Another day, another scathing speech from PCAOB Chair Erica Williams. Today it’s from prepared remarks given at the AICPA & CIMA Conference on Current SEC and PCAOB Developments on Monday. First, let’s talk about why she’s mad. On December 8, the PCAOB issued a concerning staff Spotlight report about an increase in the percentage of […]
The following was written by a second year staff auditor who wishes to remain nameless. Clearly pounded out in the heat of frustration and perhaps a tad profanity-laden, it exposes a very serious problem that infects all corners of auditing from so-called "expert" auditors on down to brand new staff. Fresh-faced youngsters are often tasked […]
Perhaps these Urban Dictionary entries pre-date Going Concern – or, as some might call it, "the before time" – when disgruntled public accountants had few forums outside of Facebook or IM to vent about depressing working conditions, billable hours and treatment bordering on slavery. Notice each of the Big 4 have a similar theme going […]
U.S. Steel CEO and vice chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees John Surma spent last night in the hot seat, fielding angry questions from bitter Penn State fans-cum-journalists (read: second year J-schoolers) distraught by this whole scandal nonsense. You see, it fell on his shoulders to announce to the world that the trustees canned head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.
Why do we care? Surma got his BS in accounting from Penn State University in 1976 and started off his career at then Price Waterhouse. He is a member of the AICPA and sits on the Bank of New York Mellon’s board. Therefore, he’s a member of the club.
And he handled last night’s Penn State press conference like a gangster. Even when angry “journalists” attacked.
See? This is why you send a CPA into the lion’s den. An architect would have crumbled. An engineer may have cried. A doctor would have cowered in fear. But a CPA? Stone-faced and calm with zero emotion, just how a Board of Trustees vice chairman should be when announcing a beloved coach has been canned due to, er, questionable discretion. And of course, because CPAs aren’t real big on that whole interaction thing, they called Paterno on the phone to tell him the news. Not a sit down or even coffee, but a phone call.
Told you he was gangsta.
Here’s the video:
Note: I am choosing not to spell or grammar check this letter A) because last time Braddock dared to do the same, you guys slaughtered him for being a dick and B) as much as I hate truly awful grammar (a few steps below the typo-filled crap Caleb we writes here), I think the point is sufficiently expressed if you can simply ignore some of the obvious errors. In fewer words: we get it.
The following rant is presented without comment. Please note that its publication here does not constitute an endorsement ssed therein. Caleb took the exam back in the day with stone tablet and cave drawings of journal entries and I, as we all know, have not and will not sit for the CPA exam so neither of us have the experience to draw from here to form an opinion. Over the years, I have heard of issues at Prometric but usually along the lines of minor software failures that did not really impact the candidates’ experiences. I would be curious to get feedback from you all, the dedicated capital market servants, who have had examination snafus seriously impact your momentum.
For this guy, it was enough to get him to quit.
I remind you all here that a lot has changed since 2007. The AICPA and NASBA are getting better at communicating and always looking for ways to improve that process.
May 19, 2011
Subject: Uniform CPA Exam (glitches & bugs in exam software)
To Whom This May Concern,
My name is Matthew Grosso, former C.P.A. exam candidate back in 2007 who had experienced tremendous difficulties with the software that powers the Uniform Certified Public Accountant exam (or “C.P.A. exam”) as well as various communications with NASBA (National State Board of Accountancy). My hardship has been well documented in a section below, titled “Timeline”….however, first, I would like to explain the nature and intent of this letter. In short, this letter is a call to action — a voice if you will — of many frustrated C.P.A candidates who have studied long and hard to attain the prestigious C.P.A designation, but have tragically fallen short because of undocumented barriers to entry into the profession; specifically, “software glitches and bugs” in the C.P.A. testing software package as well communication hurdles with NASBA.
Although I withdrew my candidacy a couple years ago, I continue to read and hear about candidates’ exam hardships (and, I’m not referring to passing difficulties). The fact is, candidates adversely affected by C.P.A. software issues are focused more on passing the exam rather that drafting grievance letters. Moreover, many distressed candidates are uncertain to who exactly they should contact regarding the nature of a testing issue…..is it NASBA, the State Board, the AICPA, Becker Convisor, or the Prometric Testing Center? The C.P.A. is daunting enough on a stand-alone basis, but for a candidate to experience a computer failure and have to blindly navigate a maze of reporting lines, in hope of finding answers to complex questions, is something entirely different. Because candidates are more concerned with “candidacy” and long busy season hours (as they should) and less so with detective work and grievance letters, is in my opinion, the reason difficulties with the software powering the Uniform C.P.A. exam has been grossly understated. Still, even if a handful of grievance letters had indeed made its way upstream to NASBA, The State Board Committee (SBC), The AICPA Board of Examiners (BOE), I’m curious why the C.P.A exam governors failed to address the software glitch/communication issues in an expeditious manner……or have decided to pull the plug on computerized testing altogether? Even if these issues were still in the discovery phase, I would have expected NASBA/AICPA to have contacted current and former candidates regarding the pervasiveness of the issue; the quality control time needed to correct the issue; and more importantly — a remedy.
