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Breaking: That Confusing Simulation Question on the CPA Exam Is Meant to Be Confusing

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I took the REG section this week and believe that I had a very confusing simulation. If I submit a complaint about this question, what actually happens? Has anyone done this with any success that you know of?

Because we're pretty sure CPA exam candidates receive "confusing" simulations almost every day, we requested further clarification from this candidate on what exactly "confusing" means. Unfortunately, we don't want to get the candidate in trouble, nor do we want the AICPA Gestapo shutting down our site for repeating any questions from the CPA exam so we cannot share the question here. We can tell you that it dealt with proportional distribution of assets and that the simulation asked for his basis and gain/loss at the end of the transaction. It gave his starting basis and proportional share in the corporation.

Now, it's been years since I've sat through hour after hour of REG classes but nothing about the simulation seemed especially out of line to me (but what do I know?). Confusing? Maybe. Confusing on purpose? Definitely. Isn't that what the CPA exam is all about?

In a follow-up, the candidate also pointed out that they received a handful of questions dealing with suspiciously FAR-like material:

I also had several questions that dealt with cash vs. accrual and installment contracts. That seems like a very FAR-ish subject to me!

As rusty as I am in this area having escaped from CPA review years ago, this tells me someone didn't study that hard. While these are FAR topics, they're also relevant to REG. The installment sales method allows taxpayers to defer tax payments until proceeds from the sale are received as long as more than one payment is received after the tax year of the sale. I hated having to sit through REG more than any other subject but do remember that much. As for cash, that's the basis most taxpayers use for tax reporting purposes, while some entities are prohibited from using cash and accrual is required for certain transactions. Seriously, you didn't know this?

So, back to the question at hand. Looking at this particular candidate's issue on the surface, I would say there is no point in bringing this up with the AICPA. Even if the candidate did have a strong case (they don't), it still wouldn't be worth bringing up with the AICPA. Really the only "confusing" material that would warrant action on the AICPA's part would be if you received a simulation written in Chinese or Pig Latin, anything else is just regular old CPA exam trickery employed to test not only your understanding of the material but your ability to analyze complicated scenarios. Besides, do you really think the AICPA is going to admit they screwed up if they did? They didn't in this case and in five years of dealing with CPA exam candidates, I have yet to see or hear of evidence of any screwups on their part either minor or major.

You could still bring it up to them but why? It won't change reality (and hey, maybe you passed, you don't know at this point but if you were that stumped by partnerships – which make up a HUGE portion of the exam – I wouldn't count on it) and will only waste time. Get your head back into the books and practice, practice, practice. You should be able to find the last several years of AICPA retired questions online (I believe Becker publishes them on their site), if I were you I would work through every single one of those at least once so you can work on your understanding of partnerships. It should help you next time with understanding how the exam tricks you into reading too much into some questions, which is what I believe you did on your simulation.

If you stop and think about it, the AICPA is simply doing their job here. The exam exists as a barrier to entry; it is intended to be confusing. Mission accomplished… this time.