Changes to the CPA Exam | Content, Structure, Grading, Cost

cpa-exam-changesIn 2017 the AICPA made some serious changes to the CPA exam. They changed the content covered on the exam, the exam structure itself, and the grading methods used. Since 2013, the AICPA has been researching how to restructure the exam to focus on higher-skillsets and test candidates for logic and thought patterns instead of rote memorization. They will implement these magnificent changes in April 2017 according to the new AICPA Blueprints.

Let’s take a look at what changed and what you will need to do in order to prepare yourself for the new 2017 exam.


What is Changing on the CPA Exam

CPA Exam Content Changes

The new exam still covers the same topics and concepts that previous exams covered, but it will focus on different ways of testing your understanding of them. The old exam only tested your memory, understanding, and ability to apply concepts. The new exam tests candidates’ skills in evaluation and analysis.

The thought process behind this change is that candidates should not only understand the topics covered on the exam, they should also be able to think logically, reason through ideas, and analyze concepts rather than simply regurgitating facts for a study guide.

Here’s an explanation of the two new higher skills being tested on the exam.

2017-cpa-exam-content-changes

Each one of these skill sets is tested in the following exam areas.

Question TypeCurrent CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
Multiple-Choice QuestionsRemembering & UnderstandingRemembering & Understanding, Application
Task-Based SimulationsApplicationApplication, Analysis, Evaluation
Written CommunicationApplicationApplication

So how does this relate to each section? Well, each section incorporates these higher skills in different ways. Here’s a summary of how each section will change to integrate the new testing methods.

AUD

2017-aud-cpa-exam-changes


BEC

2017-bec-cpa-exam-changes


FAR

2017-far-cpa-exam-changes


REG

2017-reg-cpa-exam-changes


CPA Exam Structure Changes

The new exam changes the entire structure of each section. The number of multiple choice questions changes along with the number of tasked-based simulations for each section. The allotted time for each section also changes. Here’s a summary of each section’s new structure:

AUD

AUD Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
Multiple-Choice Questions9072
Task-Based Simulations78
Written Communication00

BEC

BEC Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
Multiple-Choice Questions7262
Task-Based Simulations04
Written Communication33

FAR

FAR Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
Multiple-Choice Questions9066
Task-Based Simulations78
Written Communication00

REG

REG Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
Multiple-Choice Questions7276
Task-Based Simulations68
Written Communication00

As you can see, the new exam is reducing the size of the multiple-choice sections and increasing the size of the task-based simulations. Since most candidates have more problems with simulations than multiple-choice questions, this isn’t a real good thing. 🙁


CPA Exam Scoring and Weighting Changes

With more emphasis on higher-level skills and task-based simulations, it only makes sense that they would change the way the test is weighted. The new exam favors simulations much more than they did in the past. Here’s a break down of each section.

Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
AUD60% MCQ
40% TBS
50% MCQ
50% TBS
BEC85% MCQ
15% WC
50% MCQ
35% TBS
15% WC
FAR60% MCQ
40% TBS
50% MCQ
50% TBS
REG60% MCQ
40% TBS
50% MCQ
50% TBS

Notice the new simulations section of BEC? Yikes!


CPA Exam Time Limit Changes

The time limits for two sections have changed slightly as well. AUD and FAR limits have remained the same, but BEC and REG have been extended by an hour each. Now all four parts have a 4-hour time limit. Here’s a summary.

Exam Section2016 CPA Exam2017 CPA Exam
AUD4 hrs4 hrs
BEC3 hrs4 hrs
FAR4 hrs4 hrs
REG3 hrs4 hrs

Mandatory Breaks

New this year is a mandatory 15-minute break in the middle of each section. This break won’t count against your testing time as a normal bathroom break would. Instead, it’s designed to give candidates a break from the exam and catch their breath. I guess the thought is that candidates will be thinking too hard with the new higher-skill testing and they will need a break.


Exam Cost Changes

All costs and fees vary among states, but you should expect to see a $20 increase in the price of both BEC and REG because they are now longer exams. Isn’t that lovely?


Is the New CPA Exam Harder?

I hate to be a downer, but yes it is. Candidates typically have more problems with the task-based simulation portion of the exam and now that portion is worth more and covers more topics. It will also require a different way of thinking.

All of the topics on the exam will be the same, but the way it’s tested will be more difficult. Don’t get worried, though. You just need to prepare it.


How to Prepare for CPA Exam Changes

The best thing that you can do to prepare for the new exam is getting an up-to-date CPA review course and start studying. All of the review course companies have redesigned their prep courses with these new AICPA changes in mind. Pick out a course that works for you and start studying now.

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Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.