Not everyone answers the same multiple choice questions. The exam serves different questions depending on how well you are doing.
Remember how we discussed that the more difficult questions are worth higher scores. Ideally, you want to be doing the difficult testlets so that you can answer the tough questions.
Because harder questions are worth more than easier ones, you might score higher by answering fewer questions correctly on a difficult testlet than by answering more questions correctly on a medium testlet.
You get to do the difficult testlet by correctly answering as many questions as you can. But you probably realized that was a good idea anyway.
Where it really helps to understand multi-stage testing is with the mindset you bring to this task. It's not too hard to imagine what it would be like to encounter a difficult testlet without properly understanding multi-stage testing.
Just picture it: it's exam day and you've put countless hours into preparing for it. The CPA exam has a reputation for being ruthlessly hard – for chewing high achievers up and spitting them out. It's also the main thing that stands between you and membership of your profession's elite. With so much riding on this, you're going to have a few nerves.
So you get started on the multiple choice sections, and for a while, it feels like it's going well. Then all of a sudden, every question is fiendishly difficult. “Maybe I didn't prepare well enough after all,” you tell yourself. This happens over and over again until your confidence shatters and your focus is shot. It's only a slight relief that the questions seem somewhat easier near the end.
But if you understand multi-stage testing, you know not to panic. You realize you're in the difficult testlet and that's a good thing. It's how you know you've been doing well. Now you get the chance to answer the hardest questions that offer the most scores.
Multi-stage testing only applies to the multiple choice section. It is not a factor in the task-based simulations.
The multiple choice section is divided into three parts called “testlets.” These testlets are classified either as medium or difficult. Difficult testlets contain harder questions.
The first testlet you take is always a medium. The difficulty of the second and third testlets depends on how well you did previously.
Most of the questions on the exam contribute to your grade. There are also some “pre-tested” questions; these do not contribute to your grade.
The AICPA include pre-tested question on the exam to see how many people answer them correctly. They then use this data to rate each question's difficulty and determine which testlet these questions appear in on the exam.
When you take the exam, you have no way of knowing which questions are pretested and which are not. So, be sure to answer all to the best of your ability.
The BEC section includes a written section, worth 15% of your score. It is, believe it or not, graded by computer. The software is calibrated by human graders – all CPAs – and it looks for the things that a human grader would look for: structure, development of points, and correct use of language.
If your score is 75 or very close – that's to say, if you are within just a few scores of a pass or fail, a human grader will look at your written responses.
Task-based simulations are worth 50% of your score in AUD, FAR and REG, and 35% of your score in BEC.
These simulations are based on tasks you might encounter as a newly licensed CPA. Task-based simulations can involve using databases or spreadsheets, researching literature, and writing memos or other written responses. The idea of these questions is to simulate actual challenges you'd face in your working life.
Multiple choice questions are a great way to test your knowledge; task-based simulations test how well you can apply this knowledge in the real world. You can do well enough on multiple choice questions just by being able to recall the material. Task-based simulations test not just your knowledge but your skills: analysis, evaluation, critical thinking, and professional skepticism.
One type of task-based simulation new to the exam is the “Document Review Simulation”. The documents you review can include conversation transcripts, letters and other written materials. Your challenge is to distinguish important information from unimportant information in the given situation.
Task-based simulations are graded by computer.