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2017 CPA Exam Changes: What You Need to Know

Posted on January 26, 2016 10:00 am;

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by Michael Brown, CPA CGMA, National Manager of Faculty & Distance Learning at Becker Professional Education

You’ve probably heard the news. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is launching a new version of the Uniform CPA Exam in 2017. But why is such a  change taking place, what are those changes and what does this mean for aspiring CPAs? Don’t panic, we’ve got it all the answers for you right here.  We sat with Michael Brown, CPA CGMA, National Manager of Faculty & Distance Learning at Becker Professional Education to get insights into the new exam changes. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Why the changes?

The primary driver for the changes to the exam is to address the need to test higher-order cognitive skills including “critical thinking, problem solving, analytical ability and professional skepticism” expected of newly licensed CPAs.  To address this need, the new exam will have a blueprint for each part designed to demonstrate both what knowledge will be tested and the skill level expected of the candidate related to that knowledge.  In addition, a greater emphasis on task-based simulations will be leveraged as a way to more extensively test these higher-order cognitive skills.  The changes are anticipated to be implemented on April 1st 2017.

2. Changes by section 

Some things are staying the same: the exam will still be set up in four parts (Financial Accounting and Reporting - FAR, Auditing and Attestation - AUD, Business Environment and Concepts - BEC, Regulation - REG) and will still be a combination of multiple choice and simulations.  Written communication will still be exclusively tested on the Business exam.  However, there are some things that will be changing: All four parts will now be a four hour exam (previously 3 hours for Regulation and Business).  There will now be a break built into each exam that will not count against the four hours the student has to complete the exam.  The number of multiple choice questions will be reduced and the number of task-based simulations will increase per below:

  • Multiple Choice Questions: 
    Current Exam: FAR (90), AUD (90), REG (72), BEC (72)
    2017 Exam: FAR (60-65), AUD (70-75), REG (70-75), BEC (60-65)
  • Task-Based Simulations: 
    Current Exam: FAR (7), AUD (7), REG (6), BEC (0)
    2017 Exam: FAR (8-9), AUD (8-9), REG (8-9), BEC (4-5)
  • Written Communication: 
    Current Exam: BEC (3)
    2017 Exam: BEC (3)

3. The new testing methodology

The biggest change is specifically addressing the cognitive skill levels in the design of the exam as described below:

  • Remembering and Understanding: The perception and comprehension of the significance of an area utilizing knowledge gained.
    FAR (10%-20%), AUD (30%-40%), REG (25%-35%), BEC (15%-25%)
  • Application: The use or demonstration of knowledge, concepts or techniques.
    FAR (50%-60%), AUD (30%-40%), REG (35%-45%), BEC (50%-60%)
  • Analysis: The examination and study of the interrelationships of separate areas in order to identify causes and find evidence to support inferences.
    FAR (25%-35%), AUD (15%-25%), REG (25%-35%), BEC (20%-30%)
  • Evaluation: The examination or assessment of problems and use of judgment to draw conclusions.
    AUD (5%-15%)

Task-based simulations will also be “enhanced” whereby a typical simulation will now take 15-30 minutes to complete (as compared to 10-20 minutes on the current exam).  A new type of simulation called a “Document Review Simulation” will also be introduced requiring the candidate to review a realistic document(s) as well as related source documents/exhibits to review and analyze.

4. Sit before 2017

Michael’s advice to CPA students?

“I would unequivocally encourage students to complete the exam prior to the new changes being implemented given the familiarity with the current exam as opposed to some of the unknowns that will still surround the new exam until it is launched”.

Take note.

5. The impact on CPA candidates sitting for the exam in 2016-2017

Given that the exam will still be comprised of the same four sections, and that the scaled passing score will remain at a 75, there won’t be a need for a formal transition phase from the AICPA – they will simply switch to the new format at the beginning of a testing window, consistent with how they handled the previous exam changes in 2004 and 2011.  Becker will support their course for the current version of the exam for as long as student will still be able to sit for the current version.  Becker will also ensure that the revised edition of the course is ready in time for when students may begin preparing for the new edition of the exam.

6. No changes to the testing windows

For now, there will be no changes to the testing windows, although the AICPA is investigating potentially enlarging each testing window to include the early part of the current non-testing months (March, June, September and December)

7. Licensed CPAs & the change

Current licensed CPAs will not be affected by the new exam changes.

8. Be Prepared with Becker Professional Education & Morgan International 

As with any change to the exam, we will devote significant resources to ensure our students are set up for success.  First, the Becker team will work to ensure that outlines, lectures and practice questions are aligned with the new blueprint including the removal of items that will no longer be tested and addition of new items that will now be tested.  Becker will also be updating the software to match any technological changes in the software used by the AICPA in their CPA Exam testing centers and are also using this as an opportunity to make other enhancements both to the content and mechanisms at work in Becker’s review course.

As always, at Morgan, we are equipped and ready to help you tackle any difficulties you may face and ensure a smooth transition onto the new version of the CPA exam.

So, if you have any questions or would like to discuss any facet of your eligibility or CPA exam concerns, just give us a call. We’re here to take your worries away so you can focus on becoming a CPA.

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