Tips on Preparing Employees for the New CPA Exam; Both Employers and Staff Candidates Can Benefit from Getting Ready

By Snyder, Adam | Journal of Accountancy, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Tips on Preparing Employees for the New CPA Exam; Both Employers and Staff Candidates Can Benefit from Getting Ready


Snyder, Adam, Journal of Accountancy


This article explores the new, computerized Uniform CPA Examination, which in April 2004 will replace the paper-and-pencil version. The computer-based CPA exam is a joint effort by the AICPA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and Prometric, a developer of computer-based testing services.

The webcast discussed in this article is available at www.cpa.exam. org/cpa/webcast_Archived.htm.

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A panel of accounting professionals recently offered advice to employers on how to prepare themselves and their CPA candidates for the new, computerized CPA exam in a November 12 webcast, archived and still available by registering at www.cpa-exam.org/cpa/webcast_Archived.htm.

In the webcast, moderator John F. Hudson, CPA, of the Hudson Consulting Group, begins by summing up the purpose: The format and the content of the CPA exam are about to change; consequently the process for preparing CPAs to pass the exam needs to change as well. "The changes are more than just turning in your pencil and paper for a keyboard, so the webcast informs candidates of the differences between the two formats, discusses best practices from other professions and motivates both employers and employees to adequately prepare for the new exam," says Hudson.

A NEW EXAM FOR A NEW PROFESSION

The new exam reflects the enormous growth that has taken place in the accounting profession during the past 20 years, says Diane Rubin, CPA, partner of Novogradac & Co. LLP, San Francisco. Arleen R. Thomas, CPA, AICPA vice-president of professional standards and services, spearheaded the transition to the computerized exam that had as one of its milestones a practice analysis that queried supervisors on the kinds of work skills entry-level CPAs use so that an exam could test their knowledge and skills. One was the ability to communicate, specifically in writing; others were a "higher order of skills," which included researching an issue or problem, analysis, judgment, understanding, conducting an analytical review and preparing solutions to current business problems.

"In this day and age, no one can memorize the volume of accounting literature that's out there," says Thomas. "The practice analysis told us to move away from testing that kind of memorization and move toward evaluating a higher order of skills."

COMPUTERIZED EXAM IS A WIN-WIN FOR EVERYONE

The panelists emphasize that the extraordinary flexibility of the new exam is a great benefit to both employers and employees. This was found to be true in the securities industry, which moved to an electronic test more than a decade ago. "We've found that the biggest improvement was the flexibility it gave candidates in terms of when they could take the test and how they prepared for it," says John Riina, vice-president of the investment firm Legg Mason. "From the employer's point of view, it makes the hiring process much easier. You can hire someone who can take the exam when he or she is ready, and not have to wait for some fixed date."

"For employers this flexibility is one of the most exciting things about the new exam," says Rubin. "You no longer would have a huge portion of your professional staff gone all at once." Thomas adds that with the paper-and-pencil exam employers had to manage their businesses knowing that twice a year many of their people would be taking significant time off to study and take the exam. "The world kind of stopped because of the CPA exam," Thomas noted. But with flexibility comes a certain amount of responsibility for businesses. "We have to make sure employers give their people the time to study and sit for the exam," says Rubin.

A SPRINGTIME LAUNCH

Beginning in April candidates will be able to take the computerized exam at more than 300 Prometric test centers, a number about three times that of the old paper-and-pencil test, and the total duration of the exam will be reduced from 15 1/2 to 14 hours.

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