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New CPA Exam increases testing time, assessment of cognitive skills

By Rob Starr, Content Manager

The next version of the Uniform CPA Examination will debut April 2017 and include new exam blueprints containing about 600 representative tasks, a two hour bump in testing time and a host of task based simulations as well as other features like increased assessments of analytical, problem solving and cognitive abilities.  The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) made the announcement recently noting the changes were made so newly licensed CPAs have the skills needed for today’s complex business environment.

Richard Gallagher is the director of exam content at the AICPA and he began a recent conversation with by sharing some of the history of what’s to become a 16 hour examination. The exam is currently 14 hours.

“The exam is coming up on its 100th anniversary next year so we’ve been around for some time

Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

and it became computerized in 2004,” he said adding the AICPA exam team is based in Ewing, New Jersey and includes about 60 people working on various aspects including CPAs and operations people.


“We also have some psychometricians who are mostly PhDs who have a unique focus in the area of test measurement and development. These people are absolutely critical to the process and we have some program managers we work with as well.”

There is also a volunteer base of more than 75 people and the AICPA’s Board of Examiners  oversee all the work and has led the practice analysis which is an extensive research that includes input from key stakeholders across the accounting profession

“ The practice analysis is a requirement that’s conducted evey seven years at a minimum. This one started in 2014 with the exam coming along in 2017,” he says adding there is a desire to make the time frames more regular to better evaluate what’s changing in auditing. The previous practice analysis started in 2008 and was followed by the exam in 2010.

Task Based  

Gallagher also points out input from the profession affirmed the right content was being tested, but the approach has shifted to focus more on a task based model.

Although there have been some big changes including additional task-based simulations (TBSs) some of the foundations for the exams will stay the same. For example, there will still be four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD) Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG).

Still, the real story behind the 2017 version of the CPA exam and the most recent corresponding practice analysis mirrors the changes in the accounting profession itself.

“CPAs are doing different things today than they were some 30 years ago and getting involved in more advanced areas in their careers sooner,” Gallagher says. “That requires a different skill set and we’re changing how we test the items to get more into higher order critical thinking skills at the application, analysis and evaluation levels.”











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One Response to New CPA Exam increases testing time, assessment of cognitive skills

  1. Anna says:

    Great idea! Hope these changes will bring about positive changes in the number of people that pass the exam as well as the quality of future CPAs.