Uniform CPA Examination may be changed as a result of feedback

By Ken Tysiac

After considering public comment, the AICPA Board of Examiners is reviewing plans to have the Uniform CPA Examination increase the assessment of higher-order skills.

A report on feedback from an invitation to comment on the future of the CPA exam has been published on the AICPA website. The AICPA is updating the exam to ensure that it continues to reflect the skills that newly licensed CPAs need to protect the public interest. The next version of the exam is scheduled to be launched in 2017.

After receiving feedback from 310 respondents and considering data and information gathered from meetings with members of the profession, the Board of Examiners is supporting the idea of increased testing of higher-order skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical ability, and professional skepticism. With the help of key committees and the Board of Examiners, the AICPA exams staff is developing an exposure draft to be released in September that will serve as the final proposal for the next version of the CPA exam.

A majority of respondents generally supported the current structure of the exam, which is divided into four parts—Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC).

The invitation to comment discussed the possibility of replacing the current BEC section with an integrated section that would allow for greater testing of higher-order skills and blend elements of taxation, auditing, and financial accounting and reporting. About seven in 10 respondents supported considering such an integrated section.

But there also was support to retain the current structure, including the BEC section. As it continues to develop the exam, the Board of Examiners has asked the AICPA exams staff to further explore the idea of an integrated exam section.

The idea of including more testing of written communications also is a challenge in the development of the exam. Although respondents supported testing of written communications in sections beyond the BEC section, scoring written responses in the exam is time-consuming and costly.

The AICPA plans to propose to continue to evaluate written communications solely for writing ability in a single section of the exam. Content knowledge and testing of higher-order skills (application, analysis, and evaluation) would be objectively tested through multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations in all sections of the exam.

Other findings from the invitation to comment included:

  • Given Microsoft Excel’s widespread use in the profession, almost seven in 10 respondents supported introducing it to replace the current generic spreadsheet used in the exam. Although this change will lead to a cost increase, the Board of Examiners acknowledged the suggestion, and the AICPA has begun working toward implementing Excel for potential inclusion in the exam in 2018.
  • Respondents suggested changes to certain aspects of how the test is administered. These included:
    • Eliminating the blackout months or reducing the blackout time. The exam currently is not administered in March, June, September, and December.
    • Extending from 18 months to 24 months the period during which the exam must be completed after passing the initial section.
    • Lifting the current restriction on retaking a failed section within the same testing window.

Additional research was used to develop detailed outlines describing the content and associated skill levels to be included in each existing exam section. A broad survey of newly licensed CPAs and their supervisors, which was completed in January, is being used by the AICPA exams staff to develop a draft blueprint for each exam section, to be included in the exposure draft in September.

Comments on the exposure draft received through November will be considered by the AICPA staff and the Board of Examiners. Final approval is expected in 2016, with launch of the new version of the exam in 2017.

Ken Tysiac ( ktysiac@aicpa.org ) is a JofA editorial director.

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