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NextGen Magazine


CPA Candidates Reflect on Exam Changes

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jul 31, 2017

iStock-CPA Exam

Beginning in April, aspiring CPAs were the first to take the revised Uniform CPA Examination. The new exam places less emphasis on multiple-choice questions in favor of more task-based simulations that require critical thinking and analysis to solve properly. We asked five CPA candidates who recently took the revised exam what their impression was of it.


Steven Meditz2

Bellport, N.Y. 
Steven received his bachelor’s from SUNY Old Westbury in 2013, and his master’s in 2014. He currently works at JT Schulman & Company, P.C., in tax.

Nick Mariani

Shrub Oak, N.Y. 
Nick is two classes away from earning his master’s in public accounting from Mercy College. Currently, he attends classes and studies for the CPA exam. He begins a full-time position at KPMG starting in October, on the tax side.

Angela Welsh

Somers, N.Y.
Angela graduated from Pace University in May 2016. She works for D’Ambrozio, Newman & Co., LLP, a small public accounting firm in Hawthorne, N.Y., as a staff accountant in both tax and audit.

Kathleen Ficuciello

Kathleen graduated from Georgian Court University in 2012 and currently works at David M. Muldowney, Jr. CPAs, in Colts Neck, N.J., as a staff accountant, with a heavy focus on auditing.

Kelly Rohrs

Oceanside, N.Y.
Kelly studied mathematics for two years at Hofstra University, took four years off from school while she worked, then graduated with a degree in accounting from SUNY Old Westbury last December. She just completed her fourth tax season at Maron & Lawrence, LLC, a public accounting firm in Rockville Centre, where she is now a senior accountant.

When did you take the new exam? How far along are you in the exam process? Which sections did you take, and which ones do you still need to take?

SM: I took AUD [Auditing and Attestation] May 17. I’m taking FAR [Financial Accounting and Reporting] on July 25, and I took REG [Regulation] back in January, which I passed. I’ve got to reschedule BEC [Business Environment and Concepts] because that’s the hardest one to pass—I’ve failed twice already.

NM: I took [AUD] on May 26. I am currently studying for REG. I have taken both tests a few times but have yet to pass either.

AW: I took BEC in January of this year and passed, and took REG on May 23. My plan is to take FAR in early September and AUD in early December.

KF: On May 22, I took FAR. I’ve passed BEC and REG, and will sit for AUD in the upcoming testing window.

KR: I took my first exam during our busiest month, February. Since I just finished my auditing class in December, I thought it would be a good idea to take AUD first, considering our office does not perform audits, and I wanted to try to get one in before the exam changed. Unfortunately,  I joined the “74” club, but I didn’t let it get me down!  I started studying again for AUD immediately after April 15. I took the new format of the exam on May 15, but now will not find my grade out until August 17. I have moved onto the second topic, which will be REG for me.  I have sat twice for AUD and will take REG on August 14.

How does the new exam compare with previous experiences you’ve had with the exam, generally?

SM: I liked it. There were more task-based simulation questions, which gives you more opportunities to acquire points. With multiple choice, you get it wrong and you get no points at all, but if you get part of the task question correct and another part wrong, you still have something to show that you know the material and just made a mistake on one portion of the question. And since they changed the weight so everything is 50-50 now, you have more opportunity to get to that beloved 75.

NM: Compared to the older version of the exam, I felt that this new format is a little more challenging. For both exams, you needed to know a deep level of accounting issues; however, this new exam really requires you to have a complete grasp of the accounting concepts being used as well as being able to perform those accounting concepts.

AW: When I took BEC under the old exam in January, I found that the exam was much easier than the practice tests on Becker. For the new exam, I thought it was still easier than the practice tests, but not to the same degree as the old exam.

KF: I went in thinking the exam would somehow be noticeably more difficult, because why would it be revamped to be easier? But in general, I didn’t notice the marked increase in difficulty like I expected.

The new exam emphasizes task-based simulations and scales back multiple choice. How did this affect your experience in taking the exam? Was it more difficult? Less?

NM: I felt that the new exam was more difficult. The old exam allowed you to get away with memorizing definitions and concepts in order to master the multiple-choice section. Being more task-based, the new exam requires you not only to memorize the concepts, but also to understand why the concepts are being used and how to use them. … There is little room for error on the new exam, so you need to have a full understanding of the concepts.

AW: The task-based simulations made the test more difficult, definitely. At least with the multiple choice, if you haven’t got a clue what the answer is you can take a guess, but that’s much harder with the simulations. The sims also require a greater understanding of the material, as opposed to memorization.

KF: I am hesitant to say it was “easier,” because it’s the CPA exam. However, even though there were more testlets, [each one was] shorter, with fewer multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations, so it just seemed a little more manageable not to have such long sections to work through. From what I understand, FAR is the section that has changed the least. I went into the exam thinking it would be much more difficult than the “old” version but didn’t find that to be true; they were pretty comparable.  

The new exam is intended to be more authentic to the kind of work expected of new CPAs. To what degree did you find it relevant to your own experiences?

SM: In AUD, I was able to use some knowledge from my job to study, so I wasn’t completely in the dark scratching my head. The questions there were actually very, very relevant to what you do in the field and that was pretty awesome—if you can use personal experiences in the field and apply it to the test, you can do so much better.

