The CPA Exam has changed considerably in the last few years, but you can count on Gleim to provide everything you need to know in this comprehensive directory of all the changes. Check out our free CPA Exam Guide to download a helpful PDF and learn more about the CPA Exam.
On April 1, 2018, the AICPA will be updating certain CPA Exam design and function features. These changes will modernize the look of the interface and make the test-taking experience easier for candidates.
Instead of the proprietary spreadsheet used previously, candidates will now have access to the desktop version of Excel, which launches by clicking the spreadsheet icon found in the top toolbar.
The Exam spreadsheet will perform all of the same essential functions as a regular desktop Excel spreadsheet. In addition, candidates can easily transfer data out of and in to Excel, for example, by copying from Excel and pasting to the answer fields of a simulation or into the Calculator, and vice versa. Excel will retain all of the information entered while in a testlet, even if Excel is closed and/or when navigating between questions/simulation. Excel will only clear when beginning a new testlet. There is also an option to manually save any work.
Work done and calculations performed within Excel will not be graded. Many of Excel’s shortcuts and some functions of Excel that may threaten user security will not work.
The entire layout of the CPA Exam will be updated in 2018. The new design is clean and uncluttered with more modern icons, colors, fonts, and buttons.
The new user interface affects these existing exam components:
Policy Agreement Warning — Reminds candidates to accept the Policy Statement and Confidentiality agreement of the exam
Skipped Questions Notification — Reveals how many questions have been skipped in a testlet and allows one to navigate to them
No Entry Required — Confirms that a submission of a journal entry table containing no responses was intentional
End of Exam — Notifies completion of the Uniform CPA Examination and directs the candidate to take the survey
Break Option: Standard — Gives the option to take a break that pauses the exam timer for 15 minutes
Break Option: Non-Standard — Allows a break during which the exam timer continues to run
• Multiple-Choice Questions
• Task-Based Simulations
• Document Review Simulations
• Written Communications
Prometric testing centers will be upgrading to wider, 23” HD monitors.
The information and navigation bar at the top of every testlet screen has been rearranged and redesigned.
The exam timer has been moved to the top left corner of the screen, underneath the testlet tabs. The format of the timer changes slightly as it counts down to different time increments.
|Exam Timer Format|
|4 hours to 1 hour||Less than 1 hour||Less than 2 minutes*||Less than 1 minute*||No time remaining|
*Display updates every five seconds
The Calculator, Excel, Authoritative Literature, Overview and Help buttons, when appropriate, appear in the middle of the top bar. Excel, Help, and the Overview tool are new to the 2018 version of the exam.
Question navigation has moved up to the top of the screen, right under the toolbar.
The MCQ toolbar contains the Calculator, Excel, Overview, and Help buttons. The TBS toolbar has the Authoritative Literature button as well. The WC toolbar only includes the Overview and Help tools.
The Calculator tape is saved and accessible throughout the entire testlet; it does not clear until a new testlet is entered or the “Clear Tape” function is employed. Numbers (but not text) can be copied and pasted between the Calculator, the TBS exhibits, the question content, and Excel.
The Overview icon launches a pop-up box that lists all the testlet questions in numerical order. The first sentence of the question is presented beside each question number.
An extremely useful new feature is that candidates can bookmark a document by clicking the bookmark icon next to the document title. All bookmarked documents will be listed in a new section that appears above the table of contents, and hovering over the bookmarked items reveals the full title in a popup box.
The Advanced Search options have been altered to include:
• “All of these words”: multiple words at a time, in no particular order
• “This exact phrase”: exact words in an exact order
• “Any of these words”: one or more of the entered words in no particular order
• “None of these words”: none of the words entered
Clicking the “Search within:” box next to the search bar allows candidates to limit their search to a specific folder or sub-folder. Within the Advanced Search field, candidates must once again click the “Search within:” box in order to limit their search to a designated sub-folder, even if the “Search within:” box is activated for the basic search.
The search function of the Authoritative Literature tool can be used at a basic level to find words or numbers. A search can be enhanced with an asterisk, which searches for anything starting with the word, or with a question mark in place of a character, which indicates that any character can appear in that specific position in the search term. Up to three question marks can be used.
When open, Excel always remains on top of any other tools or exhibits. The other exam tools and exhibits should arrange themselves in open order, with the most recently selected tool opening on top.
