The CPA Exam: A New Look

Lawyers pass the Bar; CPAs pass the Uniform CPA Exam, which will feature some major renovations come Jan. 1, 2011, in format, content and scoring weight.

Most candidates take a review course before sitting for the exam. CalCPA student and candidate members get discounts on review courses offered by Becker CPA Review, Kaplan CPA Complete Learning Systems and Roger Philipp CPA Review. A review course requires an investment of time and money but, come test day, you’ll know what to expect and have several test-taking strategies to complement your vast body of professional knowledge. This alone can help calm jittery nerves and ensure success.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Uniform CPA Exam is a 14-hour, computer-based test that spans multiple days. It consists of four sections: business environment and concepts (BEC/2.5 hours); auditing and attestation (AUD/4.5 hours); regulation (REG/3 hours); and financial accounting and reporting (FAR/4 hours).

The exam is offered five (and sometimes six) days per week during two months of every quarter. These periods are known as “testing windows.” Testing is available in January and February; April and May; July and August; and October and November. Testing is not available in: March, June, September and December.

Candidates can take any sections of the exam in any testing window and in any order they wish. However, candidates may not take any single section twice in the same testing window. Once a candidate passes a section, an 18-month rolling time frame begins. The other remaining sections must be successfully completed within 18 months from the date candidates sat for their first successfully completed section.

The examination is composed of testlets (groups of 24 or 30 multiple-choice questions) and simulations (condensed case studies) that test candidates’ accounting knowledge and skills using real life work-related situations. The simulations also serve as a type of writing test, requiring candidates to write memoranda, letters to clients or other communications that an entry-level CPA would write on the job.

Coming in 2011

As of Jan. 1, 2011, the CPA Exam will still consist of the above four sections, however, the testing methods will change slightly with the adoption of new Content and Skill Specification Outlines (CSOs/SSOs).

For example, the exam will replace the two case-based simulations on REG, AUD and FAR, with one testlet containing six to seven short task-based simulations. The simulations also contain a new research question format based on the FASB Codification. Moreover, the written communication tasks previously seen on AUD, REG and FAR will now appear on BEC. The three written tasks will be based on BEC topics.

To allow candidates enough time to complete the new communication tasks, the time allocated for BEC will increase to three hours and the time for AUD will be reduced to four hours. The overall time to complete the examination will still be 14 hours.

With the implementation of the format changes above, the exam will change the scoring weights for the various testing methods. For instance, the exam currently apportions its scoring weights for AUD, REG and FAR in the following manner: 10 percent written communication tasks, 20 percent simulations and 70 percent multiple-choice questions.

As of Jan. 1, 2011, the scoring weights for these portions of the exam will be 40 percent simulations and 60 percent multiple-choice questions. Since BEC only utilizes multiple-choice questions, the scoring weights on the new exam will consist of 85 percent multiple-choice questions and 15 percent written communication tasks.

In addition to format changes, the new exam will include new content, most notably the testing of International Financial Reporting Standards. Candidates will have to understand and identify the differences between generally accepted accounting principles and IFRS.

Ask Questions, Learn More

For more on the exam’s content, the application and scheduling process, or sample exam sections and tutorials, visit the Uniform CPA Exam website.

You can also read more on the current Content Specification Outlines (in effect until Dec. 31, 2010) online.

For questions about the exam, contact the CBA at (916) 561-1703 or For questions about licensing requirements, contact the CBA at (916) 561-1701 or

CalCPA also can help. By joining as a student or candidate member, you’ll have access to an enormous amount of technical and professional knowledge. Our staff can help answer your questions and guide you toward in-depth information. Call us at (800) 922-5272 or visit our Career Center.

(rev. March 29, 2011)