April 1 marked the first wave of testing for the recently updated Uniform CPA Examination, which was developed by the AICPA after a multi-year analysis of the CPA profession and the work of newly-licensed CPAs. The updated Exam is significantly different compared to previous versions. The most prominent change is the greater focus on assessing a candidate’s ability to demonstrate their knowledge using critical thinking, analytical ability, and problem solving skills.

Why is this relevant, and what does this change mean to the candidate? Core content knowledge will always remain fundamental to our profession. But with changing market forces and technological advances, newly-licensed CPAs are performing more value-added services than ever before. These expanded roles and responsibilities require certain essential skills to be used in tandem with core knowledge to be an effective CPA and protect the public interest.

To enhance the testing of essential cognitive skills, the Exam now uses more simulations, including in the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section for the very first time. The BEC section, along with the Regulation (REG) section, also has an additional hour of testing to accommodate the expanded use of simulations. But, candidates shouldn’t worry; all four, four-hour sections now include a 15-minute break where the clock pauses. They can take a breather or grab a snack without the worry of losing valuable test time.

As candidates register for the Exam, they may be focused on whether or not recent updates make it more challenging than past Exams. It’s important to recognize that the Exam has always been, and will continue to be, a rigorous assessment. Today’s Exam is different and its approach to assessing knowledge and skills continues to evolve and keep pace with our profession. Preparation and thorough studying remain a candidate’s best path to success for the Exam.

“It’s all about developing an Exam strategy,” said Michael Decker, AICPA’s Vice President for Examinations. “When a candidate makes the decision to take the Exam, it’s best to map out a complete plan; from understanding the testing process to deciding how and when to study to developing a support system of mentors, colleagues, and friends. Most importantly, a candidate must seek out the right resources to prepare.”

As the organization that develops and maintains the Exam, the AICPA provides a wealth of information and resources to candidates via its website, aicpa.org/cpaexam. This should be a candidate’s first stop for the most current and accurate Exam information, including answers to FAQs, the latest announcements, and sample tests. But, for the singular best study tool, candidates should look no further than the Examination Blueprints.

Compared to the former Content and Skill Specification Outlines, the Examination Blueprints offer much more comprehensive coverage of the material tested on the Exam. The blueprints break down each Exam section with an overview, content and skill weighting, and a designation of the skill level at which a particular topic will be assessed. Most importantly, candidates will find more than 600 tasks representative of those that they may be asked to complete when testing.

And when it comes to getting Exam scores after testing, the AICPA has announced that it will release them only once per test window for the remainder of 2017. With all the updates, the AICPA must conduct a standard setting process to ensure the Exam remains a valid, legally defensible assessment. This is common in the world of high-stakes testing, but it takes time. Details about standard setting, score holds, and Exam scoring in general, can be found on the Examination Scoring section of the AICPA website.

With the debut of the updated Uniform CPA Examination, there are many changes and enhancements that candidates must familiarize themselves with prior to taking a section. Along with understanding the recent changes, there’s also plenty of preparation to be done when an individual makes the choice to pursue the CPA. The AICPA, along with its partners at the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and Prometric, is ready to support candidates throughout their Exam journey and provide the right resources to navigate the entire Exam process.

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