CPA Exam Blueprints: What You Need to Know

what you need to know about cpa exam blueprints

When the changes the AICPA has planned for the CPA Exam take effect on April 1, 2017, the exam will look very different from its current version. The most significant change will be the new focus on testing higher order skills. To help candidates prepare for this adjustment, the AICPA has created and released CPA Exam blueprints. The blueprints delineate the content and skills the exam may test and will replace the CPA Exam Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) and the Skill Specification Outlines (SSOs). Candidates transitioning from the current exam to the next should understand the differences between the blueprints and the CSOs/SSOs, and candidates just beginning the CPA Exam process will benefit from knowing how the blueprints can help them prepare.

What Are the Differences Between the CPA Exam Blueprints and the CSOs/SSOs?

Since 2009, the AICPA has communicated the content of the CPA Exam with candidates via the CSOs and the SSOs. In the exposure draft for the next version of the exam published in September 2015, the AICPA introduced the CPA Exam blueprints.


The blueprints boast a new name and an updated look, yet they generally fulfill the same functions as the CSOs/SSOs. Basically, the CSOs/SSOs and the blueprints exist to

  1. Assist candidates’ study effort by providing information about the CPA Exam
  2. Aid the development of CPA Exam questions so all exam versions have the necessary content
  3. Record the knowledge and skill levels necessary for licensure so the exam versions are consistent

The CSOs/SSOs complemented the CPA Exam versions of their time, but the production of the next exam version required upgraded documents. Beginning with the next exam, the AICPA will hold candidates to a higher standard of competency to demonstrate the elite status of being a CPA. In hopes that accounting programs will increase their involvement in candidates’ efforts to meet these elevated expectations, the blueprints also are intended to keep educators aware of the knowledge and skills required to function as newly licensed CPAs.


The CSOs laid the foundation for the CPA Exam blueprints by sharing the technical content each CPA Exam section tests on and the amount of coverage an exam section allots this content.

CPA Exam Blueprints

The SSOs addressed all the exam sections and shared how the CPA Exam tests different skills.

CPA Exam Blueprints

The blueprints build upon the information included in the CSOs/SSOs to be even “more informative overall for candidates, academia, regulators, and other stakeholders,” according to the AICPA. The blueprints still outline both the content to be tested and the skills associated with that content. However, the blueprints also reveal the representative tasks assigned to each topic.

To create the next CPA Exam version, the AICPA conducted a rigorous practice analysis and developed the blueprints based on the results. With this practice analysis, the AICPA identified approximately 600 representative tasks that enable a newly licensed CPA to protect the public interest. The blueprints explain that these tasks “combine both the applicable content knowledge and skills required in the context of the work of a newly licensed CPA.” The AICPA categorized each of these tasks according to four higher order skill levels. These skill levels are

  • Remembering and Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation

For each exam section, the blueprints now discuss the representative tasks within a content group/topic and indicate the skill level of each task.

CPA Exam Blueprints

The CPA Exam blueprints also report the following information about each exam section:

  • Scope of section
  • Content organization and tasks
  • Content allocation
  • Overview of content areas
  • Skill allocation
  • Listing of the section’s applicable reference literature

CPA Exam Blueprints

Overall, the CPA Exam blueprints are in many ways more specific, streamlined, and user-friendly than the CSOs/SSOs. Most importantly, they supply essential information for candidates taking the next version of the CPA Exam.

How Can the CPA Exam Blueprints Help Candidates Prepare for the Next CPA Exam?

For candidates sitting for the next version of the CPA Exam, the CPA Exam blueprints offer a general synopsis of the content they may see on the exam. The simplified, visual construction of the blueprints allows candidates to absorb critical exam information while expending less time and effort. Also, the blueprints’ detailed insight into the manner in which the exam will assess the higher levels of knowledge and the representative tasks enables candidates to better brace themselves for the ways in which the next exam version will challenge their understanding and abilities. These modifications will help prepare candidates more efficiently and effectively. Therefore, we encourage candidates to peruse this resource at least once during their exam preparation. For your convenience, the Gleim CPA Review books include a summary of the CPA Exam blueprints.

While the blueprints are replacing the CSOs/SSOs, none of these AICPA-provided assets could ever replace CPA review. CPA review providers refer to the blueprints as a guide to make courses that dive deeper into the exam content so you can truly master it. With the right CPA review course, you can obtain the knowledge and confidence you need to pass the CPA Exam the first time. Gleim CPA Review delivers the most comprehensive coverage of exam content and employs efficient learning methods proven to help you understand the material faster. The SmartAdaptTM technology in our 2017 CPA Review Course uses these methods to lead you through a customized learning path that pinpoints and focuses on your weak areas so you’re as prepared as possible. Learn more about our innovative new CPA course today.