The new CPA Evolution CPA Exam
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The new CPA Evolution CPA Exam

Jul 20, 2021 · 4 min read · AICPA & CIMA Insights Blog

What do we mean by Core and Discipline?

I know that on-the-job training is important and valuable. I’ve been a practicing CPA for more than 22 years, with the first 14 spent in audit at Big Four public accounting firms and the last six in business and industry. When I think about the knowledge and skills relevant to my position as Vice President and Controller of Tradesman International, I know I’ve gained experience specific to this role. But we all know, regardless of where we work, continuing on-the-job experience is built on a foundation of knowledge and skills essential to all of us who hold the license.

The “foundation of knowledge” is a regular topic of conversations I have with colleagues who serve with me on the AICPA Board of Examiners and oversee the CPA Exam’s ongoing relevance and content development. Our focus is always on keeping the Exam current with the needs of our profession and in line with the work of a newly licensed CPA.

With the kickoff of the CPA Evolution initiative, our attention has turned to a new practice analysis that will lead to a big change with the CPA Exam as we align it with the new licensure model scheduled to launch in January 2024. As I lead a group of volunteer CPAs overseeing the practice analysis, I’m focused on the Core and Disciplines — the licensure model’s two components that will make up the structure of the new CPA Exam.

Practice analysis research is underway, and we’re digging into the tasks and roles of CPAs in public accounting, business and industry, government, and all areas of practice. Specifically, we seek answers to two simple questions: What knowledge and skills do we consider Core, and which do we consider to be more aligned with a Discipline? To answer them, you need to understand what we mean by those two words.

Core and Disciplines

On the new CPA Exam, candidates are going to find three Core sections covering accounting, audit and attestation, and taxation. These Core sections, which all candidates must pass, will test concepts newly licensed CPAs are routinely exposed to — think “the essentials” that you need to know to protect the public interest.

When they get to the Disciplines, candidates will choose one to pass. The content of these sections is a bit more defined and specific as it relates to one of three areas: Business Analytics and Reporting (BAR), Information Systems and Controls (ISC) and Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP). They’ll have to pass only one of these sections, but they get to choose which Discipline they want to take and show greater knowledge and skills specific to that area. The concepts each Discipline section covers will be familiar to newly licensed CPAs who work in the relevant areas of practice. Regardless of a candidate’s chosen Discipline, the CPA Evolution licensure model leads to the same CPA license with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities consistent with the present CPA license.

Technology concepts will also be incorporated into all Core and Discipline sections as the impact of advances in technology on our profession continues to grow.

Now that you understand the structure, let me differentiate content that’s Core vs. Discipline and compare it to the real world. A good example of Core would be a newly licensed CPA’s understanding of business processes, including technology and internal controls they would need to rely on in an audit engagement. From an ISC Discipline perspective, we’re talking about a greater understanding of these concepts because the candidate will have to demonstrate knowledge and skills required to advise a client on business processes or technology rather than being primarily focused on the control aspects as part of an audit.

Look at System and Organization Controls (SOC). All newly licensed CPAs need to understand the concept of relying on a SOC report and how it affects their client and their auditing procedures. This is Core-type knowledge, while ISC is more focused on a CPA who performs a SOC engagement.

The accounting Core will test how to prepare financial statements in accordance with GAAP, including detecting and correcting errors in the measurement or presentation of financial statement balances or amounts. The BAR discipline could assess how to analyze GAAP compliant financial statements to explain the entity’s performance against budget, prior periods or compared to a competitor.

What specific content should the Core and Disciplines test?

Earlier this month, the AICPA® published a stakeholder survey to get initial feedback on draft content for each Core and Discipline section. The survey is open to all licensed CPAs and is an initial feeler for the AICPA. We’re far from the final CPA Exam content and we want to know if we are on the right track. Does certain content make sense in the Core as opposed to adding it to a Discipline? You may agree or disagree with what’s presented and it’s the type of feedback that will help the AICPA continue developing the new CPA Exam.

To get to this point, the AICPA has already worked with CPAs who are subject matter experts through interviews, focus groups and surveys. They also sought input from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and our Board of Examiners.

Beyond this first glimpse at potential CPA Exam content, the AICPA will call on hundreds of CPA volunteers later this year to help review task statements for a new CPA Exam Blueprint. You may be one of those volunteers who can provide insight into the types of tasks a candidate may be asked to perform on the new Exam. This work all leads up to an exposure draft of the Blueprint, which will be published for comment next year.

Now it’s your turn

Help the AICPA and respond to this survey by Sept. 7. It may take you 20 minutes or so, but your expertise, and that of other CPAs across the professional spectrum, is critical to the success of this practice analysis research and the development of the best possible CPA Exam. Do you supervise a newly licensed CPA? Even better. Use that insight to provide feedback at this early stage.

Every bit of support you provide gets us one step closer to announcing the new CPA Exam in January 2023 and launching it the following year.

Doug Behn, CPA

Behn is a member of the AICPA Board of Examiners and serves as Chair of its Content Committee. He leads the CPA Exam Practice Analysis Sponsor Group.

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