NM: I am working on the tax side of the industry, so I can’t really speak on how authentic the work was because I took the auditing part. However, by taking both the old and the new exam, I could see how this could be true because of the increase in task-basedquestions.

AW: The test was very relevant to my experience. I have been working as a staff accountant in public accounting for a year and was able to draw on my work experience to answer some of the questions. One question in particular was to, in essence, complete a personal tax return. Having just come off my first tax season, I had completed many Lacerte [tax preparation] organizers, and that’s exactly what I did to answer this simulation. I wrote out an organizer on the scrap board and then entered the data into the answer sheet. It’s the only simulation I am confident I got 100 percent on!

KF: There is only so much of an extent to which multiple choice and task-based simulations can emulate real  life. I may see more of a correlation when sitting for the AUD section because that’s the work I do the most. Even though the multiple choice and sims are weighted the same (50 percent of your grade each), getting away from multiple choice and focusing more on sims is a step in the right direction because of the authoritative literature resource. In real-life accounting firms, if a new hire doesn’t know something, or isn’t sure of the latest regulations or guidance, he can research it.

KR: Considering [that] our firm does not practice audits, I do not think that it was relevant to me in particular. However, we do produce compilations and preparations, and our office had its peer review this year. I was able to assist on the peer review, and felt it was directly related to my studies for the AUD  exam.  I believe the REG exam will be more relevant to the everyday work we do in our firm. 

The exam was meant to have higher content integration (e.g., an audit question might involve concepts from FAR). Was this something you noticed in the questions and, if so, how did it affect things?

SM: Oh, yeah. I got a straight FAR question on AUD, and it threw me off at first, but it was something that the authoritative literature talked about, so I was able to look up the situation I was given, and I tried to give my best answer. I don’t know if I got it right—I never will—but it does throw you off and it’s something you’re not expecting to study. When you’ve studied audit and never looked at the other subject, it’s kind of like something out of left field.

NM: I definitely noticed more integration from other parts. When the test went to the new version, Becker also provided me with an updated version of study material so I was able to see the differences in the old content compared to the new. Something I noticed was different concepts I was unfamiliar with, and the instructor would say, “You may see this in the FAR section,” etc. So, yes, I did notice that the exam covered a wider range of topics.

AW: This was something I noticed in the questions, that there were elements of what I had studied for BEC in this [REG] section. I’m also seeing it in the prep I’m doing now for FAR. In theory, it’s probably a good idea, as these areas do overlap, but I’m not sure that it’s fair in terms of the exam. If you’re going to allow us to break the exam into four sections, it doesn’t seem right to include elements in the test from areas we might not have studied yet.

KF: It’s my understanding that FAR is what the other sections build off of, a sort of foundation.  I’ll probably see more of it when I sit for AUD, because a solid understanding of GAAP is necessary to perform audits. I saw content integration with the old exam, and didn’t notice a higher degree this time around.

KR: I think this concept makes a lot of sense, and it makes it easier to relate your everyday work (if you are in the field), if they are incorporating other accounting concepts.

It’s also longer. Did that make any difference in terms of stress (e.g., less stress because there’s more time, more stress because it goes on for longer, etc.)?

SM: It didn’t really affect me. There were fewer multiple-choice questions, something I knew I was strong with. I tried to gear myself to have a little more time on simulations, which I was able to do so I could take my time and make sure everything was correctly

NM: For me, time doesn’t play a major role because I am a quick test taker; however, I did take more time on this exam than I usually do. For me, having more time would reduce stress because it gives you more time to go over questions multiple times and do as much research as you can on the simulation questions.

AW: I tend to be a fast test taker, and completed REG in 2.5 hours. I don’t know that the difference in time made it more stressful, but I certainly walked out of the exam feeling more drained and exhausted than when I took the first part. The way they have changed the test by adding more simulations means that more time is required. These simulations take a long time and a lot of thought. There’s no way to zip through them.

What was your overall impression of the new exam?

SM: I liked it. With the weight of the exam and how it’s designed now, it’s testing candidates in a new way to make them think and earn their grade, but it’s also given more leniency in helping them achieve a passing grade because some might not be good at multiple-choice questions, but when given a straight simulation question, they can feel more confident. When there are two answers in a multiple choice that both seem correct, that can trip people up.

NM: My overall impression of the new exam is that it is definitely more challenging then the old exam. I have always felt that the simulations were harder than the multiple choice, so by adding more simulations and decreasing multiple-choice questions, this new test posed a greater challenge for me. However, because it is harder to me, it made me study harder and really attempt to grasp the underlying concepts that each question asked. So although the test is harder formatwise, I don’t believe it will be harder to pass for people. If you really  know your concepts and principles, then you will be able to do just fine on the exam.

AW: Overall, the new exam is more difficult than the previous version.

KF: I like the shorter testlets. I like that we have a built-in break and the clock stops. My biggest issue was actually with the exam content and the material tested.  It seemed incredibly lopsided and not an accurate measure of basic knowledge of CPAs-to-be.

KR: Honestly, my overall impression of the new exam was that it was not that different from the previous version.  The content was not changed dramatically, and I thought the questions were similar. However, I will study more task-based simulations and for a longer period of time for the REG exam. Best of luck to my fellow CPA candidates!