Society Praises Proposed Changes to CPA Exam

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jan 5, 2016

The AICPA is rolling out a new exam in 2017, giving the accounting profession an opportunity to better assess a candidate’s professional judgment and written communication skills—two assets that firm leaders require of new recruits in accounting’s globally competitive market.

The NYSSCPA is supportive of the proposed changes; however, it urged the institute in a recent comment letter to more aggressively test these skills in the revised exam. The NYSSCPA is also recommending that the AICPA’s Board of Examiners reconsider the 18-month time frame in which candidates have to pass the test’s four parts, calling the current requirement “burdensome.” 

The comment letter, published on Nov. 25, was authored by the Society’s CPA Exam Task Force, chaired by Richard E. Piluso, an NYSSCPA past president and a former member of the AICPA’s Board of Examiners. The task force was composed of Society members representing various practice areas, including higher education, accounting, auditing and ethics, along with input from two CPAs who recently passed the exam.

The revised exam, as proposed, would retain the existing four-section structure (AUD, BEC, FAR and REG), but the exam will better test and assess what the AICPA calls “higher order cognitive skills,” such as critical thinking, problem solving, analytical ability and professional skepticism. To this end, the new exam will place additional emphasis on task-based simulations, including those in the BEC section, which previously had none at all. 

The Society supports this measure, but is urging the AICPA’s board to go further, “with a greater emphasis on analysis and evaluation and a lesser emphasis on remembering and understanding and applications.” It noted that evaluation skills still represent less than 4 percent of the exam in the proposal, all of which are contained in the AUD section. The Society emphasized how important those particular skills are in today’s CPA world and suggested the board include them across all four parts of the exam. 

The task force made a similar observation regarding the revised exam’s written skills assessment—that it represents less than 4 percent of the exam and would continue to be tested in only the BEC section— but it would like to see written communication skills tested in all four parts of the test. “For many years poor communication skills have been an issue identified by the profession as a deterrent to success,” the task force wrote.  “We believe it is necessary to give a greater weighting to these skills.” 

The AICPA’s exposure draft notes that writing skills are tested only in the BEC section, but said expanding that type of assessment to other parts of the test would be too costly and time-consuming. 

The revised exam would also, for the first time, include a feature that may seem small compared to the other proposed changes, but may be a reason for test takers to celebrate—replacing, by 2018, the generic spreadsheet application on the exam with Microsoft Excel, the application on which the candidates probably trained and that most CPA firms already use. The exposure draft noted, though, that candidates will not be tested on their ability to use Excel.

The Society lauded this proposal, saying this change should have been made a long time ago. It added that, in fact, it should be done right now, saying that “2018 is not soon enough.” So poor is a candidate’s current user experience of the generic software, said the Society, that “test takers find it easier to use external calculators and code hard numbers into the spreadsheet.” 

Overall, though, the Society agreed with the proposed changes.

“From my personal standpoint, having known what the AICPA does and goes through every few years to make sure the exam is relevant, I … thought they did a great job,” said Piluso. 

Task force member Amanda L. Sexton, who passed the exam in 2009, also applauded the AICPA’s effort to revise the exam in order to better reflect the practice environment for today’s CPA. 

“I felt [then] that the information tested on the exam was applicable and relevant,” she said, reflecting on how the profession has evolved so quickly in only six years. “Critical thinking and analysis are even more important in today’s environment with developments in technology. Technology has made such a difference in what goes into the jobs [of] new staff people and newly licensed CPAs, so having that foundation will really help the profession.”

The cost of the test is also expected to increase, by $40 overall—$20 for each section that will require another 30 minutes of test time needed to accommodate these changes. 

The NYSSCPA’s comment letter can be found on the Society’s website at nysscpa.org.

cgaetano@nysscpa.org


 cpaexam1
The revised exam, as proposed, would retain the existing four-section structure (AUD, BEC, FAR and REG), but the exam will better test and assess what the AICPA calls “higher order cognitive skills,” such as critical thinking, problem solving, analytical ability and professional skepticism. To this end, the new exam will place additional emphasis on task-based simulations, including those in the BEC section, which previously had none at all. 

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