CPA Insider

What to know about the new CPA Exam

From blueprints to changes in question weighting and exam time, there’s plenty to learn.
By Samiha Khanna

The day-to-day responsibilities of newly licensed CPAs are changing. To keep pace, the CPA Exam is evolving, too. Starting April 1, 2017, CPA candidates will take a redesigned exam that will evaluate not just how well they understand the basics of accounting and finance, but how well they can apply those principles.

“We have spent the past two years meeting with stakeholders and researching the roles and responsibilities of today’s newly licensed CPA, and revising the exam,” said Joe Maslott, CPA, CGMA, senior technical manager, content management for the AICPA Examinations team. “The format is similar to the current exam, but the weighting is adjusted so that more emphasis is placed on critical thinking and professional skepticism. Candidates will see fewer multiple-choice questions and more task-based simulations.”

Below, Maslott and other members of the Examinations team answer some common questions that candidates have about the new format.

Q: How many hours will the exam be?

A: For the first time since 2011, the total number of hours to complete the four sections of the CPA Exam will increase. Each section of the exam will last four hours for a total testing time of 16 hours, an increase from the current 14-hour time.

Testing times for the Auditing and Attestation (AUD) and Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) sections remain the same as in the current exam, at four hours each. The two remaining sections—Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) and Regulation (REG)—will each increase by one hour to allow for more task-based simulations.

Another modification is a standardized break available to all test takers at the same time. Approximately halfway through each of the four-hour exams, candidates will have the opportunity to stop their testing clock for a scheduled 15-minute break. The break is optional; however, candidates who opt not to take it will not receive another opportunity to stop their time to take a break.

As in the current exam, candidates will still have opportunities for two other 15-minute breaks between testlets at a time of their choosing, but the testing clock will continue to run during these optional recesses.

Q: Will the cost of the exam change?

A: Yes. The one-hour increases for the BEC and REG sections of the exam will result in increased administrative costs. As a result, fees to sit for the longer exams will increase. Fees will vary based on the region where the test is administered. More information on exam fees is available from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and state boards of accountancy.

Q: What types of questions will be on the exam?

A: Each of the four exam sections will consist of a combination of multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. This includes the BEC section, which will for the first time include task-based simulations in addition to the multiple-choice and written communication questions currently in this section.

Task-based simulations will include Document Review Simulations, a new type of question phased in this year and featured in the next version of the exam. These problems require candidates to examine a document and add or delete text to indicate the correct answer, Maslott said.

The quantity of each type of question will also change. All sections of the exam except REG will have fewer multiple-choice questions to make room for two to three additional task-based simulations. The REG section is the exception, with a slight increase in multiple-choice questions as well as an increase in task-based simulations.

Q: How will the exam be scored?

A: Multiple-choice questions currently count for 60% of the total score on the AUD, FAR, and REG sections, with task-based simulations counting for the remaining 40%. These weights will change on the next version of the exam, with each type of question counting for 50% of the total score on these three sections.

In the BEC section, multiple-choice questions currently comprise 85% of the total score, and three written communication tasks count for 15%. On the next exam version, this section will be split into three types of questions with weighting as follows: multiple-choice questions will count for 50%; task-based simulations will count for 35%; and written communication responses will count for 15%.

Q: How will I know what to study for the revised exam?

A: Perhaps the biggest enhancement of the CPA Exam that will debut April 1, 2017, is the level of detail included in the new blueprints that outline each section of the exam, Maslott said. These blueprints replace the current Content and Skill Specification Outlines that detail exam content.

The blueprints, published in April 2016, contain about 600 representative tasks that are closely aligned to the skills that newly licensed CPAs need to be successful. “They are a huge step forward in sharing exam content,” Maslott said. “We think it offers a lot more detail than what has previously been available. If candidates can master those tasks, they will be well-prepared,” he said.

Q: Will I still get credit for sections of the exam I passed prior to April 2017?

A: NASBA, state boards of accountancy, and the AICPA have agreed that any sections that candidates passed prior to the April 1, 2017, launch date will count toward a candidate’s licensure. Each passed exam section is valid for 18 months; score reports include any relevant expiration dates.

Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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