Your Guide to CPA Exam Changes & Updates

2017 CPA Exam Changes

Introduction

The CPA Exam is going to have many changes in 2017. The changes culminate in an exam that is more difficult, with questions that test candidates at higher levels of knowledge. Levels Of Knowledge

Levels of Knowledge on the 2017 Exam

In the field of education, there are multiple levels of knowledge (listed from lowest to highest): Remembering and Understanding, Application, Analysis, and Evaluation.

The current CPA Exam tests at the Remembering and Understanding and Application levels of knowledge. Beginning in 2017, the CPA Exam will also test candidates at the Analysis and Evaluation levels of knowledge via new, more difficult multiple-choice and simulation questions.

New for 2017 CPA Exam
  • 01 Remembering & Understanding

    The perception and comprehension of the significance of a topic utilizing knowledge gained.

  • 02 Application

    The use of demonstration of knowledge, concepts, or techniques.

  • 03 Analysis
    New for 2017 CPA Exam

    The examination and study of the interrelationships between separate areas in order to identify cause and find evidence to support inferences.

  • 04 Evaluation
    New for 2017 CPA Exam

    The examination or assessment of problems and the use of judgment to draw conclusions.

Building

So, as a CPA candidate, you're probably wondering what these educational terms mean to you. To put it into perspective, we'll demonstrate the levels of knowledge with accounting examples.

“The remembering level (the lowest level) is the ability to repeat back what one has been taught.”

For example, remembering that the IRS allows for a building to be depreciated over 39.5 years.

“At the next level, understanding, the CPA candidate should be able to not only repeat what has been taught, but also comprehend the principles and theory behind the knowledge.”

For instance, being able to explain to a client the mechanics (or journal entries) of depreciating a building over 39.5 years.

“The application level is where a CPA candidate not only understands the theory, but also can apply what has been learned and perform in accordance with that knowledge.”

This is the level tested by the current task-based simulations. For example, the ability to make a journal entry for depreciating a building and compile the effects on the balance sheet.

Balance Sheet Right Arrow Down Arrow
  • Application & Analysis
  • Reconciling
  • Concluding
  • Evaluating

The next two levels of knowledge, analysis and evaluation, can ultimately be combined into one idea: A CPA candidate will need to be able to associate various learned elements with other segments or blocks of learning or accomplishments as well as draw conclusions and make judgments about them.

Questions that test a CPA candidate's abilities to reconcile, conclude, or evaluate scenarios assess the highest levels of knowledge. For example, uncovering an understatement of ending inventory during an audit should make a CPA candidate conclude the client may be trying to understate profits by overstating cost of goods sold and thereby defer tax liabilities to a later period. The auditor should also be concerned that the client may try to understate profits in other ways, such as by not recognizing sales or overstating other expenses in the current period. Thus, further auditing in these areas may be warranted.

This type of inter-correlating information and knowledge demonstrates these higher levels of knowledge. When you are performing at this advanced stage of cognition, you can answer the "so what" questions. If you can explain why something is important or not important, then you have reached the analysis and evaluation levels of knowledge.

Previous CPA Exam: AUD, BEC, FAR, REG
50% 50%
Remembering and Understanding Application
Left Arrow
2017 CPA Exam
Section Remembering and Understanding Application Analysis Evaluation
AUD 30%-40% 30%-40% 15%-25% 5%-15%
BEC 15%-25% 50%-60% 20%-30% -
FAR 10%-20% 50%-60% 25%-35% -
REG 25%-35% 35%-45% 25%-35% -

Remember that these advanced cognitive skills were not previously tested on the CPA Exam. Beginning on April 1, 2017, though, all 4 sections of the CPA Exam will test at the analysis level, and the Auditing & Attestation section will also have questions testing at the evaluation level. Therefore, this is a really big step for the AICPA, and it demonstrates that the questions on the CPA Exam will become much more difficult.

In addition, the testing of these cognitive abilities will increase content integration among the sections, e.g., candidates may need to draw on their base-level knowledge of FAR topics while answering an AUD TBS.

