I don’t think I’m alone in my vivid recall of taking the dreaded Scholastic Aptitude Tests, or SATs, during my junior and senior years of high school.
That was at a time when Roberta Flack was singing “Killing Me Softly,” Joe Frazier was heavyweight champion and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern was desperately seeking a replacement for running mate Tom Eagleton in an ultimately, futile attempt to unseat Richard Nixon.
The parental mandate on those tests was fairly clear in my household. “William, you screw this up and you’d better begin applying to two-year schools.”
Well, in that pressure-free atmosphere, I was instructed to show up on a Saturday at the school gymnasium and choose a seat in one of the seemingly endless rows of desks and listen as a group of dour proctors readied us for roughly four hours of verbal and mathematics testing.
I also remember watching one of the phys-ed teachers, a 220-pound brute with a sinister Fu-Manchu mustache who went by the moniker “Doc,” grab a student by scruff of the neck because he had the temerity to stand up and stretch.
I won’t reveal my scores, but let’s say that our mailbox was not exactly inundated with college acceptance letters. But interestingly, I did get enlistment literature from every branch of our armed services.
Incredibly, I repeated the impersonal process that defined standardized testing in the ‘70s when I took the Graduate Record Exam in what would prove to be my last year of higher education.
But let’s move forward about 25 years.
Although I never sat for the CPA exam, the many folks I’ve spoken to who have, recall the experience in much the same manner as one remembers life-changing events such as major surgery or being left at the altar.
I imagine it’s roughly equivalent to my SAT experience multiplied by a factor of 163.
I mention this because on Monday, April 5, the much-ballyhooed computerized CPA Exam makes its debut in some 300 testing centers across the country.
The project, a collaboration between the AICPA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, and Prometric, a Thomson business, has supplanted reams of scratch paper and a box of sharpened No. 2 pencils, with an online point-and-click methodology that can actually be taken at a candidate’s convenience in lieu of its traditional offering of twice a year.
According to related literature, the online CPA exam tests candidates’ research, analytical, judgment and communications skills, and aligns with situations and problems encountered by entry-level CPAs.
A week before the exam’s official debut, institute officials invited several editors from our accounting publications for a live demonstration.
I’ve never taken an online exam, so I have nothing to compare it to. But my initial reaction would be that the new delivery beats tapping your forehead with a gnawed-through Eberhard Faber when you’re stuck on an answer.
And, here’s the best part: You can get out of your chair and stretch without some bull-necked goon reworking your facial profile.
I actually answered several of the multiple-choice questions in the audit and attest section during the demo, proving that I’ve learned something in the three-and-one-half years I’ve held this post.
The cost is a bit steeper than the paper exam — $600 as compared to $250 — but looking back, I would have paid that in a heartbeat if it could have eased my SAT anxiety.
I imagine future CPA Exam candidates would feel the same.
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