2018 cpa exam changes

CPA candidates hear most often about updates to the exam that are made to reflect developments in accounting. Less often, though, the AICPA changes the format of the exam to modernize the look and/or incorporate improvements in technology. In April 2017, the CPA Exam went through major alterations to the exam structure and question types that resulted in a more intellectually challenging test. One year later, in April 2018, the CPA Exam will again undergo significant modifications, but these modifications will only affect the design and functionality of the exam.

Changes that make the exam easier to take is great news for candidates, so learn more about the exam changes coming in 2018.

  1. 2018 CPA Exam Changes
  2. Excel Integration
  3. New User Experience
  4. Exam Question Functionality
  5. Exam Questions
  6. 2018 CPA Exam Review

2018 CPA Exam Changes

2018 Q2 CPA Exam Version

Current CPA Exam Version

Spreadsheet Tool

Desktop version of Excel

Proprietary spreadsheet tool with limited functionality

User Interface Design

Clean and uncluttered with modern icons, colors, fonts, and buttons

Dated buttons and fonts with fewer colors

Screen Width

Optimized for 23” monitors

Not optimized for monitors


Displays hours, minutes, and seconds simultaneously

Displays hours and minutes, then minutes, then minutes and seconds, then seconds

Exam Tools

Calculator, Excel, Authoritative Literature, Overview, Help

Authoritative Literature, Spreadsheet, Calculator,

Question Navigation

At the top of the screen

At the bottom of the screen

Calculator Tape

Saved and accessible through the entire testlet

Clears between questions within the same testlet

Help Tool

A fixed icon in the toolbar that opens to provide important, searchable information about every part of the exam

One page of static text at the beginning of each testlet

Authoritative Literature

Table of Contents does not populate until source is selected; multiple sources may be selected at once

Table of Contents is divided into 3 different content collections, each accessible via a tab

Task-Based Simulations

Includes open workspace

Includes horizontal and vertical split screen options


Up to 8 exhibits can be open and visible at once

Only one exhibit visible at a time

Journal Entries

Response cells feature clickable icons that produce pop-ups with option lists or auto-formatted number entries

Answers are typed within a formula bar or the response cells

Global Response Grid

A new kind of simulation featuring multiple spreadsheets/tables in which to respond

Not present

Written Communications

Undo and redo are only possible using toolbar buttons, not the keyboard shortcuts

Undo and redo are possible using keyboard shortcuts Control + Z and Control + Y

No matter how the CPA Exam changes, helping you become completely comfortable with the exam environment before you sit is one of our top priorities at Gleim CPA. Therefore, we’ve designed our 2018 course to include both the interface of the current version of the exam and the interface of the the April 1, 2018, version. You get to choose the version that applies to your exam date: Use the current interface for a section you’re taking in Q1, and use the new interface for any sections you’re taking in Q2 or later. Our course is so flexible that you can study with 2018 content in the current interface of AUD for Q1, for example, and then switch over to the 2018 content in the new interface in BEC for Q2. Or, if you decide to reschedule your AUD exam for Q2 or later, you can update its interface with just the click of a button, even if you’ve already made progress in the course. The course will save all of your data, so transitioning to the new interface is a seamless process. You can see the special tool for yourself in the Gleim CPA Review courses.

Excel Integration

In order to bring the exam’s spreadsheet more in line with what candidates use on a day-to-day basis, the CPA Exam will replace its proprietary spreadsheet with Excel. You will see the Excel icon in the top navigation menu of all multiple-choice question (MCQ) and Task-Based Simulation (TBS) testlets.* Clicking this icon will give you access to the desktop version of Excel, which you can use to perform the more complicated calculations. You will be able to use many of the most useful Excel functions; for example, you can copy from Excel and paste into the answer fields or into the Calculator (and vice versa – you can also copy from the questions or the Calculator into Excel). However, as the exam will not be testing you on your skills with Excel, some of the less relevant features will be locked down and unusable.

2018 cpa exam changes

*Excel will not be added to Written Communication testlets in BEC.

New User Experience

The 2018 CPA Exam will feature a redesigned look and layout of virtually all the user interfaces, an update the AICPA is calling the new User Experience (UX). The new design is clean and uncluttered, and the icons, fonts, and buttons have all received a modern makeover with a blue and orange color theme. The exam screens are also much wider, as they have been optimized for 23” HD monitors.

  • Testlet Tabs: A bar at the top left of the screen now shows the number of testlets in that section and uses icons to communicate which testlets are currently open, locked (i.e., cannot be opened yet), or completed.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Timer: You can now find the timer on the left side of the screen right below the testlet bar, and you’ll see that its large digits offer a bit more specificity to the amount of time you have left as it counts down.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Question Navigation: The question navigation within the testlets lies just below the toolbar and the testlet tabs, with all of the question numbers spreading horizontally above the question area. Clicking a number takes you to that question, and marking a question to come back to later is as simple as selecting the flag icon next to the question number in the top left of the question area.

