Certified public accountants (CPA) are trusted advisers, highly regarded for their expertise, strategic thinking, and commitment to protecting the public interest. When accounting students or young professionals decide to pursue the CPA credential, it’s a significant decision that lays the groundwork for a rewarding career with expanded opportunity and enhanced earning potential. Like anything worth having in life, the journey to the CPA requires commitment, discipline, and planning. That journey begins with the gateway to the profession, the Uniform CPA Examination (“Examination”).
I have a unique perspective on the Examination. In addition to being a licensed CPA with Kreischer Miller, I previously served as a member of the American Institute of CPAs’ Examinations team, which develops and scores the Examination. Over the last several years, my former colleagues and I conducted a comprehensive research project to ensure the Examination remains aligned with the knowledge and skills required of individuals looking to join our ranks. The result of that project is a substantively updated version of the Examination that will launch on April 1, 2017. As with any high-stakes test, it’s crucial that individuals who take it are well prepared.
The four-section, 16-hour Examination focuses on Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). The Examination goes beyond core knowledge assessment and gets to the heart of testing skills that a newly-licensed CPA must possess to be effective: critical thinking, analytical ability, and problem solving; all of which essential to the profession.
A candidate must effectively apply their knowledge and skills to complete multiple-choice questions (MCQs), case studies known as task-based simulations (TBS), and written communication tasks. These items are presented to candidates within each Examination section in five smaller segments called testlets. Written communication tasks only appear in BEC.
To prepare for the Examination, candidates should look to the AICPA’s website for detailed information, FAQs, content updates, and the latest news. The best starting point for all candidates is the Exam Blueprints. This document serves as the primary resource for any candidate who wants to know what content appears on the Examination, content score weighting, and the skill level at which content will be assessed. The blueprints also provide more than 600 tasks representative of what a candidate may be asked to do on the Examination, making the document a valuable study tool.
Understanding what will be tested is imperative, but candidates should also be familiar with how they will be tested. Sample tests and tutorials allow candidates to familiarize themselves with the functionality and format of the computerized Examination as it will be administered in a testing center. This includes components such as introductory and test screens, test item layout, authoritative literature access, the Examination clock, and the new 15-minute break where the clock pauses.
While the AICPA provides candidates with a wealth of information about the Examination itself, its partner, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, offers information related to navigating the candidate qualification process, registration, and licensing. Prometric, a CPA test center partner, is the place to go when a candidate is ready to schedule and sit for the Examination.
Candidates have 18 months to pass all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination. As someone who has both taken and helped develop the Examination, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of preparation. There are many study and informational resources available to candidates, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to passing. However, when beginning the Examination journey, the best resources for accurate and up-to-date information are the AICPA and its Examination partners.
Mary-Ann Schaller is a manager in Kreischer Miller’s Tax Strategies group. She joined Kreischer Miller as a tax senior in 1999 and again in 2016, after working as the Senior Technical Manager with the Examinations team of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Contact Mary-Ann at Email.
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