Comparison Chart and Details

2017 Version (April) Previous Version
Begins April 1, 2017 Ends March 10, 2017
CPA Exam will shift to test higher order skills like analysis and evaluation and will no longer assess the remembering and understanding and application skill levels equally. CPA Exam assessed remembering and understanding and application skill levels equally.
No changes. There are 4 sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Communication (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).
BEC will include task-based simulations in addition to multiple-choice questions and written communications. BEC included 72 multiple-choice questions and 3 written communications.
Total testing time will be 16 hours - 4 sections of 4 hours each. Total CPA Exam testing time was 14 hours.
The exam will include 62 BEC multiple-choice questions, 66 FAR multiple-choice questions, 72 AUD multiple-choice questions, and 76 REG multiple-choice questions. The CPA Exam included either 72 or 90 multiple-choice questions, depending on the section.
The CPA Exam will include 5 task-based simulations for BEC and 9 task-based simulations for AUD, FAR, and REG. The CPA Exam included 6, 7, or no task-based simulations, depending on the section.
The CPA Exam will include Document Review Simulations (DRS), a new type of task-based simulations. The CPA Exam did not include Document Review Simulations.
For AUD, FAR, and REG, the scoring weights for both the multiple-choice questions and the task-based simulations will be 50%.

The scoring weights for BEC will be 50% for multiple-choice, 35% for task-based simulations, and 15% for written communications.

AUD, FAR, and REG scoring weights were as follows: 60% multiple-choice and 40% task-based simulations.

BEC scoring weights were 85% multiple-choice and 15% written communications.

No changes. Scores are released within an average of 20 days.
No change for 2017, but Microsoft Excel might replace the generic spreadsheet tool in 2018. Generic spreadsheets were provided at the testing center during the exam
Exam fees will continue to vary by state, but BEC and REG will increase by $20 per section. Exam fees varied by state.
A new standardized 15-minute break that will not count against testing time will be available to candidates during each exam section. Breaks counted toward the total exam time allotted to candidates.

Document Review Simulation (DRS)

The Document Review Simulation (DRS) is a new type of Task-Based Simulation that tests application, analysis, and/or evaluation skills. The DRS will present a realistic document and source documents (exhibits) that require review. Certain words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs in the DRS document may not be correct, and the candidate will need to select appropriate edits based on the source documents provided.

The AICPA believes that the new DRS will increase CPA Exam authenticity, as it represents tasks that newly licensed CPAs may have to perform.

In general, Task-Based Simulations (TBSs) on the new exam will include more material and data that a candidate will have to sort through to determine what is relevant to the actual question.

Scoring Weights

Previously on the CPA Exam, 60% of the score came from the multiple-choice section of AUD, FAR, and REG. The remainder of the exam score (40%) was from the Task-Based Simulations. MCQs made up 85% of the total score in BEC, with the rest of the weight attributed to the written communications.

After March 10,2017, exams will be scored differently to accommodate the increased testing at higher order skills. For AUD, FAR and REG, the MCQ and TBS portions of the exams will make up 50% each of the total score. In BEC, the MCQs will be worth 50% of the score, while the written communications will make up 15%, and the new TBSs will be 35% of the total score.

2017 Version
Previous Version
MCQ Current TBS WC MCQ Current TBS WC
AUD 50% 50% 0% 60% 40% 0%
BEC 50% 35% 15% 85% 0% 15%
FAR 50% 50% 0% 60% 40% 0%
REG 50% 50% 0% 60% 40% 0%

Time Allotment & Exam Breaks

Each of the sections on the 2017 exam will have a 4-hour time limit. The previous version of the exam only gave candidates four hours to complete the multiple-choice questions and Task-Based Simulations for AUD and FAR. BEC and REG had to be completed in three hours. To make up for the addition of Task-Based Simulations to BEC, the exam will increase by one hour in 2017, thus making it a four-hour exam. Due to the more complete Task-Based Simulations testing at the analysis level, REG will also increase in exam length by one hour, making it a four-hour exam as well.

