Because I genuinely care about the well-being of you little CPA exam candidates out there, I recently put aside the inflammatory nonsense for a moment and took some time out of my busy schedule to chat with the AICPA about the new CPA exam that they were proud to say launched early this month without a hitch. We’re pretty excited about that too, mostly because it means we can finally stop talking about 2011 changes and get back to talking CPA exam strategy, which is largely unchanged as a result of CBT-e.
We here at Going Concern value reader input (even if we do value chastising said reader just as equally) and therefore reached out to get your input on the sorts of questions we should ask. You spoke and we listened so let’s cut right to the chase and give you some answers.
John Mattar, Ed.D., Director of Psychometrics and Research and Mike Decker, Director of Operations and Development, both of the AICPA Examinations Team, were kind and brave enough to speak with me and give me plenty of insight on the brain behind the new CPA exam.
First of all, we need to talk scoring as that’s the one thing you guys have complained about consistently since the exam went computerized in 2004 (except for written communication but that is an entirely different issue). We’re proud to tell you that we can finally say with certainty that the AICPA will not be changing the passing score from 75 moving forward. That’s right, put down your flaming pitchforks, all you 74s who were ready to flip should the score have been lowered to 70. “In terms of the score reported to candidates, right now the passing score on that reported scale is a 75 and it’s going to remain there because we want to have consistency over time,” John told us.
That means a 75 last year might not necessarily be the same as a 75 this year but a 75 is still passing and that’s what matters. As we all know, the AICPA uses a complicated and mysterious psychometric formula to determine weights for each question and bases a candidate’s score on this formula. It isn’t for you, little candidate, to worry about how they come up with their numbers nor should you feel as though the AICPA gets some sick thrill out of seeing you get a 74. Believe it or not, they’re neutral. They don’t care if you pass or fail, they only care about overseeing a professional examination that successfully tests the knowledge base of entry-level CPAs in the United States. That’s it.
Second, while the AICPA will be using a single score release formula for at least the first three testing windows of the year, candidates can anticipate a new and improved score release system that will hopefully be introduced by the end of the year. This means all candidates who test early in their window will be eligible to receive their scores in the first release and all other candidates can expect to receive their scores in more frequent batches through the end of that window’s blackout month. So forget the Wave 1/Wave 2 nonsense. “Due to a lot of the work we’re doing on the backend, we’re going to be able to release scores faster. We’re not actually going to be able to release the scores earlier until the 4th quarter because we need to do a greater analysis in the first three quarters,” Mike said. So while you guys see the new simulations and international content on the frontend, it’s important to remember that a lot of time and effort went into improving the backend of the CPA exam and faster scoring is one such improvement that we can expect to see by the end of the year. But these changes come at a price so be patient while the AICPA works through the first three windows of this year to finalize their new scoring process.
If you haven’t already, I recommend you check out How the CPA Exam is Scored for more details on this process. Expect an update to that document when new scoring takes effect later in the year.
As for CBT-e content, I initially congratulated the AICPA for finally streamlining some questionable areas of the exam (especially BEC) in the updated CSOs/SSOs but forgot that they don’t actually come up with content on their own. You can thank an extensive practice analysis and subsequent input from practicing CPAs for the CPA exam you know and love today, a process that takes into account input from the profession on what entry-level CPAs should know. That means the introduction of international financial reporting and auditing standards is entirely independent of the SEC’s do-we-or-do-we-not IFRS roadmap. This should be a comfort to some of you who are wondering just how much IFRS will appear on the exam in coming windows as it means the exam will most likely continue to test remedial international content and will mostly focus on major differences between IFRS and GAAP. Entry-level CPAs in the U.S. are not expected to be experts in IFRS, just as they are not expected to be experts in cost accounting, government accounting, non-profit accounting or any number of areas that have been consistently tested on the CPA exam for years now.
The best news is that though the e in CBT-e stands for evolution, those expecting to take the exam in 2012 or beyond shouldn’t expect such a large overhaul as we just saw any time soon. “We don’t plan to change the exam,” John said. “What we plan to do is keep the exam current with the profession to protect the public interest. If we do have significant changes in test content we would have to let candidates know in advance.”
That being said, the largest takeaway I got from my conversation with the AICPA was that they are simply interested in providing a consistent examination that continues to evolve to meet the needs of the profession. I swear to you that they really don’t get a sick thrill out of torturing you guys with changes, scoring delays and new content though it may appear that way sometimes, especially if you’re in the 74 x 3 club. It’s their job to make sure that the CPA exam represents the best interests of the profession, which means revising their strategy to keep up with the evolution of the industry.
We applaud the AICPA on a job well done and congratulate them for a successful CBT-e launch. So far, candidate feedback I have gotten on the new exam format has been mostly positive, which means that their hard work was totally worth it.