Given consideration of the facts mentioned above – as a former (unlicensed) candidate, I’m left wondering whether the BOE has specific controls in place to detect issues with the software powering the C.P.A?, If so, whether the controls are working as designed with issues being sufficiently and timely communicated up the reporting hierarchy? I’m certainly aware of the pervasiveness of the exam software issue (and have facts to support it!), but perhaps the BOE isn’t! Perhaps the BOE is aware of the software issue, and has considered the issue to be statistically, De minimus. Even if the later was true, why weren’t candidates (like myself) notified of the shortcomings of the computerized testing approach and the potential for its effect on licensure?
Given my understanding of the imperfections of the Uniform C.P.A. exam and the organizational structure of The AICPA, NASBA and its affiliates, I’m under the impression the COE and its working cabinet has grossly underestimated the frequency of the glitches and bugs in the C.P.A. software – specifically the essay portion. Having made a significant time and financial investment in the program, I firmly believe my experience would have been different had the operational deficiencies in exam software been attended to, and NASBA – Candidate communications (via “NASBA Candidate Care”) fostered stronger ties.
In closing, as a friendly recommendation I would appoint a “Director of Customer Support” to research candidate concerns and help implement corrective action. This appointment would certainly enhance communications inside and outside the organization, thereby protecting the interests of candidates and prevent undue hardships in the C.P.A. community.
Matthew M. Grosso
So? Would anyone else care to share their “undue hardship” with the class?
Since the last time I dared to bring this issue up I was insulted personally and professionally, I’m going to approach this very carefully. Starting with a few statements of my position:
First, I have the utmost respect for those who first suffer through a college accounting education and then decide to pursue a CPA. It’s not an easy thing to do and the experience only gets worse when you add kids, work and a life to the mix. I get that. I’ve suffered through it at the side of thousands of CPAs in the last four years and, empathetic jerk that I am, I absolutely feel their pain. I’ve been the crying shoulder and the therapist as well as th aring that with CPA exam candidates has been a real joy in my life. Mostly because I’m not the one who actually has to go through it.
Second, I believe 18 months is plenty of time to get through the exam. For those who have struggled 2, 3, even 5 years with this thing, it is not at all unreasonable for me to suggest that perhaps you should find another line of work. That doesn’t mean struggling candidates shouldn’t be offered support but at some point, you have to ask yourself if the Universe is trying to send you a very strong hint. That’s fine, the AICPA is doing their job if not everyone can pass. This isn’t a kindergarten playground exercise in how everyone deserves a trophy no matter how bad their performance, this is a professional license and it is a privilege, not a right.
That being said, I was not expecting the floodgates of CPA exam candidate hell to come bursting forth on Monday when I addressed a note the AICPA wrote to candidates. In trolling NASBA’s Facebook page and getting additional feedback from candidates (beyond the “screw you, AG, you’re not a CPA” comments), it’s clear candidates are livid about this whole scoring thing. There’s no other explanation for otherwise reasonable future CPAs lashing out like they did, since we all know professionals aren’t prone to that kind of behavior out of habit.
So the first thing candidates should be doing instead of snapping at NASBA, the AICPA and me is to write down their thoughts and send them to the AICPA and NASBA. The first three quarters of 2011 are basically practice for a new, improved scoring process the AICPA hopes to debut at the end of the year and if candidates stick to yelling at accounting bloggers, the important people who can really make a change aren’t hearing them. Be clear, be concise and be honest. What would you like to see changed? What do you feel is unfair? How do you feel about this entire process? Try to keep emotion out of it (save that for your therapist, your spouse or your best friend) but be explicit about the stress this has put on you if you feel it is necessary. Remember that complaints are easy but offering solutions or feedback that can help them improve stands the best chance to change things. I assure you all that the AICPA and NASBA are listening, they just might need to block it out if it’s mostly profane vitriol and hardly any common sense. I highly doubt that either agency planned for this to get so ugly, and if they are at all like me, probably didn’t expect it would be the meltdown it was. So keep that in mind when you are yelling at them like the intelligent professional I’m sure you are.
Speaking of which, we caught up with a real live intelligent professional who asked to keep her firm name out of this but wanted to weigh in regardless. A seasoned professional when it comes to the CPA exam from her work as an HR manager for a mid-sized Bay Area accounting firm, she is also a CPA exam candidate and has been vocal in expressing her dissatisfaction with this scoring debacle.
