CPA candidates ought to start sharpening their critical-thinking skills if they know what’s good for them. The Journal of Accountancy reports that the Uniform CPA Examination is expected to undergo revisions emphasizing “higher-order” skills in the near future, with the changes likely taking effect in 2017.  Public feedback on the future of the CPA exam suggested that testing a candidate’s knowledge of the debits and credits behind business combination accounting does not necessarily prepare future CPAs to, for example, exercise professional skepticism, the AICPA determined that candidates and, by extension, the exam could benefit from additional focus on certain broader skills. Beyond professional skepticism, new material is also expected to emphasize critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical ability.

The exact means by which new material will be incorporated into the exam remains unclear, as several varying options have been discussed to date. Some routes considered would retain the overall structure of the exam as it is and merely seed the new material throughout existing sections. A more disruptive option discussed would replace the exam’s current Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section with an “integrated” portion in which the higher-order skills described above would be intermingled with content covering taxation, auditing and financial accounting and reporting. Other changes discussed, both related and unrelated to the emphasis on higher-order skills, include expanding written communications testing beyond the BEC section and replacing the existing generic spreadsheets used throughout the exam with genuine Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

An exposure draft detailing the proposed changes is expected to be issued this September, and comments received through November will be considered by AICPA staff and the Board of Examiners in finalizing the revision. The changes are expected to receive final approval during 2016 before taking effect the following year. Finally, as persistently shapeshifting accounting standards and tax codes already limit the shelf lives of CPA exam test prep books to something like two to three weeks, the revision’s impact on the resale market for such texts is likely to be minimal.

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