Magazine article The CPA Journal

A Preliminary Response to the Computer-Based CPA Exam

Magazine article The CPA Journal

A Preliminary Response to the Computer-Based CPA Exam

Article excerpt

In April 2004, the first computer-based CPA exam was administered. The AICPA had earlier announced that it would convert from a paperbased exam to a computer-based format to keep pace with changes in the business world. Both the format of the exam and the way it is administered have changed. The most important changes, however, have been in the exam's content and in its testing of the skills needed by entry-level CPAs.

The AICPA has identified the skills "necessary for protection of the public interest" as the following: the ability to perform research and analyze information; the ability to communicate; and the ability to exercise judgment and understanding. To ensure that candidates have these skills, the new exam employs several testing devices, including simulations and case studies. Schools must prepare their students for the exam and for their professional careers by requiring them to do online research, analyze ease studies, and develop written communication skills.

An online questionnaire was sent to the chairs and deans of university accounting programs listed in Prentice Hall's Accounting Faculty Directory just prior to the first computer-based CPA exam. The survey included a listing of course conlent areas and learning activities designed to enhance student abilities as tested by the revised exam. Educators were asked the extent to which they had incorporated the listed subject matter or activities into their courses and whether this had changed in response to the new CPA exam content and requirements.

Research Methods

The new CPA exam is intended to test candidates' abilities to perform the type of research that might be required of a CPA. The first set of questions on the survey asked about educators' use of learning activities designed to improve student research skills. The questions addressed the use of research methods and case studies (deemed "real-world" scenarios). Of particular interest was the use of case studies "requiring student research and analysis" or "the exercise of professional judgment." The survey found that students were being instructed in the use of research methods to some extent by 72% of educators, and online research in accounting courses was required to some extent by 14% of educators. In addition, a large majority (83%) of accounting programs used case studies requiring student research and analysis as well as the exercise of personal judgment. Only 24%, however, assigned daily projects requiring research, and only 52% assigned a major research project.

Were these changes from prior practice? Educators were asked the extent to which they had changed their course requirements in response to the format and content of the new CPA exam. The largest increase was in research methods, with 46% of educators reporting increased focus on student use of research methods, and 40% reporting an increased focus on online research as well as student research and analysis.

Communication Skills

A second set of skills required of CPA candidates revolves around the ability to communicate. The AICPA has defined this as the ability to effectively elicit or express information through written or oral means. As any professional would agree, these skills are often exercised in a time-pressured work environment. The survey addressed the types of learning activities that might help students develop communication skills and the ability to exercise those skills under time pressure. …

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