Four years ago, the CPA exam underwent a face-lift of massive proportions. Where previously hundreds or even thousands of prospective CPAs would cram into packed auditoriums for a forty-eight hour session that covered all exam parts and left candidates exhausted and mentally bankrupt, today's CPA exam candidate has flexibility in both scheduling and actual exam-taking.

 

For those of you who remember the transition... 

Either through having taken both formats or as a partner who remembers your own pencil-and-paper exam and now see your uncertified staff experiencing CBT, there was quite a bit of panic mostly stemming from the unknown. No one knew quite what to expect from this new format though the AICPA, NASBA, and Prometric promised that it would make all exam candidates' lives easier. And it appears that it has.

As we look forward into the future, the continually-evolving CPA exam is bringing a new set of changes that the AICPA Board of Examiners (BOE) has dubbed CBT-e. But what exactly does that mean?

 

The most notable improvement in the transition to CBT-e, at least according to the AICPA's Fall CPA Exam Alert, will be faster scoring.

Now does this mean candidates will no longer wear the F5 keys off their keyboards obsessively refreshing their NASBA score page? Most likely not. But when the 18 month time frame is looming over every single move you make while studying for, planning for, and actually sitting for the CPA exam, every little bit counts.  By using psychometric measurements, the AICPA is able to improve current CBT issues and problems as presented by actual exam candidates taking actual exams. After all, who better understands the flaws, benefits, and pitfalls of the CPA exam than candidates themselves?

 

Expect to see major changes in the essay portion of the exam up ahead.

The state boards of accountancy (who generously offer up their $0.02 when it comes to exam changes) are divided on the current importance and format of communications in the exam but this much is clear - CBT-e aims to modify the essay portion in one way or another. One proposed change leaves FAR, AUD, and REG suspiciously essay-free, dumping your favorite (sarcasm!) part of the exam into BEC just for kicks.

This doesn't mean that you'll be writing about Audit Reports after doing a testlet on IT and Cost Accounting, however, as exam planners intend on keeping the essays strictly related to BEC and BEC only. We'll have to see how this section unfolds but for now, do yourself a favor and stop listening to your annoying colleague from Assurance who says BEC simulations are due to appear in 2009. They've been talking about adding simulations to that section since the birth of computerized CPA exam testing in 2004!

 

Some things probably won't change.

While some state boards expressed concerns over the length of testing blackout months, an overwhelming majority said they like how it is and prefer it stay that way. Candidates, on the other hand, seem doubtful that Prometric requires an entire month to run maintenance on their testing centers and show an overwhelming desire to have blackout times reduced. For now, March, June, September and December will remain blackout months and candidates will simply have to plan around them.

 

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the AICPA, NASBA, Prometric, and the individual state boards of accountancy continue to strive towards a more streamlined, candidate-friendly CPA Exam.

It isn't that they want to make it harder on you than it has to be, in fact, they are continually using candidate input to bring recommendations to the Board of Examiners that will help the process evolve and grow. We must keep in mind that the computerized exam is still in its infancy, especially compared to the 90 year history of the Uniform CPA Examination.

 

Expect changes on the horizon and prepare yourself for them.

Get your information from qualified sources like the AICPA, NASBA, your state board, and of course from Roger's quarterly CPA Exam Newsletter. A well-prepared candidate is a successful candidate, after all!