Content for redesigned CPA Exam takes shape

By Ken Tysiac

The AICPA released Wednesday a survey seeking feedback on the preliminary content proposed for the redesigned CPA Exam, which would be assessed in three sections that will comprise the Core of the Exam, plus material that would assess candidates’ knowledge in one of three Disciplines they choose under the new CPA Evolution licensure model.

Stakeholders will be able to share their thoughts on the content that might be assessed in the Core and Disciplines.

The Core-plus-Disciplines licensure model was developed by the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to reflect changes in the profession and technology, focusing newly licensed CPAs on the most relevant and useful knowledge and skills. The new Exam is expected to debut in 2024.

Three sections that comprise the Core of the Exam will test skills and knowledge in auditing, accounting, and tax, with a recognition of the impact technology has on these areas. The Core Exam sections focus on the knowledge and skills required of all newly licensed CPAs in their role in protecting the public interest. Each candidate will also be required to choose one of the following three Disciplines:

  • Business Analysis & Reporting (BAR).
  • Information Systems and Controls (ISC).
  • Tax Compliance & Planning (TCP).

“We’re trying to embrace what’s changing in the profession and the business environment and the skills a newly licensed CPA will need to possess for licensure,” said Audrey Katcher, CPA/CITP, CGMA, member of the AICPA Board of Examiners and co-chair of the ISC academic task force. “We all have experienced the rapid changes in the profession caused by technology and the related impact on the skill required of the newly licensed CPAs. The new model acknowledges the impacts of these technology changes and how the Exam needs to evolve to assess the newly licensed CPAs’ knowledge and skills to protect the public interest.”

The model is designed to ensure that newly licensed CPAs will possess the broad-based knowledge that they need while providing them an opportunity to demonstrate greater competency in one of the three Disciplines that interests them.

Exponential growth in new rules, concepts, and standards, along with changes in the roles and responsibilities of newly licensed CPAs, have caused the body of knowledge required of new CPAs to grow. The new model establishes a foundation for the most important and relevant topics that all newly licensed CPAs need to know to protect the public interest while providing an opportunity for candidates to explore a specific area of focus in a profession that has become increasingly specialized in recent years.

“The Core-and-Discipline model allows candidates to focus on areas that are of either special interest to them or their employer,” said Mike Decker, the AICPA’s vice president–Examinations & Pipeline. “It also gives us flexibility for the future as the profession evolves. We’ll always have a Core, and the Disciplines could potentially shift, in the future, as the profession shifts. Therefore, the new model could provide greater flexibility.”

Practice analysis yields insights

The draft content emerged during the first phases of the practice analysis in which the AICPA, NASBA, and various volunteer committees, subcommittees, and focus groups representing constituents throughout the profession examined the content currently tested on the Exam. They carefully considered what should be tested in the future in the Core and the Disciplines.

The Core needs to be restructured because there will be three sections in the Core, and the Exam currently has four sections.

“We started by looking at the existing Exam and saying, ‘OK, what’s absolutely critical that all newly licensed CPAs need to know to protect the public interest?’” said Rich Gallagher, CPA, senior director–Examinations Content for the AICPA.

The team took the existing Exam material and refocused it on knowledge determined to be truly essential to the Core. The material in the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section was reallocated, with some of it staying in the Core and the rest moved to either the BAR or the ISC discipline.

“The Core sections of the Exam contain content that substantially all newly licensed CPAs are routinely exposed to in practice,” said Doug Behn, CPA, a member of the CPA Exam Board of Examiners. “The Disciplines will focus on topics that are applicable to newly licensed CPAs engaged in those areas of practice that are maybe a little more nonroutine or less likely to be encountered by CPAs who are not focused in that area of practice.”

A couple of examples may best illustrate the difference between material that’s planned for the Core and what would be included in the Disciplines. Tax concepts encountered regularly by a CPA who does not practice in the tax area would be included in the Core, whereas nonroutine tax concepts that generally are encountered only by tax specialists would be included in the TCP section. The rules for reporting income related to a partnership is an example of a concept that could be covered in the Core, while transactions between partners and a partnership, such as a contribution of noncash property, is an example of content that could be assessed in the TCP discipline.

The Core would test understanding of business processes, including technology, and internal controls that CPAs would need to rely on in an audit engagement. The ISC section would go further, assessing knowledge and skills required to advise a client on business processes or test technology rather than just relying on it. For example, all newly licensed CPAs would need to understand the concept of reliance on a System and Organization Controls (SOC) report and how it would affect their client and their auditing procedures. As a result, that knowledge would be tested in the Core.

Knowledge and skills for CPAs who would perform a SOC engagement would be tested in the ISC Discipline.

Academic support

The Exam update will have implications for the accounting academic community as well as for CPA candidates. To assist the academic community, the AICPA and NASBA in June launched the CPA Evolution Model Curriculum, a blueprint for an accounting program that is designed to help educators prepare graduates for the changing demands of the CPA profession.

The curriculum describes suggested subject matter that colleges and universities can offer to align their accounting programs with the CPA Evolution licensure model. Of course, the higher education programs offer vastly more learning than is covered on the CPA Exam, but the curriculum is designed to facilitate exposing students who are interested in pursuing their CPA license to the appropriate knowledge and skills.

“It’s not a mandate,” Decker said. “It’s more a model to show the kinds of knowledge, skills, and training the students are going to need. It provides suggestions for which courses could cover specific topics, yet it leaves flexibility for the colleges and universities to make decisions on what works best for them.”

Gathering feedback

The AICPA Examinations Team will collect feedback from the survey that can be submitted through Sept. 7 and will inform the building out of a complete blueprint for the new Exam. The Core and Disciplines survey is organized at a general group and topic level, while the blueprint will include more detailed, representative task statements. These task statements give candidates further insight into the content that may be assessed in each of the Exam sections.

July 2022 is the target date for a draft blueprint that will be released for exposure and comments. A final blueprint is scheduled to be published at the beginning of 2023, with the Exam launch date targeted for January 2024.

Ultimately, Katcher said, the result will be a remodeled Exam that will assess the required core knowledge of newly licensed CPAs as well as content in their own, more focused area of interest, all aligned with the objective of protecting the public interest.

“This is embracing some of the skill sets they already have intuitively,” Katcher said. “They are not scared of the technology. It’s what young people do today. Technology is second nature to them, and that’s what we’re talking about.”

Meanwhile, Decker said, the Disciplines will allow a candidate to focus on a topic that they’re truly interested in.

“It may also allow them to avoid material that they’ll probably never see again, and that’s OK,” Decker said. “There’s nothing they need to fear from either the Core or the Disciplines, and hopefully the Disciplines will assess those areas in which the candidate is likely to practice.”

Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s editorial director.

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