CPA Exam Changing to Better Prepare New CPAs

If you are an accounting major in college or someone looking to take the CPA exam soon, here’s some news that you should pay attention to: the Uniform CPA Examination is changing! The AICPA Board of Examiners has observed that newly licensed CPAs are performing higher-level tasks earlier in their careers contributed to the use of more technology for basic functions. CPAs are now required to have more critical thinking and problem solving skills, more research skills, a greater understanding of business (not just accounting), and better communication skills.

The AICPA Board of Examiners has issued an exposure draft seeking feedback on proposed adjustments to the CPA Exam which will be announced in Spring 2016 with the new exam to debut in mid-2017. The exam will still maintain the same four sections (Audit, Business, Financial, and Regulation) but will increase the total test time from 14 hours to 16 hours. Currently, Business and Regulation are only 3 hours a piece. An additional hour will be added to both of these sections under the new format to make each section 4 hours. The new exam would place less emphasis on “remembering” skills (less multiple choice) and more emphasis on “higher-level analysis” (more task-based simulations). Below is a chart summarizing the proposed changes:

Source: AICPA exposure draft, Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination.

A positive for future exam takers could be an extension of testing windows into the first 10 days of each third month, extending the 18-month rolling window for passing all four parts to 24 months, and allowing students to retest a failed section of the exam in the same testing window. Under the current format, every third month of a calendar quarter (a testing window) is a “black out month” when no tests are given, candidates must pass all four sections in an 18-month time frame, and if you fail a section during one window (a calendar quarter) you cannot take it again until the next window (ex. if you fail a test in January, you cannot retake it until April currently). Another positive is adding scheduled breaks during each exam. With the current format, candidates can take a break but the exam time continues to run. Also, in 2018, new software could allow for more testing location options such as on college or university campuses. All of these changes are being made in an effort to preserve the CPA exam’s relevance and role in protecting the public interest as the business world and the demands on CPAs continue to evolve. “You’re going to see an exam that is more representative of what you will do when you get out and work for a CPA firm or work for a company,” says Rick Niswander, Outgoing Chairman for the AICPA Board of Examiners.

With all these changes looming some might be nervous. However, candidates beginning testing soon or currently testing have more motivation to finish in 2016 under the current format. For candidates starting in 2017 or later, you’ll never know the old exam style and will be well prepared for the new format with more than a year to plan for it and will enter the workforce better suited. Best of luck to everyone on their journey to complete the CPA Exam—study hard!