2021 CPA Exam Changes: What You Need To Know

Person working on accounting sheets

If you’re planning on taking the CPA Exam next year, you’ll want to hear this: new changes are coming to the exam in 2021! Testable content on the CPA Exam is dynamic, due to the ever-changing nature of the accounting profession. In fact, the AICPA regularly updates content on the CPA Exam to make sure that future CPAs are knowledgeable about the most up-to-date concepts and skills necessary for the modern accountant. These changes are outlined in the AICPA’s CPA Exam Blueprints, which provide an overview of the concepts test-takers need to know in order to pass the exam.

When are these changes taking place?

The AICPA recently released an updated CPA Exam Blueprint. The corresponding Practice Analysis Final Report documents the process followed and input received from various stakeholders to make sure the CPA Exam focuses on the knowledge and skills needed by a newly licensed CPA, or nlCPA. The concepts outlined in the new Blueprint will be tested starting on July 1, 2021. 

Why are these changes happening? 

The AICPA wants to make sure that new CPAs are prepared for the working world once they pass the exam. As such, the exam changes will help test candidates’ abilities related to topics that are the most pertinent to the accounting profession right now, so they are equipped for all that being a CPA entails.

By far, the most significant takeaway from the changes implemented is that nlCPAs “[need] to have a digital and data-driven mindset,” along with a deep understanding of underlying business processes in order to be successful in today’s accounting environment. Therefore, the most significant changes are heavily concentrated in the AUD and BEC sections. Becker has compiled some of the most significant changes below.

Major Changes to the CPA Exam: Additions

  1. More emphasis on business processes 


The most significant changes to the AUD section have to do with an increase in the testing of business processes that help to inform the development of audit procedures. The revised AUD section will test more in-depth on “business processes and transactions that flow through them.” This includes a focus on IT systems and controls, along with manual controls. 


In terms of the changes and additions to the BEC section, new content regarding “business processes and transaction-level risks and controls” will be testable. These questions will focus on the aspects of technology that help facilitate business processes. 


  1. In-depth content on data analytics and digital skillsets 


The new AUD blueprint will now include an expanded testing of digital skillsets. This includes testing of audit data analytics, including asking test takers to “[analyze] the results of an audit data analytic procedure” and identify anomalies. Additionally, revised content on how to utilize “automated tools and audit data analytics in audit sampling” is now testable. 


Overall, the BEC section will now hone in more on working directly with data, including questions on data governance and data relationships, as well as how to extract and transform data. 

For both AUD and BEC, students should be prepared for task-based simulations (TBSs) designed to evaluates nlCPAs’ data analytics capabilities.


  1. Increased emphasis on SOC 1® reports

Results from the Practice Analysis indicated that newly licensed CPAs are likely to work with SOC reports at least in some fashion, as many firms now outsource systems and processes to third parties. 


As auditors often need to “obtain and evaluate multiple SOC 1® reports on even relatively

modestly sized clients,” there will be more testable content on this topic. The new AUD exam will underscore the differences between SOC 1®  and SOC 2® reports, along with asking test takers to examine the effects that these reports have on controls and the testing of controls.


BEC will expand to cover “SOC 1® reports from the user entity’s perspective.” This will include looking at complementary user entity controls associated with the reports and increased content on “understanding the need for SOC 1®  reports for outsourced IT functions.”

Content Removals

While a substantial amount of content has been added, content in certain exam sections will be removed, as the Practice Analysis Final Report found this content to be less important to nlCPAs. Much of the removed content in the new Blueprints is located in the AUD, FAR and REG sections.

One of the most noteworthy changes is the “removal of differences between IFRS and U.S. GAAP,” as the AICPA determined that IFRS tends to be client-specific and not suitable test material for new CPAs. Additionally, the testing of defined benefit pension plans and derivative journal entries will be removed from the FAR exam, while the testing of the alternative minimum tax and estate taxation will be removed from the REG exam.

What’s not changing?

The CPA Exam will keep its structure of 4 separate sections, for a total of 16 hours (4 hours per section.) Additionally, according to the report, “there will be no changes in the number of CPA Exam questions or score weighting.” Like before, the exam will test on complex skills like decision making, critical thinking and analytical skills. The written communication assessment in BEC will also remain unchanged for the time being.

Advice from Becker

What is Becker’s guidance to CPA Exam students to help manage these new changes?

Given the addition of newly testable content to the AUD and BEC exams, Becker recommends that candidates focus on passing these two exams as early as possible before July 1, 2021. The FAR and REG exams will both have less content after this date, so candidates should take those two exams in the second half of the year if possible.

Take a look at Becker's recommended study schedule, and download it here for a closer look.

How will this affect the Becker CPA review course?

As always, Becker wants to make sure you’re equipped with the latest and greatest content that is reflective of up-to-date testable material. Becker will be releasing an updated version of its course content adjusted to reflect the Blueprint changes on June 1, 2021. 

We hope this summary has helped you feel prepared for upcoming changes to the CPA Exam in the new year. Read the full list of changes coming to the CPA Exam in the 2021 CPA Exam Blueprints. View the AICPA’s 2019 Practice Analysis Final Report here. For specific questions on the Blueprints or the report, please contact

Register for Angie Brown's webcast to learn about the changes coming to the CPA Exam in 2021.

For more tips on taking the CPA Exam, read Becker’s Prometric CPA Exam Guide.



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