The CPA Exam Changes in 2017

The AICPA has studied what CPAs actually do on a day-to-day level, and on the skills and qualities that the marketplace wants from them. They've realized that the exam needs to do better at testing higher order thinking: critical thinking, professional skepticism, analysis, evaluation, communication and research.

This will result in a new CPA exam that is less weighted on memorization and more weighted on a broader range of skills as applied to real-world tasks.

BEC and REG Will be 4 Hours

Starting in 2017, the CPA examination will include more task-based simulations and less multiple-choice questions. To accommodate this change, all sections of the CPA examination will be 4 hours in length. So be prepared for a total testing time of 16 hours.

But, it is not all bad news here. A standardized 15-minute break will be included for each section. This is time you can spend to relax and collect your thoughts before continuing through the examination. This time will not count against your testing time.

Here is how the question count is changing:

Multiple Choice Questions Task-Based Questions Written Communication
Section Current 2017 Current 2017 Current 2017
AUD 90 72 7 8 - -
BEC 72 62 - 4 3 3
REG 90 66 7 8 - -
FAR 72 76 6 8 - -

Scoring Changes

The past CPA examination equally weighted Remembering and Understanding and Application level skills throughout the four examinations. The 2017 changes will adjust the weightings to include the new higher order skills.

Evaluation (5-10%) Analysis (20-30%) Analysis (25-35%) Analysis (25-35%)
Analysis (15-25%) Application (50-60%) Application (50-60%) Application (35-45%)
Application (30-40%) Remembering & Understanding (15-25%) Remembering & Understanding (10-20%) Remembering & Understanding (25-35%)
Remembering & Understanding (30-40%)      

The New Skills

The previous CPA Exam focused on two main skills, "Remembering & Understanding," and "Application." The 2017 examination expands this to cover the higher-order skillsets of:

  • Remembering & Understanding: Identify, Classify, Recall, Explain, Categorize, Clarify, Compare, Define
  • Application: Calculate, Implement, Test, Represent, Prepare, Use, Execute, Carry Out
  • Analysis: Reconcile, Deconstruct, Validate, Deduce, Imply, Integrate, Distinguish, Organize
  • Evaluation: Justify, Critique, Conclude, Judge, Detect, Verify, Recommend, Assess

Document Review Simulations

As of July 2016, there is a new kind of task-based simulation on the CPA exam, the Document Review Simulation.

This simulation sets up a given problem to solve, and then provides the candidate with documents—legal letters, conversational transcripts, bank statements, and other documents encountered in the business world. The challenge is to separate the important information from the unimportant information, given the situation at hand. This is based on real-world challenges regularly faced by CPAs in the workplace.


The AICPA is doing away with CSOs (Content Specification Outlines), and instead will publish blueprints.

The idea behind blueprints is to be a bit clearer about what might be covered on each exam section.

You can view the 2017 blueprints here.

Task-Based Simulations Will be Added to BEC

In 2017, four task-based simulations were added to BEC. That means BEC is now a three part section that includes multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication.

The Cost of BEC and REG Will Increase Slightly

The BEC and REG sections will each become an hour longer. Each will cost an additional $20 to cover this extra time.

What Does This Mean for You?

The new Document Review Simulations and the increased emphasis on task-based simulations are both worth preparing for.

Overall these changes are to be welcomed. By responding to what the marketplace wants, the AICPA is working to keep the accreditation highly valued in the wider world. That's in all our interests.

Of course, you might be cursing the fact there's more now to study for. But this has an upside too: you're less reliant on the multiple choice questions for the score you need to become a CPA.

Prepare the right way and make these changes work for you. See how Fast Forward Academy’s cutting-edge CPA exam review can help you pass the first time.

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