CPA Exam Review News Blog

CPA Exam Evolving to Reflect Shift in Skills Requirements

It’s December 2015, but everyone’s talking about the big exam changes for 2017.  What’s the deal? The deal is, with changes on the horizon, it is more important for CPA candidates to be prepared and successful in passing their exams in 2016. For those of you not yet familiar with the upcoming changes, here are some highlights.


The tasks performed by newly licensed CPAs have changed in recent years. The Uniform CPA Examination is evolving to reflect those changes.


According to Rick Niswander, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., and outgoing chairperson of the AICPA Board of Examiners, “Tasks that an entry-level CPA may have done in the past are now either largely mechanized through electronic mediums” or are being handled by non-CPAs. 


Niswander was a co-presenter at a recent meeting discussing information about the ongoing CPA exam changes for 2017 and beyond. The timetable calls for changes to be announced in the spring of 2016, with the new exam set to debut in 2017. The proposed modifications to the exam are intended to reflect a shift in the responsibilities of newly licensed CPAs.


Although technical skills remain important, the need for CPAs to possess higher-order skills early in their careers has increased. These include:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving.
  • Research skills.
  • Greater understanding of the business—not just the accounting.
  • Communication skills.


Newly licensed CPAs have needed to have those skills for years and years and years. It’s just that the demand for having more of those skills has increased,” said Niswander.


The proposed exam update would keep the current four exam sections but change how content is assessed. The proposal calls for less emphasis on “application” and “remember and understand” skills. Questions assessing higher-level analysis skills would be added, and the AUD section also would assess skills of the highest level, evaluation. New blueprints for each section of the exam would illustrate the content, tasks, and related skills that would be tested, assisting exam takers and educators in their preparation.


Overall, the exam would have fewer multiple-choice questions and more task-based simulations. Total testing time would increase from 14 to 16 hours, with one hour each added to the BEC and REG sections.


Convenience for candidates


Some changes would be intended to make the exam more convenient for candidates to take. New blueprints for each section of the exam would illustrate the information and skills that would be tested, assisting exam takers and educators in their preparation. Looking ahead even further in 2018, a new software package could create the possibility for secure testing at more locations. It’s envisioned that secure testing could take place even at colleges or firms. Excel spreadsheets also would be added to the exam in 2018.


Niswander is quoted as saying, “The phrase we’re using is, we want to make it easier to test, not an easier test.” And the reasons for all these changes, simply said, are 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,” Niswander said. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”

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