The Updated CPA Exam Arrives: The First Ten Days Welcome Us to a New Era

More than a decade after computerization, the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination has finally experienced its next wave of evolution. After enduring years of criticism that it was rooted in tradition and not pragmatic progress, the AICPA, on April 1, 2017, rolled out the new exam. The new version strives to conform to current academic standards and seeks to incorporate the more analytical workforce requirements that accountants require. To quote the late rapper 2Pac: “Things will never be the same, that’s just the way it is.” The way it is indeed.

Changes Part of Larger Evolution of Accounting Industry

Prior to the release of the new exam, Michael Decker, AICPA vice present of examinations, stated: “as we look at the suite of changes that we’ve made for April of 2017, we’ve addressed the changing needs of the profession.” 

The exam focuses more on skills such as analysis and evaluation than memorization, a dramatic change from prior versions. The theory behind the changes is the exam follows the career requirements of a recent CPA graduate, which are more focused on analyzing data trends, rather than data input.  The exam structure strives to be more like its multiple choice sections, adaptive, and capable of imitating the sharp turns in the accounting profession. The AICPA is “already thinking about the new version,” Decker said. 

Summation of Changes


The format for the exam remains largely the same, with four parts: Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) and Regulation (REG), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), and Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR). However, BEC and REG have moved to four hour exams instead of three, for a total of 16 hours of testing.  


Every exam will have a lower number of multiple choice questions and a higher number of task based simulations, which now encompass 50 percent of a candidate’s exam score (BEC simulations account for 35 percent with the written communications section accounting for the other 15). 

Availability of Exam and Testing Breaks

There will be 40 more days of available testing each calendar year and a new 15 minute standardized break during each section of the exam that will not count against the candidate’s total testing time. 

Grandfather Clause

All completed sections of the exam prior to April 1, 2017, will carry over as part of the normal 18 month test completion period.

Accounting Workforce

Will the scores from the new CPA exam structure more adequately reflect a candidate’s knowledge base that translates to success in the workforce? Will it help to reduce the historic levels of talent shortage in the accounting industry? Will pass rates remain constant as they have over the course of the exam’s history? Answers to all of those questions will become clearer in time. Ten days in and counting… 


By: Todd Cheney, CPA, Accounting Policy and Practice Editor

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