Infrastructure changes in the CPA Exam: What you need to know

person typing on a laptop

Important changes are coming to the CPA Exam with CPA Evolution. In April, the AICPA also announced new changes to the exam infrastructure, which Becker has analyzed and can explain to students and instructors who will be impacted.

The AICPA continuously evaluates the CPA Exam and updates to the exam to reflect the latest audit and accounting trends in the profession and to ensure that new CPAs are equipped with the competencies they need to succeed. This is the rationale behind the infrastructure changes, which the AICPA made to reduce complexity in constructing the CPA Exam and improve CPA Exam software performance.  To avoid disruption to the current exam, the AICPA has decided to implement these changes concurrently with the launch of CPA Evolution in January 2024.

Here is a list of what's changing: 

  1. Assessing research and related critical thinking skills differently: The current CPA Exam requires candidates to demonstrate basic research abilities by combing through professional authoritative literature (AuthLit) to determine if the candidate can find the proper citation. The AICPA has concluded that this is an improper measurement of competency in this area. Beginning in 2024, the test will include research task-based simulations (research TBS) that instead gauge candidates’ ability to interpret and understand a particular excerpt of AuthLit. This removes the AuthLit library from the exam and makes the section more focused on knowledge and skill, rather than having to search through and cite vast amounts of information.
  2. Replacing the Excel spreadsheet with a JavaScript based spreadsheet – SpreadJS: Exam takers’ found Microsoft Excel within the CPA Exam to be difficult because various features needed to be “locked down” and each taker had to be disconnected to outside networks. JavaScript-based SpreadJS, which is quite similar to Excel, will address the inability to properly access and operate Excel while taking the exam.
    CPA Exam SpreadJS designer template


  3. Removing the Written Communication Simulations (essay question): The AICPA is removing the essay question on the CPA Exam and instead expecting answers to be on narrower, more technical grounds. This is in part due to exam takers’ preference to write less on the CPA Exam. Written communication responses are currently graded for writing proficiency instead of accuracy. Removing the written communication questions will free up space on the exam for more quantitative sections and testing for technical competency, which is sure to be positively received by many students.
  4. Eliminating Multistage adaptive testing in the multiple-choice question testlets: The CPA Exam currently uses Multistage adaptive testing (MST) in the multiple-choice question (MCQ) component, meaning candidates take a testlet of medium difficulty and their performance determines whether they receive another medium-difficulty testlet or a more difficult one. The AICPA has decided to shift toward a linear test design that provides greater flexibility and removes certain limitations caused by MST.
  5. Consolidating the Sample Tests: Candidates currently receive four separate Sample Tests to practice for the exam. To further streamline the process, students will now receive one single Sample Test. This consolidation will be happening in advance of the changes to the exam itself, between July and October 2023, so candidates will have ample time to familiarize themselves with the new Sample Tests.

Though students and educators will be focused on the curriculum changes to the CPA Exam, please make sure to familiarize yourself with these infrastructural changes as well. Understanding these new exam modifications will help you to adequately prepare for a test that will look quite different from what exists right now. Along the way, remember that Becker stands ready as a valuable resource with informed insight into CPA Evolution, including what the latest exam changes mean for you and how to navigate them successfully.

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