Preparing for Success on the Revised CPA Exam


Preparing for Success on
the Revised CPA Exam
Review course providers discuss getting ready for the test’s new format and content.


I n November the Uniform CPA Examination’s paper-and-pencil format became history; the next group of candidates will take a computer-based test. The exam’s modified form and content reflect not only technological advances but also the increasingly important role professional accountants play in today’s complex business environment. So, although scheduling and sitting for the exam are easier now than ever before, candidates must take extra care to ensure they understand and adequately prepare for the computerized exam’s structure and the expanded range of business topics covered. In this article, the authors—officials of the American Professional Accounting Certification Providers Association (APACPA)—offer practical advice on preparing for the CPA exam in the 21st century.

This is the fifth in a series of JofA articles exploring the new, computerized version of the Uniform CPA Examination, which in April 2004 will replace its paper-and-pencil predecessor. The computer-based test is a joint effort by the AICPA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and Prometric, a developer of computer-based testing services.

The revised exam will be first administered in April and will continue to evaluate whether candidates have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed as entry-level CPAs. These requirements have grown in recent years as global business has become more complex. Furthermore, corporate accounting crises have revealed how deeply the business community and investors need practitioners who can do more than prepare standard forms containing information others have analyzed and compiled. Consequently, the computer-based exam is based on a more analytical approach to solving problems and moves away from memorization of accounting principles and rules.

The new format also makes it easier to prepare for and take the exam. Previously, most first-time candidates were required to sit for the entire test in one two-day session. Beginning in April, most states will allow candidates to take one part of the exam at a time. But that option is only one reason why preparing for the computerized test is quite different from getting ready for the paper-and-pencil version.

The AICPA has taken a step forward by developing the new exam. Its electronic format makes it possible to simulate actual business situations and test how well candidates will be able to use available resources to help employers or clients in such situations. This is a very positive change, and as providers of review resources, we support this critical transition.

Through case-based simulations, the new exam requires candidates to demonstrate computer skills and proficiency in functions required of an entry-level accounting professional, including online research of professional literature.

Since the exam now consists of individual sections, each of which can be taken on a flexible schedule, candidates should consider preparing for each test segment separately in the order in which they want to sit for them. Candidates may want to take just one part during each testing cycle (the exam is administered in two of every three calendar months) or perhaps two—one in the first month and another later. This will enable candidates to coordinate testing with their work schedules, making it easier to begin an accounting career, pass the CPA exam and enjoy a balanced lifestyle.

It’s important for candidates to recognize, however, that although sitting for each test segment separately will give them more time to prepare, they should guard against procrastination, which can weaken their chances of passing the exam.

In most instances candidates taking the test for the first time should apply to their state board before planning how they will prepare for the exam. They should schedule themselves for the exam early so they can take it as soon as possible after completing their chosen method of review.

Those taking the test should know the deadlines and application procedures for the state in which they will take the exam, which can be administered at any Prometric or state-board-of-accountancy-authorized testing center. Further, to complete their individual exam preparation and completion plans, candidates must know the format, structure and nuances of the new test, such as its use of simulations based on actual business situations. Accounting students should begin their preparation before graduating from college, and educators should encourage Beta Alpha Psi chapters and other collegiate accounting societies to help fellow students obtain this information.


The Institute offers CPA exam candidates the following resources:
Professional standards.
Technical practice aids.
Audit and accounting guides.
Audit risk alerts.
Accounting Trends & Techniques .

Candidates also can join the AICPA as student members for low-cost access to the professional standards database (containing the auditing and attestation standards). For more information, go to .

Additional resources are available at the Computerized Uniform CPA Exam Web site ( ):
Uniform CPA Examination: Candidate Bulletin.
A useful tutorial.
An abbreviated set of test questions.

In addition to accounting courses, prospective CPAs should focus seriously on other business subjects, such as economics. Depth and breadth of knowledge serve as the foundation for a successful career in a variety of business sectors. Because the new, computerized exam places greater emphasis on a multidisciplinary approach to learning, such training will be even more useful on the test.

The revised exam features one entirely new section titled Business Environment and Concepts. Covering topics such as economics, finance, forecasting and financial planning and information technology, it tests knowledge of material not covered in earlier versions of the exam. Since candidates’ exposure to each of these topics varies, review providers can help them prepare for questions on them.

Candidates already employed should benefit from their business experience as they prepare to take the exam and attain certification. But the longer the interval between their college graduation and the test, the more difficult it can be for candidates to stay ready. For those just completing their education, preparing for the exam will enhance their career skills and employment potential as they enter the workforce. Passing the CPA exam will continue to be an essential part of aspiring accounting professionals’ career development.

Phillip G. Buchanan, CPA, PhD; Thomas J. Vucinic, CPA; James J. Rigos, CPA, JD; and Irvin N. Gleim, CPA, PhD, are president, treasurer, secretary and founding member, respectively, of the American Professional Accounting Certification Providers Association (APACPA), a national association of CPA and other professional accounting examination review providers. In addition, Mr. Buchanan is MBA program director at George Mason University, Mr. Vucinic is managing director of Becker Conviser CPA Review, Mr. Rigos is editor-in-chief/owner of Rigos Review and Mr. Gleim is the author of Gleim Publications.


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