There’s a new CPA Exam coming out in 2017 – and more to come after that, according to leaders at the American Institute of CPAs.

In a presentation on "The Next Generation of the CPA Exam" at the AICPA’s 2015 Fall Meeting of Council in Maui, Hawaii, institute senior vice president of management accounting & global markets Arleen Thomas, vice president of examinations Michael Decker, and chairman of the Board of Examiners Dr. Rick Niswander laid out the institute’s proposals for reshaping the exam.

Thomas described the process that led up to the September 1 release of an exposure draft laying out the changes the institute is proposing to the exam.

“We know that the knowledge and the skills tested by the CPA Exam are the foundation of protecting the public,” she explained. “So every five to seven years, you pause and go out among the community to see the shifts in the profession and the world” that might change what new members of the profession should know and what skills they should have – and thus what they should be tested on.

For this round, the exam team made a particular point of reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders, including regulators like the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and the Financial Accounting Standards Board, as well as educators and employers in both public accounting and industry, to learn what CPA candidates should be tested.

The proposed exam will test more “higher-order” skills in analysis and similar areas. “Content knowledge is no longer enough,” said Thomas. “We need more. We need things around research – you can very rarely know all the answers, so you need to know how to do the research. You have to have critical thinking and problem-solving and analytical skills. Likewise, you have to have communication skills. We are hearing more and more from the field about the importance of all of these.”

Comments on the draft are due by the end of November. (See “AICPA garners feedback for next version of the CPA Exam” for details.) Thomas said that the institute intends to release the final format by the first quarter of 2016, and that the new exam will start being given in 2017.

“We listened very closely to the profession,” said Niswander. “The team is working very hard to make sure that the CPA Exam is the very best exam that it can be.”


Regular change

Making the exam the best it can be may mean changing it fairly often, the group suggested.

“The CPA Exam needs to be innovative and nimble,” Niswander said.

“We’re already working on the next next exam,” said Decker, “and we need a cool name for it.”

The exam team is mapping the current version of the exam to the next version now, he said, but they’ve already started working on developing and launching new software for exam candidates to use in the Prometric testing centers that will be based on Excel, so it’s more familiar. They’re planning to roll that out in 2018 – and expect to continue to enhance the exam on a regular basis after that.

“We have established strong relationships with people in firms and business to better understand where the profession is going, to know what skills new accountants need,” Decker said.

In future iterations they hope to address more key skill sets, including some that are highly intangible. “How do you test for professional skepticism?” Decker asked. “We’re researching that.”

They also hope to address practical concerns, like the relative decline in candidates sitting the exam.

“For the first time, we’ve had an in-depth look and in-depth research at the pipeline of CPA candidates to see what was really influencing candidates,” Thomas said, and they will use that data going forward to shape the exam and the circumstances surrounding how it’s given.

“If the number of accounting graduates is increasing, why is the number of CPA candidates not?” Decker asked. The key factor is candidate convenience – reducing the difficulties associated with test prep, registration, scheduling and all the other logistical items that surround taking the actual exam. “We want to make it easier to test, but we don’t want an easier test. The mission of the CPA Exam is to protect the public. We can’t make an easier test.”

Special thanks to Tom Hood, Bill Sheridan and the Maryland Association of CPAs for making our virtual attendance at Council possible.


See our other stories from the AICPA Council Meeting:


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