The Computer-Based CPA Exam

By Lopez, Katherine J.; Specht, Linda B. | The CPA Journal, September 2009 | Go to article overview

The Computer-Based CPA Exam


Lopez, Katherine J., Specht, Linda B., The CPA Journal


Effects on Curricular Change and Measures of Outcomes Assessment

The most significant change in the Uniform CPA Examination in the past decade is the replacement of a paper-based examination by a computerbased test (CBT) in 2004. At the time of the switch, researchers focused primarily on descriptions of the changes in the exam or on the steps taken by accounting programs to prepare for the CBT prior to its inception. More recently, Jacqueline A. Burke, Robert Katz, Sheila A. Handy, and Ralph S. Polimeni ("Research Skills: A Fundamental Asset for Accountants," The CPA Journal, January 2008) traced the current focus on research skills from the Accounting Education Change Commission's white paper to the AICPA's "Skills for the Uniform CPA Examination," and described the resulting efforts of several universities in integrating those skills into the accounting curriculum.

Not everyone, however, is convinced that the CPA exam does influence the development of curriculum and teaching methods. Nicholas J. Mastracchio Jr. ('The Role of NASBA and State Boards in Accounting Education: How Should an Accounting Curricula Be Determined?" The CPA Journal, March 2008) reported on a survey of AICPA members in the education sector in order to study the influence of CPA exam content and state regulation on university curricula. The findings in that study indicated that state board regulations had more influence on curricula than CPA exam content specifications.

Pinpointing Changes to Curricula

The authors' study, described below, investigates the impact of CPA exam content changes by asking respondents to specifically consider their responses to the CBT in addressing the questions posed about their teaching methods. If, in fact, the primary driver of curriculum change is regulation and not CPA exam content, it could be argued that any curriculum changes reported by respondents as being due to the change in CPA exam content would be important to note.

The authors' study also recognizes that the use of student pass rates on the CPA exam as a measure of learning outcomes assessment (and accounting program success) has been both recommended and criticized in the past. In addition, assessment issues have become increasingly important. This can be seen in the context of accounting program accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), one of die leading business school accredit- ing agencies, and in public oversight con- cerns, as evidenced by the Spellings Commission report, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education, which emphasized the measurement and reporting of "meaningful student learning outcomes." Following implementation of the CBT, David E. Stout, James P. Borden, Melinda German, and Thomas F. Monahan ("Designing and Implementing a Comprehensive Assessment Plan for a Graduate Accounting Program," Accounting Education, December 2005) predicted that success on a CPA exam that included such "an expanded set of educational objectives" would be used in the future as a direct measure of "learning assurance" and, thus, of accounting program success. While the current study does not seek to make a case for or against the use of student pass rates as a measure of learning outcomes assessment (and program success), it does provide some information on their current and anticipated use by accounting programs for that purpose.

Shortly before the first CBT was administered in 2004, Linda B. Specht and Petrea K. Sandlin ("A Preliminary Response to the Computer-Based CPA Exam," The CPA Journal, November 2006) prepared and administered a computerized survey targeted at deans and chairs of accounting programs in the United States. The survey was intended to determine whether the extensive changes in format and content of the exam might provide a stimulus for change in both course content and teaching methods used by university accounting programs. …

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