To her, the issue is customer service and communication, or rather lack thereof. She told us:
I advise candidates on everything about licensure (e.g. application process, review courses, changes to the exam, score releases, and serve as the unofficial firm “nag” reminding people they need to get or stay on the licensure path). In both roles, it is my duty to stay informed and I really try my very best to do so. To that end, this is why I felt so frustrated with NASBA’s recent post on Facebook. I didn’t receive the AICPA memo about the delay of scores for Q1-Q3 back in October of 2010. I went through my emails and see I have only received 3 email messages from NASBA and nothing from the AICPA. One was a 11/18/10 email from Prometric and NASBA about adding additional time slots in Q4 of 2010 to accommodate the high volume of candidates scrambling to avoid IFRS, and one on 1/4/11 announcing CBT-e was launched on 1/1/11. The last message contained 6 links, including sample tests, a tutorial, and a link to their October 21, 2010 message [a letter to the state boards that explained the new scoring process]. Obviously, I didn’t click on all the links until today. I was more focused on the tutorials.
Nowhere in the body of the message does it read the scores would be delayed. My bad for not reading the ‘footnotes’ but, in my humble opinion, later scores is a material item that should be separately stated in the ‘financial statements’/email message.
The communications from NASBA need more empathy. These candidates are overachievers who are probably failing at something for the first time in their life; emotions are automatically running high. Candidates are spending a lot of time, money and now even more money because they had to go out and buy brand new materials to be ready for the 2011 exam. We were sold on the idea that these changes would result in faster score reporting – God knows we were already at our wits end that it took so long for a machine to grade the old CBT- and here we are slapped with another round of delays. And they have the audacity to say they told us this back in October. Really?
The issue continues and we will happily continue covering it here so long as you all care. Any and all input (including gripes and general bellyaching but not insults towards the author or this website) is welcome in the comments.
The AICPA shared a note on Facebook the other day that was also shared by NASBA and brought up an interesting conversation full of frustration, anger and misunderstanding. The comments by candidates show how important it is to take information at face value and be sure you are not reading too much into what is shared by those who don’t have all the answers.
Before we get to that, let’s get to the note:
Thanks again to everyone who has been asking about the score release timelines. It’s an important topic and we appreciate the feedback. As a reminder, for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to visit our website, over the past year we ��������������������to state boards, scoring timeline FAQs, and provided an in-depth white paper describing how the Exam is scored, all available at the CPA Exam website. And if you’re interested in a refresher about the eligibility requirements, including the 18 month timeline and instructions for scheduling your Exam, the updated Candidate Bulletin from NASBA contains the information you need.
It also appears that there is some confusion about what it means to administer a “high stakes” test. For those of you who don’t know, the Uniform CPA Examination is a high stakes test. That means that there is a direct consequence of passing (or failing) the Exam – in our case, that consequence is meeting one of the requirements to obtain your CPA license. Becoming a licensed CPA carries with it legal authority, and an obligation to protect the public interest. That’s why the Exam must make valid, accurate assessments of examinees. The outcomes are too important.
Making those valid, accurate assessments is what this scoring process is really about. In high-stakes testing, any time an exam undergoes a major revision (as with the introduction of CBT-e), best practices dictate that scoring must be revised as well. That means that sufficient data needs to be aggregated for the required additional analyses (of both test questions and candidate performance) that must take place. This data must be taken from actual, operational exam results.
To our candidates, like you, this means that we have to acquire a sufficient sample size of actual exam results in order to perform the required analyses and score the exams properly. This process takes time and that’s why we are only able to release scores at the end of each window, for the time being. After three windows, we will have aggregated enough data so that additional analyses won’t be necessary, and scores can be processed on a rolling basis, and hence more frequently.
We hope this information provides the clarity that many of you are looking for. Thanks again for engaging in this conversation.
The AICPA was very clear long before the beginning of 2011 that scoring would be changing this year and has let us all in on its plan to accelerate the scoring process for the last window of the year. This information is freely available on the AICPA’s website and is digested here on Going Concern for those of you “too busy” to check for yourselves. But for many, this simply isn’t enough. Candidates who cut the 18 month window too close feel cheated and some are even expecting some sort of accommodation by the AICPA. What they seem to be missing is that even if they get their scores at the end of this month, they are not getting them any earlier or later than they could have under the Wave 1/Wave 2 scoring rules.
While many of us are in the business of helping candidates make sense of the wealth of CPA exam information out there, it is imperative to remember that some of what we do involves making educated guesses. Case in point, earlier this month Jeff Elliott at Another71 predicted scores would be out March 17th. Up until now, he’s been pretty dead on about score release dates so while there is no reason to believe he’d be wrong this time, it’s important to keep in mind that his score predictions are just that, predictions. He isn’t privy to information the rest of us aren’t, he has simply been doing this long enough to have a good sense of what to expect.
When March 17th came and went, candidates were outraged that they still didn’t have their scores. Some even took to NASBA’s Facebook page to complain. Said one candidate “A piece of advice for next time, don’t come out with this statement and expect us CPA candidates not to be frustrated and angry when you yourselves stated ALL SCORES would be released March 17th when you obviously knew that was never going to happen!”
But the AICPA never said that.
As of this morning, scores still haven’t been released and candidates are likely still pissed off that they were told March 17th but that isn’t the AICPA’s fault and it isn’t Jeff’s fault either. Such is the nature of the beast and surely candidates know going into this that anything can and will happen.