OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE NEBRASKA SOCIETY OF CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANTS

Pub. 3 2021 Issue 1

The-CPA-Exam

State Board Report: The CPA Exam: Where It’s Been & Where It’s Headed

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Nebraska CPA Pub. 3 2021 Issue 1

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Back in 2003 when I first went on the Nebraska Board of Public Accountancy (State Board), the CPA exam was a paper exam. It wasn’t until the second quarter of 2004 that the first computer-based test was launched.

Computer-based testing (CBT) didn’t just happen. It’s a three-way partnership between the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), which processes candidates who have met state requirements to sit for the exam, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which authors and scores the exam, and Prometric, which administers and proctors the test. With the paper exam, each state was in charge of its own facility and proctoring of the exam. When Prometric and CBT entered the picture, not only did the exam need to be consistent, but also the testing facilities and equipment now needed to be uniform throughout test sites. Prometric was an ideal choice, as it provided proctoring internationally.

The exam had its growing pains. It was such a change from the paper format that it caused concern in nearly all of the states regarding reliance on the exam. Some of the larger states considered developing their own teams to do a comprehensive review of the new CBT, in order to make sure the exam was relevant and fair, and that passing candidates had comparable skills to those who had passed under the paper exam. But it didn’t make sense for the AICPA Board of Examiners (BOE) to be subjected to multiple states reviewing the development and delivery of the exam. At that point, NASBA stepped in and established the CPA Examination Review Board (ERB) so that one entity would have the responsibility for administering a “compliance review” and report to the state boards of accountancy (BOAs).

The charge of the ERB is to ensure that only qualified individuals receive the CPA credentials. The ERB must review, evaluate, and report on the appropriateness of the policies and procedures utilized in the preparation, grading, and administration of the Uniform CPA Examination and other examinations in general use by Boards of Accountancy for the licensing of certified public accountants. The findings of the review are provided annually at the NASBA regional meetings.

As COVID began to spread across the country, concern grew over the fate of CBT. Many Prometric test sites were on college campuses, which were closing their doors and moving to online classes.

The Exam & COVID-19

Changes have been happening rapidly with all facets of the exam. Prior to COVID, the AICPA had been systematically retiring obsolete questions as the focus moved from testing knowledge to testing application of skills based on knowledge. This meant more simulations and fewer questions. NASBA has been working to upgrade the interface between the candidate, the states, and its partners, the AICPA and Prometric.

Prometric made timely upgrades and training that helped prepare for the pandemic. I personally was on site at Prometric’s headquarters the end of February 2020 as the pandemic was just spreading in the northeast. Once colleges began closing campuses, Prometric in turn suspended testing. As COVID began to spread across the country, concern grew over the fate of CBT. Many Prometric test sites were on college campuses, which were closing their doors and moving to online classes. This was not an option for CBT. Prometric has very strict requirements to keep the delivery of the exam consistent and safeguarded from theft of exam questions. So, as test sites closed, Prometric began to focus on the challenges of “distancing” within the test sites. This meant that fewer seats were available at any one time and candidates needed to know if the test site they were scheduled for would be open or closed when they were scheduled to test.

The challenge for the ERB then became what is changing, how will we review it, and what resources are available to do the review. Further complicating the review was NASBA’s COVID travel ban. Thanks to the continual upgrading of technology, particularly within Prometric, several tools were available for the ERB to do the vast majority of the review and testing of controls. The ERB is continuing to focus on the guiding principles of testing. The 12 components of testing listed in the ERB annual report are the framework of the review and, even though COVID has changed the landscape, the framework has not changed.

Continual challenges and changes will occur in the future as the content and delivery of the exam must keep pace with the business and technology world. As we face these challenges, it is good to know that the Nebraska Society of CPAs and the Nebraska Board of Public Accountancy work together exceptionally well, especially from a bird’s eye view compared to other states across the land. And that, in part, is due to our Nebraska pride and volunteerism that makes all these things possible.

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