Preliminary Response to the Computer-Based CPA Exam Education
Linda B. Specht and Petrea K. Sandlin
NOVEMBER 2006 - In
April 2004, the first computer-based CPA exam was administered.
The AICPA had earlier announced that it would convert from
a paper-based exam to a computer-based format to keep pace
with changes in the business world. Both the format of the
exam and the way it is administered have changed. The most
important changes, however, have been in the exam’s
content and in its testing of the skills needed by entry-level
AICPA has identified the skills “necessary for protection
of the public interest” as the following: the ability
to perform research and analyze information; the ability
to communicate; and the ability to exercise judgment and
understanding. To ensure that candidates have these skills,
the new exam employs several testing devices, including
simulations and case studies. Schools must prepare their
students for the exam and for their professional careers
by requiring them to do online research, analyze case studies,
and develop written communication skills.
online questionnaire was sent to the chairs and deans of
university accounting programs listed in Prentice Hall’s
Accounting Faculty Directory just prior to the
first computer-based CPA exam. The survey included a listing
of course content areas and learning activities designed
to enhance student abilities as tested by the revised exam.
Educators were asked the extent to which they had incorporated
the listed subject matter or activities into their courses
and whether this had changed in response to the new CPA
exam content and requirements.
new CPA exam is intended to test candidates’ abilities
to perform the type of research that might be required of
a CPA. The first set of questions on the survey asked about
educators’ use of learning activities designed to
improve student research skills. The questions addressed
the use of research methods and case studies (deemed “real-world”
scenarios). Of particular interest was the use of case studies
“requiring student research and analysis” or
“the exercise of professional judgment.” The
survey found that students were being instructed in the
use of research methods to some extent by 72% of educators,
and online research in accounting courses was required to
some extent by 74% of educators. In addition, a large majority
(83%) of accounting programs used case studies requiring
student research and analysis as well as the exercise of
personal judgment. Only 24%, however, assigned daily projects
requiring research, and only 52% assigned a major research
these changes from prior practice? Educators were asked
the extent to which they had changed their course requirements
in response to the format and content of the new CPA exam.
The largest increase was in research methods, with 46% of
educators reporting increased focus on student use of research
methods, and 40% reporting an increased focus on online
research as well as student research and analysis.
set of skills required of CPA candidates revolves around
the ability to communicate. The AICPA has defined this as
the ability to effectively elicit or express information
through written or oral means. As any professional would
agree, these skills are often exercised in a time-pressured
work environment. The survey addressed the types of learning
activities that might help students develop communication
skills and the ability to exercise those skills under time
pressure. Specific questions asked about the use of student
presentations, the preparation of written business communications,
and the preparation of spreadsheets.
work assignments are usually time-sensitive and the CPA
exam itself is timed, questions were asked about the use
of timed in-class assignments. Sixty-six percent of educators
required in-class student presentations, 87% required the
preparation of spreadsheets, and 68% assigned business communication
papers. Only 40% of educators used timed in-class assignments.
set of questions related to a candidate’s ability
to analyze and use information from various types of business
pronouncements. The survey asked if accounting courses used
SEC filings, annual reports, authoritative pronouncements,
and current business or accounting periodicals. In general,
the findings revealed that the majority of programs do use
these types of materials.
of Schools Surveyed
the 66 schools that completed the survey, 46 were public
colleges and universities and 20 were private institutions;
43 schools were AACSB-accredited (Association to Advance
Collegiate Schools of Business), while 23 were not. In addition,
graduate accounting programs were reported at 35 of the
schools; 26 were at AACSB-accredited schools and nine were
at non-AACSB schools.
responses were analyzed to determine if there were significant
differences in how different types of schools and accounting
programs were responding to the computer-based CPA exam.
An analysis of the results indicated that AACSB-accredited
programs (as compared to non-AACSB programs) added more
business communication assignments and made more use of
professional periodicals. Similarly, public universities
(as compared to private universities) have increased their
use of case studies for purposes of research and analysis,
which might better prepare students for the testing of higher-level
results of this study reveal that some accounting programs
did change their curricula as they prepared for the first
computer-based CPA exam. While these changes were made in
only a few areas, they indicate that restructuring the CPA
exam has affected what is being taught in colleges and universities.
Even though AACSB-accredited programs and those at public
universities might be deemed to have greater resources,
the changes they are making are attainable by all institutions,
whether public or private, large or small. The use of case
studies, business communication assignments, and business
and accounting periodicals is within the reach of accounting
educators at all institutions.
questions remain unanswered. The central one is the need
to revisit those institutions to determine whether they
have continued to refine their curricula. Ultimately, the
accounting profession and the business world are dynamic,
changing environments. Education must also continue to change
in order to prepare its students for the challenges of the
CPA exam and the professional work to follow.
B. Specht, JD, CPA, and Petrea K. Sandlin,
PhD, are both associate professors at Trinity University,
San Antonio, Texas.