2021 CPA Exam Changes: What Your Students Need To Know

2021 CPA Exam Changes: What Your Students Need To Know

If you’re an accounting educator, you know that preparing your students for the CPA Exam is an important part of any accounting curriculum or education program. Some of your students might be planning on taking the CPA Exam in the next year; as such, you’ll want to inform them about the new changes coming to the exam in the summer of 2021. You’ll want to let your students know about these changes as soon as possible so that they have time to adjust their CPA Exam study schedules, if necessary.

Here are some topics you may want to cover when informing your students about these changes, and how you can explain some of the major adjustments in a clear way.

When are these changes taking place?

You’ll want to reiterate to your students that testable content on the CPA Exam is dynamic, due to the ever-changing nature of the accounting profession. 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. Students can find these changes 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. 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. Make sure to point out that the concepts outlined in the new Blueprint will be tested starting on July 1, 2021.

Why are these changes happening?

Although the changes might be frustrating to some students, remind them that the AICPA wants to make sure that newly licensed CPAs are prepared for the working world once they pass the exam. As such, the exam changes will help test their ability related to topics that are the most pertinent to the accounting profession right now, so that they are equipped for all that being a CPA entails.

It will also be important to point out that the most significant takeaway from the implemented changes is that newly licensed CPAs “[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.

You can outline some of the major modifications by explaining how each change affects the AUD and BEC sections individually.

Major Changes to the CPA Exam: Additions

1. More emphasis on business processes


Emphasize to students that 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, make sure your students understand that 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.

2.  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. Your students should be knowledgeable about all that these digital skillsets entail.


Overall, the BEC section will now focus 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 evaluate newly licensed CPAs’ data analytics capabilities. You may want to include some sample TBS questions on these topics in your classroom materials. As an educator, you can get access to Becker’s task-based simulations and our entire test bank of multiple-choice questions with automatic, real-time assignment scoring from our free tool, AccountingMaster™. AccountingMaster™ is designed to help accounting faculty create custom content exams and assignments. Learn more about it here.

3. 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, so it is imperative that students understand the scope and use of these reports.


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 students 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

Make sure to explain that while a substantial amount of content has been added, content in certain exam sections will be removed, as the Practice Analysis Final Report found certain content to be less important to newly licensed CPAs. 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 newly licensed 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. It’s important to underline which content will be removed so that your students do not spend time studying omitted information.

What’s not changing?

Reassure your students that while some portions of the exam are changing, others are not. 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.

How will this affect the Becker CPA review course?

If your students are using Becker, let them know that Becker will be releasing an updated version of its course content adjusted to reflect the Blueprint changes on June 1, 2021. Becker wants to make sure students are always equipped with the latest and greatest content that is reflective of up-to-date testable material.

We hope this summary has helped you get ready to prepare your students for upcoming changes to the CPA Exam. Refer students to the full list of changes coming to the CPA Exam in the 2021 CPA Exam Blueprints and the AICPA’s Practice Analysis Final Report. For specific questions on the Blueprints or the report, students can contact

If your students need more tips on taking the CPA Exam, Becker’s Prometric CPA Exam Guide details exam day tips so they feel as prepared as possible on the big day.

Interested in partnering with Becker to help your students succeed on their CPA Exam or CMA Exam? Learn about Becker’s university partnership opportunities here.

Read more of Becker’s content for accounting educators.

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