Preview of the CPA exam of the future

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (AICPA) Board of Examiners (the Board) has approved CBT-e, a multi-year project for Uniform CPA Examination improvements, and work is currently underway in content-related, operational, psychometric, and system areas toward the CPA exam of the future. Specific improvements proposals were reviewed and commented on by state boards of accountancy, academic programs, accounting firms, and CPAs working in public accounting and based on these comments, the Board of Examiners approved work on five proposals.

The 2008 Practice Analysis Exposure Draft Proposed Content and Skill Specifications for the Uniform CPA Examination is still in the Comment stage, and is being reviewed by the Board of Examiners. The new content and skill specifications, when approved, new formats, and other examination improvements will make the 2008 overhaul of the CPA exam the most significant since the introduction of the uniform exam.

Work on improvements to the exam is proceeding, in advance of a decision on the Exposure Draft, according to the Uniform CPA Examination Alert. CPAs in the Examinations section of the AICPA are re-coding the entire bank of examination questions in preparation for the introduction of the new content and skills testing. The result will be two item banks: one that reflects the current exam and one that will reflect the new content and skills specifications.

Task-based simulations

An overwhelming majority of comments received by the Board supported development of "shorter simulations" to replace simulations in the current format, and the proposal to develop task-based simulations (TBS), which could lead to faster scoring of the exam. Three examination sections will include these new task-based simulations: Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. The two simulations currently on every exam (except in Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)) will be replaced by multiple TBS. Developing these will require a great deal of work by the CPA staff in Examination and volunteers.

The Board approved a second proposal that task-based simulations be implemented at the same time as the new content and skills specifications.

All essay questions in BEC

The proposal to move all essay question to BEC received mixed responses, with two state boards opposing any essay questions on the CPA exam, while several believed the Board should give greater emphasis to written communication skills. The Board decided to approve the proposal, however, because it was linked to faster scoring and cost containment goals which are universally approved. Efforts to develop BEC written communication tasks have begun – the writing of essay prompts, for example, and the entire process of written communication testing is under review.

Test schedule and investigation of testing time

The Board also approved proposals to maintain the current test administration schedule for the time being and investigate a possible reduction in total testing time once the statistical properties and content of the examination are known.

While respondents approved the investigation into a shorter testing time, the vast majority of respondents to the proposal appeared to believe that a shorter examination would not be advisable.

New standards for passing scores

In addition to approving the five proposals, the AICPA has set up a standard setting plan that will be carried out over a period of months both before and after CBT-e implementation because the CBT-e changes to the exam are expected to be significant enough to require that new passing scores be established.

According to Krista Breithaupt, Director of Psychometrics and Research, who is quoted in the Uniform CPA Examination Alert, "We need to make certain that appropriate oversight and methodology are utilized in developing a passing score recommendation for consideration by the BOE. On a licensure examination – such as the CPA Examination – setting passing scores is critically important as the resulting pass/fail decisions must be fair and defensible in the protection of the public interest."

New research task format

The first CBT-e improvement, a simpler research task format for the Authoritative Research sections of the exam, became effective July 1, 2008. Online search is a required task for some simulations. Candidates are given access to the appropriate accounting literature database during the exam. Depending on the section, they will be directed to Accounting Standards, Auditing Standards or Tax Code.

The new research task format interface can be previewed in a slide presentation or in the newly revised Tutorial and Sample Tests.

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