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Why the CPA Exam is Changing

Posted by Emily Taibl on Jan 11, 2017 4:03:52 PM

Image of female hand touching computer mouseby Dave Miniken

Even though it was more than 20 years ago, I can vividly remember my preparation for taking the CPA exam.  I was attending review courses in the evening and trying to pay attention to the review instructor with one ear while listening to the Mariners' first postseason run by wearing headphones on the other ear (and there were lots and lots of flashcards).  I became pretty good at remembering things for a short period of time - just long enough to pass the CPA exam- but this approach was less than ideal as far as preparing myself to deal with real world client situations.

The next version of the Uniform CPA exam will debut in April 2017.  The AICPA’s Examinations Team periodically performs a practice analysis – a study of the profession to update its understanding of the job responsibilities of new CPAs.  The findings of this practice analysis are then used to identify the knowledge and skills required by new CPAs, and influence the CPA exam blueprint.  As a result, the CPA exam is updated approximately every seven years to ensure that what it is measuring is in alignment with the knowledge and skills required of new CPAs.

What will stay the same:

  • The exam will continue to test the same four sections – Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG)
  •  A score of 75 is required to pass each section

What will change:

  • Total testing time will increase from 14 to 16 hours, with the BEC and REG sections each being expanded by one hour.
  • Less emphasis will be placed on remembering and understanding skills, and more placed on higher-level analysis and evaluation, and will increase the number of task-based simulations.

Each time a significant change in the CPA exam is announced, there is a rush of exam takers in the months preceding the launch.  Although the AICPA does not recommend a specific order in which to take the four sections of the exam, since the BEC section will be incorporating task-based simulations for the first time on this new exam, I suspect many exam takers will decide to focus on the BEC section in the next few months rather than wait to take it under the new exam format.  Of course, the AICPA will continue to grandfather sections that test-takers have already passed, as long as your 18-month window has not yet expired.

The exam is changing because the AICPA is committed to keeping the exam relevant to our profession.  Study habits will need to change, relying less on memorization and question drills, and more on the application of concepts to real-world examples and problems.  I’m pretty sure the preparation approach I used back in 1995 – listening to baseball games while sitting through a review course, and memorizing hundreds of flashcards – would no longer provide a CPA candidate with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to complex accounting projects early in their career.  Then again, if the Mariners make the postseason next fall, we are all likely to become distracted again – we’ve been waiting a long time.

To learn more about the new CPA exam, visit

Dave Miniken is an audit shareholder at Sweeney Conrad in Bellevue.  You can contact him at

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