New, user-friendly software coming to the CPA Exam

By Ken Tysiac

As the accounting profession continues to evolve in a fast-moving business environment, the CPA Exam and its administration are undergoing their own changes to keep pace.

On the heels of a comprehensive content update in 2017, the AICPA is introducing next-generation technology designed to create a better testing experience for candidates. This will be accomplished through a new CPA Exam software platform in Prometric test centers that will provide candidates with an enhanced user experience and new tools for the exam.

The new software is being introduced on April 1, 2018, one year after the launch of an exam with content refreshed to maintain the exam’s alignment with the work of a newly licensed CPA.

“We’ve modernized the exam’s underlying platform to carry us into the future,” said Noel Albertson, director of project and technology delivery for the AICPA Examinations team.

This technology update is the result of a thorough effort to provide candidates with the best user experience possible. The AICPA Examinations team contracted with an outside user-experience firm, which designed the exam’s technology to be consistent with modern user-experience and usability standards.

Using actual candidates for the exam, the Examinations team went through multiple rounds of usability testing to arrive at the best solution.

“Software works best when users are involved from the beginning to the end,” Albertson said. “The input we received helped us to design a look and feel that will be familiar to candidates.”

The new software will enable a 16-to-9 screen aspect ratio that will allow candidates full use of the 23-inch HD monitors in the test centers.

In addition, the software will:

  • Provide a modern and intuitive user interface familiar to digital native generations.
  • Provide a dedicated, on-screen “workspace” for the candidates to review exam exhibits and documents. This will allow candidates to work with two documents at once on the same screen, mimicking the two-monitor environment that CPAs often use in their work.
  • Add a tool that will allow users to highlight areas of text that they deem to be important.
  • Provide seamless cut-and-paste functionality.
  • Add Microsoft Excel as a tool. Microsoft Excel remains the current standard used by most, if not all, newly licensed CPAs.

These tools will make the testing conditions and tools similar to a CPA’s real work environment. The desktop at the test center will feature the same types of monitors that candidates use on the job.

“The use of a larger screen area gives candidates the ability to access multiple tools at once, whether it’s exhibits, Excel, or the authoritative literature,” said Henrietta Eve, CPA, lead manager–Product Development for the AICPA Examinations team.

Changing the format of a licensing exam is a rigorous undertaking given the requirements of standardized candidate experience and legal defensibility.

As a result of the changes, scores will be held in the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2018 as AICPA psychometric experts analyze results to see whether the new software affects candidates’ ability to record a passing score.

Score release dates for the second quarter will be June 27 for the Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG) sections of the exam and June 29 for the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section. Scores will be released Sept. 19 for all four sections in the third quarter and Dec. 19 for all four sections in the fourth quarter.

A new tutorial developed by the Examinations team will help candidates prepare for the new software. Web-based sample tests for each exam section and a highlights video describing the new features of the software are available at aicpa.org/cpaexam.

“Advanced preparation is a must. We encourage candidates to use the online tools to familiarize themselves with the exam’s functionality and features well ahead of test day,” Eve said.

A new platform also is available for visually impaired CPA candidates. The JAWS (Job Access With Speech) technology reads the material on the screen for visually impaired candidates. Candidates who need this type of accommodation are required to contact the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy before taking the exam to make arrangements. Previously, a human reader was provided for visually impaired candidates.

The new software will provide the AICPA with more flexibility in maintaining the exam’s technology and content while making implementation of future changes easier.

“In the future, we expect to take additional steps that will benefit candidates,” Albertson said. “This technology investment is about positioning ourselves to easily make those future changes and address the testing needs of an ever-evolving profession.”

Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA editorial director

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