You asked, we listened
It is now possible to take the CPA Exam throughout the year with no blackout dates.
As of this year, it is now possible to take the Uniform CPA Examination (CPA Exam) throughout the year with no blackout dates.
Up until now there were four testing windows with specific available testing dates throughout the year, and blackout dates in between when testing was not offered. This change, which has been requested by candidates for many years, aims to add convenience and flexibility to support them in their exam journey, said Lauren Walter, Exam Communications Manager at the AICPA.
“For years, candidates provided us with feedback that they wanted continuous testing, and we listened,” Walter said. “This is a victory, because it enhances the candidate experience.”
Continuous testing was launched July 1 by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the AICPA. It adds 75 additional testing days to the calendar, giving test-takers more opportunities to take and pass the CPA Exam.
“For September 11 through 30, which was formerly a blackout period, almost 3,500 people have already scheduled,” Walter said.
These changes are separate from the CPA Evolution initiative, which will change the CPA Exam beginning in January 2024 to better reflect the changing demands of the profession.
More flexibility for retakes
Scores are still released approximately two weeks after the exam on a rolling basis, but there are now fewer restrictions on scheduling for failed sections. “In the past, if you sat for the audit section and failed, you couldn’t take it again until weeks later,” Walter said. “Now the day you find out you didn’t pass, you can reschedule and possibly take it as soon as the next day.”
The exam will continue to be administered by Prometric, which has testing centers around the world, and the facilities will be the same. Most test centers are open, although there are restrictions in capacity and social-distancing measures in place due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. More information is available at prometric.com.
There may be a few blackout dates added in the future if there are major changes to accounting and auditing standards or other changes that need to be incorporated into the exam.
Planning for the exam
Walter shared these important exam planning considerations along with her advice on how best to prepare.
Think about sequence: The structure of the CPA Exam isn’t changing right now, and neither is the scoring process. The requirement to pass all four sections within 18 months is still in place. The order in which to take sections is still up to personal preference. Some people may want to take the sections that are easier for them first to boost their confidence, while others may want to take the hardest ones first to get them out of the way.
Strategize scheduling: How much time to leave between tests depends on the person and on the grades they receive if they do not pass. “If you fail by a few points, you might want to reschedule as soon as possible while the content is fresh in your mind,” Walter recommended. Others may need more time to study before they take a section again.
Study hard: As always, how much study time is required varies by person. Walter encourages having a solid preparation strategy and planning early. “It’s a rigorous exam, and there are no shortcuts,” she said. “Allot as much study time as you can within your 18-month window, and remind your families, employers, and support systems that it’s a major endeavor.”
On average, she said, students prepare two to three months for a section and it’s rare for people to take more than one section in a day or week. Walter estimates most candidates work with review course providers, and she sees value in using them. Peer discussion forums can be helpful in choosing one.
As part of a general strategy for taking the exam, Walter strongly recommends using exam resource materials on the AICPA website, including sample tests and tutorial videos, and the CPA Exam Blueprints, which are updated one or two times a year. Sample tests do not provide exam content but show the software format and functionality and how questions are formatted. The blueprints have content organized by area, group and topics.
“Sample tests are like test-driving a car before you buy it,” she said. “You wouldn’t buy a car before getting a feel for how it operates first.”
Stay in touch: Once candidates are approved and registered to take the exam with NASBA or their state boards of accountancy, they will receive regular communications about the exam. Walter suggests following social channels of NASBA and the AICPA for updated information.
Walter encourages CPA candidates to continue to provide feedback to the AICPA about their testing experience at Prometric test centers, along with their experiences, tips, and challenges going through the Exam process. They can submit feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our goal is to protect the public interest, and the content of the CPA Exam must always be relevant to the needs of the profession,” she said.
— Maria Murphy is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.