The old vertical and horizontal split screen functions in the Task-Based Simulations have been replaced by a designated workspace where all of the exam tools and exhibits open.
Instead of being separated into different tabs across the top of the screen, the exhibits are now located within the simulation, just under the question number.
When one or more exhibit is opened, they can be arranged with the Cascade and Tile buttons, but no more than eight exhibits can be open at a time. Open exhibits in one simulation cannot be seen after you navigate to another simulation, but the exhibits in the first simulation will be open when you return to that simulation.
Numbers from exhibits can be copied and pasted into the number answer fields in the simulations unless the exhibits specify that they are “Read Only” in the exhibit title bar. An IRS form is an example of a read-only exhibit. In addition, within non-image exhibits, you can select text with your cursor to make a Highlighting toolbar appear. With this toolbar, you can apply or remove highlighting to text you want to easily refer back to later.
Journal entry simulations received a relatively high amount of changes to make them easier to complete. An icon indicates the type of response required for each cell.
Clicking a list icon cell brings up a list of text response options, while clicking a “123” icon cell results in a pop-up for number entry. This pop-up automatically formats the answer as necessary, for example, by rounding the entry up or down; removing any misplaced letters, commas, or decimals; and adding commas, decimals, and dollar/percent signs where appropriate. However, candidates still need to carefully read the directions and ensure responses are tailored to the simulation’s specific instructions because the auto-format will not address certain items, for example, it will not automatically multiply decimals by ten to present them as a whole percentage. Adding the following to the response field yields these results:
• A period – formatted response begins with a zero.
• A negative number – the formatted response includes parentheses around the answer.
• Open and close parentheses – formatted response contains open and close parentheses.
• Open parentheses – formatted response will not include this invalid character.
A small box above the journal entry table that reads “No Entry Required” now allows candidates to indicate that any given transaction does not require a journal entry. Clicking this box disables the table and summons a pop-up warning that all entered answers will be cleared if confirmed. If confirmed, the exam will then record the answer as “No Entry Required.” Deselecting the small box reactivates the journal entry table.
There is a new kind of simulation known as the global response grid, which features multiple spreadsheet/table-response type questions within one simulation separated by text blocks with different questions or instructions. The questions cater to more complex items and may involve filling in a balance sheet or whole journal entries.
The appearance and functionality of the Written Communications toolbar has been updated. The toolbar remains visible as candidates scroll down through the response area, 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.
To help candidates adjust to the new format and functionality of the CPA Exam, the AICPA has released new sample tests for each of the exam sections. These sample tests differ from the current sample tests in the following ways:
The new Sample Tests allow candidates to see the correct answer to a question immediately after answering and without having to leave the testlet and then return. Candidates will not be able to view the correct answers on the actual CPA Exam.
The new Sample Tests better simulate the first steps of the CPA Exam testing experience by providing a launch code that candidates must use to enter the exam initially and to return after each break.
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.
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
The perception and comprehension of the significance of a topic utilizing knowledge gained.
The use or demonstration of knowledge, concepts, or techniques.
The examination and study of the interrelationships between separate areas in order to identify
cause and find evidence to support inferences.
The examination or assessment of problems and the use of judgment to draw conclusions.
“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.
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
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.
|Remembering and Understanding||Application|
|Section||Remembering and Understanding||Application||Analysis||Evaluation|
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.
|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
|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 4 task-based simulations for BEC and 8 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.|
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
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.
|MCQ||Current TBS||WC||MCQ||Current TBS||WC|
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
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
April 1 – May 31
|10 weeks||August 16-18|
July 1 – September 10
|10 days||September 22|
October 1 – December 10
|10 days||December 22|
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.
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.
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.
|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|
|Evaluation||5% – 15%|
|Analysis||15% – 25%|
|Application||30% – 40%|
|Remembering and Understanding||30% – 40%|
|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%|
|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|
|Analysis||20% – 30%|
|Application||50% – 60%|
|Remembering and Understanding||15% – 25%|
|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%|
|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|
|Analysis||25% – 35%|
|Application||50% – 60%|
|Remembering and Understanding||10% – 20%|
|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%|
|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|
|Analysis||25% – 35%|
|Application||35% – 45%|
|Remembering and Understanding||25% – 35%|
|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%|
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
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.
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.”
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
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.