Big changes are on the horizon for the CPA exam.

Officials with the AICPA have announced a series of groundbreaking changes in exam content and the ways in which that content is assessed. The changes are meant to reflect a new era for the profession, one driven by technology, complexity, and the evolving needs of CPAs’ clients and customers.

The changes couldn’t come at a better time. Technological advancements have left many core accounting functions vulnerable to automation. In a report titled “The future employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” authors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne found that tax preparation has a 98.7 percent chance of being completely automated within the next 20 years. Accounting and auditing has a 93.5 percent chance of complete automation.

With automation breathing down their throats, CPAs must find new ways of adding value and staying relevant to their clients.

That’s where the new exam comes in.

The content reflects the changing nature of the profession. Candidates will now be tested on a wide range of skills beyond — in fact, arguably more important than — mere technical aptitude. Among the new skills tested will be critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, research, and business acumen.

“Content knowledge is foundational to protecting the public interest, but that alone is no longer enough,” Arleen Thomas, CPA, CGMA, the AICPA’s senior vice president of  management accounting and global markets, told the crowd at the 2015 fall meeting of the AICPA’s Governing Council.

The changes don’t stop at content, though. According to the Journal of Accountancy, other changes to the CPA exam will include the following:

  • “A blueprint for each section of the exam illustrating the knowledge and skills that will be tested, which are linked directly to tasks that are representative of the work of a newly licensed CPA. The blueprints would replace the current Content Specification Outline and Skill Specification Outline and would contain more information for candidates, academics, regulators, and others.”
  • “A plan for more task-based simulations for the exam. These would test a combination of content knowledge and higher-order skills. Task-based simulations would be added to the BEC section for the first time. There would be eight or nine task-based simulations each in the AUD, FAR, and REG sections, and four or five of these simulations in the BEC section.”
  • “An increase in total testing time from 14 to 16 hours. Each section would be allotted four hours. This represents an hour added to the BEC section to accommodate the addition of task-based simulations, and an hour added to the REG section, partly because of an increase in task-based simulations. The cost of the exam is expected to increase as a result of the time expansion.”
  • “It is anticipated that the scoring weight of multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations will be about 50% each in the AUD, FAR, and REG sections. The BEC section is likely to have an approximate score weighting of 50 percent multiple choice, 15 percent written communication, and 35 percent task-based simulation. Currently, multiple-choice questions are weighted 60 percent and task-based simulations 40 percent in the scoring of the AUD, FAR, and REG sections. The BEC section’s current scoring weight is 85 percent multiple choice and 15 percent written communication.”

The new version of the exam will be officially announced in the first quarter of 2016. Candidates are expected to begin taking the new exam in 2017.

Get complete details about the new exam here.

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