CPA Task-Based Simulations are scenario-based questions on the CPA Exam. Each one will introduce a situation; provide data in the form of charts, memos, and emails; and require you to answer a series of questions. They make up 50% of your total CPA Exam score.
NOTE: In BEC, the 50% is made up of 35% Task-Based Simulation and 15% Written Communication. We treat Written Communications as a type of Simulation on this page. While the AICPA usually considers these separate from other Simulations, they share more similarities than differences.
Task-Based Simulations are a very important part of the CPA Exam.
Currently, three of the five testlets on the CPA Exam are made up of Simulations. Depending on which section you’re taking, you will have between 7-8 Simulations on each section of the CPA Exam. In total, you will have 31 Task-Based Simulations on the CPA Exam, and they will make up half of your overall grade.
In the past several years, the AICPA has continually improved the Simulation section of the CPA Exam, adding exhibits, redesigning the interface, and changing their sample exams to include harder Simulations. With all of the CPA Exam changes, it is clear that Simulations are not going away. Rather, they play an increasingly important role in assessing your abilities on the CPA Exam.
The best way to prepare for Task-Based Simulations is to practice answering them. The best CPA review courses include many different Simulations and should not overly focus on any one type of Simulation. This means that having access to a robust bank of Simulations is key.
The CPA Exam has six general types of Task-Based Simulations. In no particular order, they are research, free-response numeric entry, option list, journal entries, document review, and written communications.
Research Simulations do not appear on the BEC section of the CPA Exam.
Written Communications only appear on the BEC section of the CPA Exam and make up 15% of your total score for that section.
The Task-Based Simulations on the CPA Exam are not simple, so the AICPA includes several tools to assist in their completion. However, if you’re not familiar with these tools before you start your exam, you will waste valuable test time figuring out how and when to use them.
In addition to knowing how these tools work, it is important to learn how to use them optimally. Overly relying on these tools can waste a lot of time you should be spending answering the questions. The best way to find that balance is by practicing with the tools on many different Simulations, so make sure your review provider includes these tools with their sim bank.
The exam includes a basic 8-function calculator. Use this tool for basic calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division), but for longer calculations, or calculations with multiple parts, you should use Excel.
The CPA Exam includes access to Microsoft Excel. You’ll be able to use the full formula, sort, and filter features. However, some features have been disabled for security purposes.
Any time you close Excel or move to another question, it will automatically save your work. However, when you leave a testlet, it will clear the data.
The authoritative literature tool is a useful tool that is only available during the Simulations. In fact, it is required for the Research Simulations. The tool is actually a search utility that contains all of the authoritative literature for the CPA Exam topics. It is very important that you thoroughly understand how to use this search before you sit for the exam.
The following sources are found within the authoritative literature:
Internal Revenue Code
AICPA Professional Standards
PCAOB Auditing Standards
When it comes to the BEC written communications, spell check will be a valuable tool. The exam features a basic spell checking software that will automatically underline any words it considers misspelled. You will then be able to right click on the underlined text to see a list of spelling suggestions.
NOTE: It will only detect misspelled words, not incorrectly used words (their, they’re, there), and it may flag proper nouns or technical terms as misspelled. Ultimately, it is a useful tool, but you shouldn’t overly rely on it.
Many Task-Based Simulations also include exhibits. These are additional sources of data that will contain information needed to answer questions on the Simulation.
Exhibits come in a wide variety of forms: memos, income statements, press releases, etc. So, it is valuable to practice extracting information from different types of presentations. The best way to accomplish this is to practice many different Simulations.
NOTE: You’ll be able to have multiple exhibits open simultaneously on the exam. And you can cut and paste from most exhibits, which can prevent typos and brief lapses in memory.
One of the best ways to keep track of information in multiple exhibits is the highlight tool. If you use your cursor to highlight text within an exhibit on the CPA Exam, you’ll receive the option to mark it. This will cause the text to receive a bright yellow highlight. You can have multiple highlights simultaneously, and it will even remain after you close the exhibit or navigate to another tab.
Task-Based Simulations come in many different forms on all four sections of the CPA Exam. Each one has its own quirks and answering techniques. The best thing you can do is practice many different Simulations to learn exactly how each works. If you’re looking for good tips, our helpful guide on each of the Simulation types is a great place to get started.
Research Simulations can appear on the AUD, FAR, and REG sections of the CPA Exam. They will offer you a scenario and ask for you to identify the authoritative literature that addresses the topic presented.
You do not need to memorize the authoritative literature because you will have access to a database/search tool that includes the testable authoritative literature. Proper use of this search tool is essential to scoring high on these Simulations and saving valuable time.
Follow our tips to maximize your score on the CPA Exam’s Research Simulations:
Numeric Entry Simulations can appear on all four sections of the CPA Exam. In these Simulations, you will be provided a scenario and asked to enter amounts into provided answer cells. Unlike most other Simulations, you will not be provided with options. Commonly, these Simulations require some calculations.
Keep the following steps in mind for Numeric Entry Simulations:
Option List Simulations can appear on all four sections of the CPA Exam. They provide a list of possible answers for each cell. As a result, these Simulations can cover a wide variety of question types. For example, some Simulations will ask you to select an account type, an amount, or a statement—some may even ask you all three.
To avoid making any preventable mistakes, use the following tips:
Journal Entry Simulations can appear on the AUD and FAR sections of the CPA Exam. They are a special kind of Simulation that combine option lists with numeric entries. In these Simulations, you will be provided a scenario and asked to complete one or more journal entries. Mechanically, you’ll select the account type in the option list column and enter the amount in the amount columns.
A few important considerations for these Simulation types:
Document Review Simulations can appear on all four sections of the CPA Exam. In these Simulations, you will be presented a scenario and a document with some underlined text. These underlined portions are the questions. You will need to determine if the underlined sections need any edits to them based on the information provided by the Simulation and supporting exhibits. Clicking on one of the underlined portions of text will open up a list of options to choose from.
Whether you are working on practice Document Review Simulations or the real thing, follow these steps to give yourself the best chance at CPA Exam success:
Written communications only appear on the BEC section of the CPA Exam. These are basically essay questions, and while they can be a little intimidating, they can be easily conquered with a good plan.
Most of the scenarios will require you to explain something, not argue for a certain course of action.
BEC written communications are initially computer graded. This means software looks for sentence structure, essay format, and keywords.
However, if your initial score is near 75, your written communications may be reviewed by a human scorer. The AICPA is always improving their computer scoring system and your essay may be reviewed by a human scorer, so it is important that your written communications accurately answer the question posed by the Simulation.
With that out of the way, lets discuss how to maximize your score on the written communications.
The important thing to remember is that you’re being graded on the expression, development, and organization of the document. You do not need to be a full-blown expert on the topic to earn a top score on the written communication task.
The cliché is “as many as you can.” With that in mind, we’ve created the largest bank of Simulations on the market. Memorizing 1,300 Simulations would be quite the feat, so we’re confident you’ll have plenty of study materials to master this difficult component of the CPA Exam.
The best advice we can offer is this: if your review provider offers an adaptive learning system, it will guide you to your weak areas, and this includes Simulations. The CPA Exam is always getting harder, so make sure you’re working with a review provider that prioritizes your studies.