This time last year we were are preparing for the new version of the CPA Exam to be implemented. If we're painting with a broad brush, critical thinking, and task-based simulations were the central theme of the change. The AICPA provided blueprints outlining every aspect of change including those to breaks, amount of questions, etc. But how has the change in the exam changed how people in the profession are thinking about it?
The change brought about a new Era in the CPA Exam
The primary result of any change is the comparison. What is it like now that is different than before? Is it harder? Are more people passing? All these speculations are normal. Just try to debate who the best basketball player of all time is, and you'll start talking Michael Jordan or Lebron James. People will dissect their stats, and inevitably it will be brought up that it was a different era in basketball. Same sport, but no fair comparison can be made with rules, style of play, and the business of basketball all changing.
CPA's are finding the same issue already. One year isn't enough to make any reasonable speculation on what effect the changes to the exam have had. That being said, the pass rates appear to be on par, but looking at pass rates from the 2016-17 years may be a misleading sample.
The AICPA Blueprints really mattered
Students knew the exam change was coming, so you had a higher volume taking the exam right before the new version was implemented. This means you had many students possibly taking the exam prematurely, which would explain lower passing rates in late 2016 and early 2017. The students who have passed after the exam changed at the same rate as those before may be explained by increased study time. Students knew the change would bring the extra challenge of navigating uncharted territory and implementing information, thus more hours hitting the books.
The new exam is harder but more accurate to the profession
Our students knew what was expected of them as we incorporated the AICPA Exam Blueprints into our study materials. While the exam may have become more difficult, even harder than anticipated for some, it wasn't too big of a surprise. The new exam pushed students to study topics that would be covered and learn how to problem solve in a timely manner. Those who studied with the Blueprints implemented were able to answer the questions efficeintly.
The difficulty doesn't necessarily come from the amount of study time, but from how you study. Before, it was enough to know the information, but it wasn't necessarily asked that you know how to use it. The idea before was kind of like an actress who was only asked to memorize her lines but never perform the role. Now, students are asked to know the lines and perform. So it's more of a true audition for the part.
MCQ's and TBS
Students had to deliver on a tall order when it came to memorization and application. Many found some parts of the exam to be easier than others. The confusion came when they were unclear on how to answer a question, or where to draw from as the answers were not as straightforward as they used to be. Questions used to feel two parted where as now the answer need not only be presented, but it's purpose explained as it would need to be in the actual world.
What you should do
Make positive you understand the AICPA Blueprints and study with a program that has implemented them. If you don't, you are using outdated materials.
Be able to apply knowledge to task-based simulations, but don't forget about multiple choice. Much emphasis has been put on TBS's but scoring wise, MCQ's still matter and need not be forgotten about.
Go in with an exam strategy. Again, look at the AICPA Blueprints and how breaks can be taken. Understand that you need to be able to read a question and come up with an answer to each question before you end up rushing to complete the exam. Learn how to be critical of the questions asked, if there is information included that is not pertinent to the answer, and how to recognize this to answer concisely.
Talk with a CPA Exam Advisor
If you took the exam last year or not, it's helpful to talk to advisors and educators who walked alongside students as they took the exam. They not only understand the Blueprints forwards and backward, but they've also seen what worked and what extra obstacles to watch out for.