How to Take the Revised CPA Exam


How to Take the Revised CPA Exam
An online tutorial helps candidates prepare for the new, computerized test.


B eginning April 5, 2004, the CPA examination no longer will involve paper test booklets, pencils and essay questions. Replacing them will be a computerized version of the exam, containing electronic multiple-choice questions and condensed case studies called “simulations.” Candidates will be able to take the revised exam, jointly created by the AICPA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and Prometric, a developer of technology-based testing services, year-round at Prometric’s nationwide exam centers. To help test takers prepare, the AICPA has created an online tutorial that gives them a close-up look at the exam’s format and lets them practice using its various components.

In September the JofA began a series of articles exploring different aspects of the new CPA exam. These stories offered insights into how the revised test differs from the paper-based exam and the ways in which it benefits the public interest. Future issues of the JofA will include interviews in which state board leaders, educators and CPA firm partners offer their views of the computerized exam. Also, CPA candidates scheduled to take a preliminary version of the test in the coming months will give readers their firsthand impressions of the experience.

“Over the last decade, business transactions have become more complex and so has accounting for them,” said Craig Mills, AICPA executive director of examinations. “As a result CPAs have had to dramatically alter the way they work, expanding their use of technology and relying more on their communications skills. The revised CPA exam reflects these changes by using the latest technology to test a broader range of capabilities than it did in the past.”

Responding to comments from accounting professionals in a recent AICPA survey of practice management concerns and priorities, the exam focuses more than before on evaluating test takers’ communication, research, analysis, judgment and comprehension skills.

Mills said that in each of the exam’s four sections, candidates must demonstrate they possess these skills. To cover the required subject matter, each exam section comprises approximately five “testlets”—groups of related questions. Three contain multiple-choice questions and each of the remaining two consists of a case study simulation. Only the new Business Environment & Concepts section is an exception; it won’t include simulations until later in 2004. Multiple-choice testlets each contain approximately 25 questions. Simulations—which take 35 to 45 minutes to complete—assess candidates’ auditing and accounting knowledge and skills in actual business situations. The number of questions they contain varies according to the length of the specific section in which they appear.

The AICPA has developed a computerized tutorial to help familiarize candidates and accounting students and educators with the exam’s new format. Available free of charge at , the tutorial explains the design and operation of the computer-based test (CBT) and reviews the types of questions and responses it involves. Because the tutorial is not available at Prometric test centers, candidates should review it online before taking the revised exam.

“The AICPA is committed to ensuring the computer-based test is easy to use and functions as intuitively as possible,” said Arleen Thomas, AICPA vice-president of professional standards and services. “We want candidates to concentrate on answering the questions, not navigating the test. But we realized they couldn’t do that without seeing the revised format beforehand and becoming comfortable with it and the new ‘simulation’ case studies. We therefore strongly encourage all candidates to review this tutorial prior to taking the computer-based exam.”

Originally released in April and recently updated, the tutorial mimics the computerized examination’s look and feel, format and navigation controls. Its animated introduction explains the reasoning behind the exam’s revision. The tutorial also provides guided, step-by-step “tours” of the exam’s other modules and offers opportunities to experiment with certain test functions—answering a question, for example. It’s important to note the tutorial does not cover actual exam content and is not a replacement for practice materials.

Following are summaries of each section of the tutorial.

Exam Information tells candidates how to prepare for and schedule themselves to take the exam. It also provides links to the AICPA, NASBA and Prometric Web sites.

Common Tools explains the exam’s standard function and resource buttons, such as Clock, Calculator, Help and Done.

Multiple-Choice Questions teaches candidates how to navigate within the multiple-choice portion of the test and how to select an answer or mark a question for review.

Simulations explains how the case study component of the exam works by reviewing its format, general functions and the types of questions a condensed case study (simulation) may include.

Authoritative Literature illustrates how to search electronic research databases containing authoritative literature, tax codes and other publications to answer auditing, accounting and taxation questions, support judgments or create formal audit communications within a simulation.


These AICPA resources are available to CPA Exam candidates at :

Professional standards.
Technical practice aids.
Audit and accounting guides.
Audit risk alerts.
Accounting Trends and Techniques.

CPA exam candidates can easily access the tutorial by using the Tutorial link on the exam’s home page, .

All sections of the tutorial employ graphics, but the introduction is the only place that also produces sound. After all the introduction screens have appeared, the tutorial advances to a menu for selecting the other sections. During their subsequent use of the tutorial, candidates can bypass the introduction by left-clicking their mouse on any of its screens. The tutorial also contains a handy Pause feature that allows users to set the pace at which they review each section of the demonstration.

“Before we released the tutorial, we ensured it met the needs of our constituencies by ‘pilot testing’ it with the help of an outside firm,” said Gregory Johnson, AICPA director of the CPA examination. “We also made it mirror the look and feel—and cover all the critical elements—of the actual CPA exam.”

As part of the pilot, the developers asked approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, young professionals, and academics to evaluate the tutorial. Of those who completed the tutorial, 80% to 90% rated it “good” or “very good.” Ninety-five percent said it was easy to navigate, and more than two-thirds reported it made them feel more comfortable with the computer-based format. One respondent commented: “It was one of the best exam tutorials I have seen. I believe it will be a great help to first-time CBT and CPA exam takers. This definitely will be a stress reducer for them.”

The tutorial demonstrates the exam’s tools—including its calculator and spreadsheet—and its functions—such as moving from testlet to testlet or exiting the exam. The tutorial also offers a detailed look at the exam’s simulations and reviews basic online research techniques.

“Since evaluating research skills is a very important part of the exam, we ensured the tutorial contained items helpful to candidates who have limited experience querying electronic databases,” Johnson said. “For example, the tutorial includes actual illustrations of the authoritative literature search engines and interfaces and explains basic online search methods for retrieving information from literature to use in simulations. The tutorial also describes the various resources candidates can employ to compose written communications and demonstrates word-processing functions, such as cut, paste and undo, that are available to candidates during the actual examination.”

“While the tutorial will help students and candidates become more comfortable with the revised examination, we strongly recommend additional practice using various online resources,” Johnson said. For example, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has made the full text of all its statements of financial accounting standards issued since 1973 available on its Web site, .

As another aid to candidates preparing for the exam, the AICPA is offering reduced-cost subscriptions to its online reference library, AICPA Resource: Auditing and Accounting Literature. An individual who joins the AICPA as a student affiliate/recent graduate member for $30 a year can subscribe to AICPA Resource at a special price of $40 for one year. To enroll, students log onto . Once their enrollment is approved, they can go to to subscribe at the special price.

By the end of this year, the AICPA also will make an abbreviated set of test questions available on the exam Web site, . The test samples will include multiple-choice questions and three simulations, one each for the Auditing & Attestation, Financial Accounting & Reporting and Regulation exam sections.

Ms. Babuin is an employee of the AICPA and her 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 deliberation.


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