All
sections will test candidates’ skills in applying knowledge
in the specific content areas.
Auditing & Attestation (4
hours). This section evaluates the
individual’s understanding of auditing procedures, generally
accepted auditing standards and other standards related to
Financial Accounting & Reporting (4 hours).
This section tests the candidate’s knowledge
of generally accepted accounting principles for business
enterprises, not-for-profit organizations and government
Regulation (3 hours). This area
tests comprehension of federal taxation, ethics,
professional and legal responsibilities and business law.
Business Environment & Concepts (2
hours). This section covers
candidates’ knowledge of the general business environment
and the concepts needed to comprehend the underlying reasons
for—and accounting implications of—business transactions.
Details about the structure, length, content, skills
definitions and content weighting are available on the CPA
exam Web site (
Simulations test candidates’ knowledge and skills by
means of realistic work-related situations. Each simulation
complements the multiple-choice portion of the exam. All
simulations will assess the knowledge and skills appropriate
for, and expected of, an entry-level CPA. Most of the
simulations will contain some research activity—a new
component of the test—usually involving an electronic search
of or access to authoritative literature, the Internal
Revenue Code and income tax regulations. For example, a
candidate researching an audit question might need to
consult AICPA professional standards to answer questions
within a simulation. Questions of this type also will
require candidates to complete tasks such as writing a brief
letter or memo.
4. What assistance is available to help candidates
prepare for the revised CPA examination?
online tutorial is provided at www.cpa-exam.org. It will
familiarize students and CPA exam candidates with the types
of questions and responses used in the computer-based test
and with moving from one section to another. All CPA exam
candidates should review this tutorial before taking the
exam. More information about the computerized test, a
revised tutorial and sample test questions and simulations
will be available at
www.cpa-exam.org beginning in the fall of 2003.
5. Will the exam’s administrative process change
when the computer-based version is launched?
Much of the process will remain the same;
what will change is where and when the exam is given. Each
state board of accountancy will continue to determine
whether a candidate in its jurisdiction meets the
requirements to take the exam. The AICPA will continue to
create and grade the CPA exam. NASBA will be responsible for
a new national database through which information about all
candidates who are scheduled to take the exam will be
channeled. Prometric will administer the test to candidates
at testing centers in the United States and its territories.
Candidates will apply for the exam as they do
now—through a state board or its designee. If a state board
determines a candidate is eligible to sit for the exam, it
or its designee will send him or her a “notice to schedule”
(NTS), which will be valid for a period of time established
by the jurisdiction. So, candidates will have a specific
period of time after the NTS is issued to schedule—and
take—the exam section(s) for which they have applied.
Approved candidates then will register directly with a
testing center, either by phone or via the Internet, to take
one or more sections. Although candidates can register and
take the exam anywhere, their test results will be sent to
the state under whose jurisdiction they fall. After an exam
is completed, the AICPA will compile and forward advisory
grades to the state board, which, after approving them, will
notify candidates of the results.
Once a candidate
passes a section of the exam, he or she generally will be
allowed a maximum of 18 months to pass all remaining
sections. For details about new credit-granting policies,
candidates should contact the state board in the
jurisdiction in which they plan to take the exam. They also
should check the exam Web site ( www.cpa-exam.org ) or
the NASBA Web site ( www.nasba.org ) for
policies and links to state boards.
6. Will the exam be offered more frequently?
Yes. One of the benefits of computerization
is the ease of scheduling tests more often. Currently, the
CPA exam is administered in May and November. Once the
computer-based version is introduced, candidates will be
able to take it at least five days a week during two of
every three months throughout the year; these periods are
referred to as “testing windows.” For example, the exam will
be offered in April and May 2004, July and August 2004,
October and November 2004, and January and February 2005. In
most jurisdictions, eligible candidates will be able to take
any or all sections of the exam during any testing window.
However, they will not be allowed to take the same section
more than once during any testing window. International
candidates will continue to be required to test in one of
fifty-four jurisdictions that currently administer the CPA
7. Will the computer-based test (CBT) inhibit state
boards’ ability to monitor candidates?
State boards’ responsibilities will not be diminished or
negatively affected by the CBT. State boards will continue
to determine eligibility and notify candidates of their
grades. The boards will have the responsibility to oversee
the administration of the CPA exam in their jurisdictions as
they do today.
8. How will current credit for exam sections
Current exam credit will be
transferred to sections of the computer-based test (CBT) as
|Credit on paper-based exam for
||Will earn CBT credit for
& Attestation |
Professional Responsibilities ||Business
Environment & Concepts |
|Accounting & Reporting ||Regulation
|Financial Accounting & Reporting
||Financial Accounting & Reporting
9. How will candidates’ current credit for sections
passed change under the computer-based test? Will credit
received on the paper exam be lost?
Generally, “conditional” credit for sections
passed on the paper exam carries over to the CBT. However,
each state board will set the length of time and/or maximum
number of attempts that candidates in its jurisdiction who
have earned conditional credit will get to complete the
exam. For example, if a candidate has one or more sections
remaining under the paper-based exam, he or she likely will
be allowed a specific number of opportunities or time period
to pass those remaining sections on the computer-based test.
10. How soon after taking a section of the
computer-based exam will candidates receive their grades?
Distributing grades is the responsibility of
state boards of accountancy. Initially, advisory grades and
diagnostic information will be provided to the state boards,
or their designees, at the end of the third month of each
testing window. For example, grades for candidates who take
the exam during the first window—between April 5 and May 31,
2004—will be sent to the state boards on June 30, 2004. Each
board sets its own schedule for how frequently it will
approve and release grades to candidates.
11. Will all candidates take the same exam, or will
each candidate take a different test?
Candidates will take different, equivalent
exams. In the computerized testing environment, each
candidate’s exam will consist of items drawn from a pool of
test questions according to defined specifications, which
will ensure the results are comparable. The specifications
will also include “exposure controls” to limit the extent to
which examinees are administered the same sets of questions.
12. With candidates taking different tests, how do
you ensure each candidate is being correctly assessed?
All tests meet specific content and
psychometric specifications. The testing package delivered
to test centers will contain not only test questions and
simulations but also the rules for administration of exams
drawn from that collection of topics. All exam material is
classified according to its content and statistical
properties before being administered in an operational test.
The testing software then will select items according to the
specifications to ensure that each candidate receives a test
of appropriate content coverage and difficulty.
13. Where can I get more information about the
computerized CPA exam?
A Web site ( www.cpa-exam.org )
contains useful information and links to the Web sites of
the AICPA, NASBA and the various state boards of
accountancy. Also available for downloading from the site is
a variety of documents, such as white papers and outlines of
the subject matter each exam covers.
video, “Preparing for Success: The Revised Uniform CPA Exam”
explains the transition to the computer-based CPA exam and
provides general information about it. The video is an
introduction to the new exam and is suitable for a wide
range of audiences; it can be viewed at
director of CPA examinations at the AICPA
Mr. Johnson is an employee of the AICPA and his views, as
expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect those
of the Institute. Official positions are determined through
certain specific committee procedures, due process and