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The CPA Exam of the Future Includes the Flexibility to Adapt to … the Future?

In a move wholly uncharacteristic of the accounting profession, the benevolent overlords of the CPA exam are thinking ahead. WAY ahead. So far ahead we can’t even imagine what the world might look like by then. Here’s hoping you still have a job and Alexa has figured out how to turn my dining room Christmas lights off instead of gaslighting me about how no such device exists by then. I digress.

Last week, the Journal of Accountancy updated everyone on the new CPA exam, which is still expected to make its glorious appearance in 2024. Much of the article details what we already know, mainly that the new exam will consist of the core sections of auditing, accounting, and tax organized in such a way to test skills applicable to most early career CPAs. Beyond the core, you have your three disciplines as follows:

  • Business Analysis & Reporting (BAR)
  • Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
  • Tax Compliance & Planning (TCP)

Don’t freak out, you only have to pick one.

On the whole, the change should be beneficial to candidates as it’s a known fact the breadth of exam content has grown significantly since the old days when the soon-to-retire partners at your firm had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to take the stone tablet paper and pencil exam. This means less memorizing topics that many candidates are unlikely to encounter in the wild as early career CPAs and more focus on the technology they will. Not everyone is happy with this change, as evidenced by the IMA picking a fight over management accounting being snubbed in proposed new content, but that’s really not your problem unless you really, really like management accounting for some reason.

There’s an interesting takeaway from last week’s JofA article that stood out as it points to a more flexible profession than any of us are used to seeing.

From the article:

“The Core-and-Discipline model allows candidates to focus on areas that are of either special interest to them or their employer,” said Mike Decker, the AICPA’s vice president–Examinations & Pipeline. “It also gives us flexibility for the future as the profession evolves. We’ll always have a Core, and the Disciplines could potentially shift, in the future, as the profession shifts. Therefore, the new model could provide greater flexibility.”

While this forward thinking and the subsequent change that could result might be scary to accounting students and set-in-their-ways Boomers alike, it is no doubt a step in the right direction toward a truly future-ready profession. As opposed to a profession that claims to be future-ready but in practice happily engages in the same thinking and behavior it has since the beginning of time.

It’s exciting to see this all take shape, and maybe a decade and a half from now we’ll look back on the current CPA exam the same way we look back on ’80s hair. You know, excessive and a lot of work and hideous but still a fun relic to reflect on when we think about how far we’ve come.

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