2018 cpa exam changes

Exam Question Functionality

Exam Tools

When you enter a testlet, you will see several different icons in the top middle of the screen. Some of these icons represent familiar tools with improved functionality, while others reveal new tools for your convenience.

  • Excel: Again, you will have access to Excel when completing MCQs and TBSs.
  • Calculator: The 2018 CPA Exam changes bring a refreshed version of the Calculator. The Calculator always opens in the upper right corner of the screen, and when you move the Calculator, a gray outline appears to preview your placement. The Calculator tape is saved and accessible throughout the entire testlet, and the tape doesn’t clear until you move to a different testlet or press the “Clear Tape” button. You can copy and paste numbers between the Calculator, the exhibits, the question content, and Excel, but not text.

2017 cpa exam changes

  • Overview: The Overview icon is a pop-up box that lists all of the questions in that testlet. The Overview arranges the questions by number and shows the first sentence of each question. You can use the Overview to navigate to a different question by clicking either the question text or number. You can also set or unset the reminders from within the Overview by toggling the reminder flags next to the numbers.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Help: The Help icon stays among the other exam tools throughout the entire exam. Clicking the Help icon opens a file that provides all of the information about exam navigation, question responses, and exam tools. You can look through this information by clicking the table of contents or using the search bar.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Authoritative Literature: The new organization of the Authoritative Literature requires candidates to select the source (ie, AICPA Professional Standards, PCAOB Auditing Standards, FASB Codification, or Internal Revenue Code) they would like to use at the beginning of their search. The table of contents will not populate until you have clicked the box next to the desired source and clicked “View” as well. You can then conduct your search by clicking through the folders and sub-folders or using the search bar. You can also click the bookmark icon next to the document title to bookmark that document to help narrow down your choices before choosing a final response. The Authoritative Literature also has some new search functions. You can now refine your search by doing the following:
    • Add an asterisk to look for anything starting with the word
    • Add up to three question marks in place of characters to indicate that any character can appear in that specific position in the search term
    • Add double quotations to search for exact phrases

2018 cpa exam changes

Exam Questions

  • Workspace: One of the most exciting effects of the 2018 CPA Exam changes is the addition of workspace within the Task-Based Simulations. The workspace is on the right side of the screen and houses all open exam tools and exhibits. You can use it to view Excel, the Calculator, and multiple exhibits at once, all while still being able to see the simulation as well.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Exhibits: In the redesigned layout, the exhibits are located above the simulation question and open in the workspace. Unless the exhibit is an image, you can highlight text and copy numbers to paste them into the number answer fields in the journal entries.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Journal Entries: When the 2018 CPA Exam changes arrive, the journal entry tables will be simplified with more intuitive prompts for candidates to follow as far as what kind of response is necessary for what kind of cell. For example, there will be icons within the journal entry cells that indicate what type of response the cell requires: A list icon will signify a response that you must choose from a list, and an icon with “123” on it will denote when you must type numbers for your response. More importantly, your answer will be automatically formatted as follows:
    • Rounding to the specified place value
    • Adding parentheses around numbers preceded by a dash
    • Removing any misplaced letters, commas, and decimals
    • Adding commas, decimals, and dollar/percent signs where appropriate
    • Adding a zero before numbers preceded by a period

    The redesigned journal entry also clears up a common source of confusion with the addition of a “No Entry Required” selection. If no entry is required, you can now choose this option instead of leaving the cells blank or entering a zero.

2018 cpa exam changes

  • Global Response Grid: This question type allows you to address more complex items by including multiple spreadsheet/table-based questions separated by a text block containing additional information or instructions. Global response grids could involve filling in a balance sheet or whole journal entries, and their functionality is the same as that of journal entries.

  • Written Communications: The Written Communications toolbar has a refreshed look, and the operations of undo and redo are now only possible using the buttons on the toolbar, not the keyboard shortcuts Control + Z and Control + Y.

2018 cpa exam changes

2018 CPA Exam Review

With all of these updates to the aesthetics and capabilities of the CPA Exam, the AICPA intends to improve the process of taking the exam for candidates. Making these changes offers candidates one way to become more comfortable with the CPA Exam, but another option that lets candidates feel completely at home with the exam is exam-emulating CPA review. When you study with Gleim CPA Review, the course that mirrors the format and functionality of the exam better than any other on the market, you can see what the exam will look like and learn how the exam operates before you even sit for it. You can also decide which interface you want to study with and when thanks to our special tool. We don’t want you to miss a minute of review because your course doesn’t have this option. Discover just how well Gleim CPA Review replicates the 2018 CPA Exam changes by accessing our free CPA demo today!