Given that the exams will now be more challenging, and in some cases longer, the AICPA has added a standardized 15-minute break to each exam section. This break will automatically be offered after the first TBS testlet is completed–about the midway point of the section. The new break will not count against testing time if used, and the exam clock will stop when the break begins. If a candidate declines to take the 15-minute break, there will not be another opportunity to use it. The exam clock will restart after 15 minutes even if a candidate has not started the second TBS testlet. Candidates will still have the option to take additional breaks during their Prometric exam session, but these breaks will count against testing time.

Previous Time
Allotment
2017 Time
Allotment
Variance
AUD 4 4 0
BEC 3 4 1
FAR 4 4 0
REG 3 4 1

Score Release Timelines

The AICPA does not anticipate any changes with the current 20-day average turnaround time, therefore score release schedules will be unaffected. However, the score release for Q2, Q3, and Q4 2017 testing windows scores will be delayed so that the AICPA can conduct standards setting for the next version of the CPA Exam. If you believe the score release delay may affect your ability to complete the CPA Exam within the 18-month window, you should contact your state board for assistance. The AICPA expects the following dates for the delayed score releases:

Test Window AICPA / Board of Examiners
Reviews Exam Performance Data
and Conducts Standard Setting
Approximate Release Date
of Candidate Scores
2017 Q2
April 1 - May 31
10 weeks August 16-18
2017 Q3
July 1 - September 10
10 days September 22
2017 Q4
October 1 - December 10
10 days December 22

Exam Cost

BEC and REG sections will increase by approximately $20 each to accommodate the new candidate seat time. Remember, the BEC and REG sections will now allow candidates to have four hours in which to complete these sections.

Blueprints

Content Specification Outlines (CSOs) and Skill Specification Outlines (SSOs) will be replaced by blueprints. These blueprints will include the content, related representative tasks, and skills that will be tested on the Exam. Blueprints are representative and should not be considered all-inclusive lists of tasks that may be tested on the Exam. Further, the number of tasks associated with a particular topic is not indicative of the extent such content will be tested.

Microsoft Excel in 2018

In 2018, Microsoft Excel will replace the current generic spreadsheet function. The addition of this program will have the goal of aiding test takers in completing calculations; candidates will not be tested on their Excel skill level.

Blueprints v. CSOs

Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section

2017 Version
Major Areas Covered Predominant Skill
I. Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and General Principles 15% - 25% Remembering and Understanding and Application
II. Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response 20% - 30% Analysis and Evaluation
III. Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence 30% - 40% Analysis and Evaluation
IV. Forming Conclusions and Reporting 15% - 25% Remembering and Understanding and Application
Skill Weight
Evaluation 5% - 15%
Analysis 15% - 25%
Application 30% - 40%
Remembering and Understanding 30% - 40%
Previous Exam
Major Areas Covered
I. Engagement Acceptance and Understanding the Assignment 12% - 16%
II. Understanding the Entity and Its Environment (including Internal Control) 16% - 20%
III. Performing Audit Procedures and Evaluating Evidence 16% - 20%
IV. Evaluating Audit Findings, Communications and Reporting 16% - 20%
V. Accounting and Review Service Engagements 12% - 16%
VI. Professional Responsibilities 16% - 20%

Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section

2017 Version
Major Areas Covered Predominant Skill
I. Corporate Governance 17% - 27% Application
II. Economic Concepts and Analysis 17% - 27% Analysis
III. Financial Management 11% - 21% Analysis
IV. Information Technology 15% - 25% Application
V. Operations Management 15% - 25% Analysis
Skill Weight
Evaluation -
Analysis 20% - 30%
Application 50% - 60%
Remembering and Understanding 15% - 25%
Previous Exam
Major Areas Covered
I. Corporate Governance 16% - 20%
II. Economic Concepts and Analysis 16% - 20%
III. Financial Management 19% - 23%
IV. Information Systems and Communications 15% - 19%
V. Strategic Planning 10% - 14%
VI. Operations Management 12% - 16%

Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section

2017 Version
Major Areas Covered Predominant Skill
I. Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting 25% - 35% Analysis
II. Select Financial Statement Accounts 30% - 40% Analysis
III. Select Transactions 20% - 30% Analysis
IV. State and Local Governments 5% - 15% Remembering and Understanding and Application
Skill Weight
Evaluation -
Analysis 25% - 35%
Application 50% - 60%
Remembering and Understanding 10% - 20%
Previous Exam
Major Areas Covered
I. Conceptual Framework, Standards, Standard Setting and Presentation of Financial Statements 17% - 23%
II. Financial Statement Accounts: Recognition, Measurement, Valuation, Calculation, Presentation and Disclosures 27% - 33%
III. Specific Transactions, Events and Disclosures: Recognition, Measurement, Valuation, Calculation, Presentation and Disclosures 27% - 33%
IV. Governmental Accounting and Reporting 8% - 12%
V. Not-for-Profit (Nongovernmental) Accounting and Reporting 8% - 12%

Regulation (REG) section

2017 Version
Major Areas Covered Predominant Skill
I. Ethics, Professional Responsibilities and Federal Tax Procedures 10% - 20% Remembering and Understanding and Application
II. Business Law 10% - 20% Remembering and Understanding and Application
III. Federal Taxation of Property Transactions 12% - 22% Application and Analysis
IV. Federal Taxation of Individuals 15% - 25% Application and Analysis
V. Federal Taxation of Entities 28% - 38% Application and Analysis
Skill Weight
Evaluation -
Analysis 25% - 35%
Application 35% - 45%
Remembering and Understanding 25% - 35%
Previous Exam
Major Areas Covered
I. Ethics, Professional and Legal Responsibilities 15% - 19%
II. Business Law 17% - 21%
III. Federal Tax Process, Procedures, Accounting and Planning 11% - 15%
IV. Federal Taxation of Property Transactions 12% - 16%
V. Federal Taxation of Individuals 13% - 19%
VI. Federal Taxation of Entities 18% - 24%

Document Review Simulation

The Document Review Simulation (DRS) was an appendage of the Task-Based Simulation that will appear on the AUD, FAR, and REG sections of the CPA Exam as early as Q3 of 2016. Because the AICPA has yet to confirm whether the 2016 DRSs will be pre-test questions (i.e., not graded), candidates should prepare for the exam with the expectation that these new simulations will be graded.

In order to complete a DRS, a candidate must review a document draft in which some sections of the text are highlighted. The highlighted sections can be selected so that options appear. With these options, the candidate must determine if the original text is correct, if it should be deleted, or if there is a better option. During the DRS, candidates can use exhibits and authoritative literature available in separate tabs to make decisions.

The sample tests and tutorials on the AICPA's website have been updated to include this new simulation type so candidates can explore the DRS and how it works.

This image reveals that CPA candidates complete a DRS by selecting an option for the highlighted text.

2016 CPA Exam Changes

How will the CSOs change on the 2016 CPA Exam?

  • FAR CSOs:
    • This section received the most significant adjustments overall.
    • New Accounting Standards Update (ASU) eliminates extraordinary or unusual items and replaces it with going concern.
  • AUD CSOs:
    • Treatment of going concern issues has been edited to reflect changes in the Code of Professional Conduct and US GAAP.
  • REG CSOs:
    • Thresholds indexed for inflation have been revised.
    • Emphasis on general concepts of state and local tax and U.S. taxation of multinational transactions has increased.
  • BEC CSOs:
    • This section had no changes.

How will the software change on the 2016 CPA Exam?

Some screens, such as the introductory screens that you see before you begin your exam, have been slightly modified. All of the exam screens have been redesigned with a more modern look to improve the testing experience for candidates.

Particular components of the toolbar within the testlets have also been altered. The more visible timer will report to candidates still taking the exam within the last two minutes exactly how many seconds they have remaining. The finish button will be more specifically defined with a label that reads "Submit Testlet" rather than "Exit."

What new pronouncements will be tested on the 2016 CPA Exam?

The new policy that specifies when the CPA Exam can test pronouncements goes into effect April 1, 2016, and pertains to all accounting and auditing pronouncements issued after July 1, 2015. The policy declares that pronouncements are eligible for testing at the start of whichever of these two periods occurs later:

  • The first testing window beginning after the pronouncement's earliest mandatory effective date
    -or-
  • The first testing window beginning six months after the pronouncement's issuance date

This policy frees candidates from having to know both the old and the current rules and from worrying about early adoption because it immediately replaces the old pronouncement with the new.

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