The updated, 2024 CPA Exam ("Exam") Blueprints introduce a different exam format that will create flexibility and enable rising accountants to demonstrate their strengths and interests.
New to the Blueprints and the Exam is the introduction of a Discipline section. Instead of everyone testing under the same four Exam sections, there are three Core sections, and candidates must then choose one of three Disciplines.
Changes to the Blueprints and the Exam "really focus on additional technology concepts, including System and Organization Controls (SOC) engagements, data, technology, and a new element in the Exam, personal financial planning," said Joe Maslott, CPA, associate director–Content Management at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. "The Blueprint structure has not changed, but the underlying content in each Core and Discipline Exam section is different, which is why being familiar with each section Blueprint is imperative."
The Blueprints, with over 100 pages, are a go-to guide for the CPA Exam for students, academics and faculty members, testing officials, Exam writers, and others.
"The Blueprints are the official document that define the content that is eligible for assessment on the Exam," said Richard Gallagher, CPA, senior director–Examination Content at AICPA & CIMA. "Subject matter that is eligible for testing is described in each of the Blueprint sections. The Blueprints are a critical document."
Updates reflect changes in the profession
Introduction of the Core and Discipline model provides both flexibility for candidates and increased assessment real estate. Content assessed in the Core sections reflects knowledge and skills that all newly licensed CPAs must know.
"The breadth of knowledge required of CPAs has increased over the years," Gallagher said. "The CPA Exam is the gateway to licensure in the profession."
The three sections that comprise the Core of the Exam — Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Taxation and Regulation (REG) — will be similar to the current version of the Exam, although some content has moved from FAR and REG to their related Discipline sections.
Each candidate must also pass a Discipline section for licensure. Candidates can choose from three options: Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR), Information Systems and Controls (ISC), or Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP). The Discipline sections enable candidates to "demonstrate knowledge and skills in an area that aligns with their current interests," Maslott said.
The CPA Exam Blueprints will be available for review starting in January 2023. Testing under the updated curriculum begins in 2024, so everyone has a year to acclimate and prepare.
Evolution of the Blueprints
The new round of changes to the CPA Exam Blueprints were informed by a 2021 survey that asked what knowledge and skill sets newly licensed CPAs (nlCPAs) needed.
"Through the 2021 survey, we sought to understand what nlCPAs must know and what they are doing on the job during the first few years of their careers," said Mike Decker, vice president–CPA Examination and Pipeline at AICPA & CIMA. "What we learned is nlCPAs are operating under the increased pressure of a complex technological and regulatory environment. By evolving the CPA Exam, we are helping future CPAs embrace new skills and competencies and thereby making them better equipped to handle what's needed today — and in the future."
Decker noted this is a benefit to employers as well. nlCPAs will have enhanced competencies more relevant to today's business practices and firm services. Enabling candidates to test within their chosen area may also open the door to more majors having an increased interest in the profession.
"Traditionally, the CPA license is sought by people in business, math, or accounting degree programs, but, with a greater emphasis on technology and technology systems, we are opening the door to attracting new majors into the profession," Decker said.
Part of the broader CPA Evolution project, the changes ensure that the CPA licensure model reflects the specialization needed of today's accountants because of the evolving demands of technology, outsourcing, and more.
Introduction of greater flexibility
The new format and content are in line with previously enacted CPA Exam changes that mirror the evolution within the profession. In 2016, the Blueprints were introduced and included topics related to problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. At that time, there was an increase in the number and complexity of task-based simulations, small case studies/problems upon which candidates were assessed in each Exam section.
The Blueprints were revised again in 2021 to reflect the impact of technology on the work nlCPAs perform.
"Where we are today builds off of the foundation of those earlier changes," Gallagher said.
The new Exam model signals an increased importance on flexibility — flexibility needed in the profession as a whole and for individuals. While a candidate can select their Discipline section, it does not restrict their practice throughout their career. They can shift their scope of practice as their career unfolds.
"Instead of everyone taking the exact same four sections, it allows a candidate to align with what their interests and passions are today," Maslott said.
— Beth Roessner is a senior content writer at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.