The AICPA announced on Monday the final details of the next version of the Uniform CPA Examination, set to debut on April 1, 2017.

Following input from stakeholders across the profession, overseen by the AICPA's Board of Examiners, the next version of the exam aims to be more "current, relevant, reliable and legally defensible," per the AICPA's statement.

"One of the things we always have to drive for is to ensure that the exam remains current with the profession," Michael Decker, AICPA vice president of examinations, told Accounting Today. "It’s really the profession’s exam: it’s the profession that drives the test’s content. So we’ve made [the Exam] more practical, and it’s more applicable to the day-to-day of a business...I would want a hiring manager to say not only are new CPAs proficient in accounting and the content itself, but [that] they’re a strong employee, they communicate, and they work to apply what they know."

"We heard from the profession that the content we’re testing is the right content, so there isn’t a dramatic change in [that area],"says Richard Gallagher, director of exam content at the AICPA. "It’s how we approach testing that content. So there’s a shift going on into a more task-based approach than we’ve previously had on the exam. Those task-based questions seek to more closely emulate what new CPAs would encounter when they first show up on the job. It’s going to be more problem-solving than in the past.”

Changes made to the next version of the CPA Exam include:

  • Increased assessment of higher-order cognitive skills that include, but are not limited to, critical thinking, problem solving and analytical ability.
  • Additional task-based simulations (TBSs) will be included on the exam, which are an effective way to assess higher order skills.
  • New exam blueprints containing approximately 600 representative tasks across all four Exam sections will replace the Content Specification Outline (CSO) and Skill Specification Outline (SSO). These blueprints are more robust than the CSO and SSO, identifying content knowledge linked directly to representative tasks performed by newly licensed CPAs.
  • Total CPA Exam testing time will increase from 14 to 16 hours – four sections of four hours each.

Concerning the Exam blueprints, Gallagher says, "They are so much more informative to the candidates in terms of what and how they’ll be tested on. I think it’ll also be helpful to educators as well, as they look to see what the profession is requiring of students. I think [that’s] a home run all-around."
The Exam will remain composed of the four existing sections – Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG).

"Whether it’s the Audit or BEC section, we are continuing on how we can take this to the next step," adds Gallagher. "One of the areas where we hear a lot of discussion from the profession and regulators is the concern about the level of professional skepticism and we are continuing to evaluate how to best test that."

In addition to the test changes, there will be a 10-day extension of the testing window each quarter in the months of March, June, September and December, the AICPA reports. The 10-day extension will not be available during June 2017, as additional time will be required to analyze exam results and set new passing scores. In addition, administration of the new exam will include a 15-minute standardized break during each section that will not count against a candidate’s testing time. Any combination of passing current Exam sections and passing next Exam sections (within the 18-month window following passing one section) will count toward licensure.

For more information on the next version of the CPA exam, head to the AICPA's site here.