By Craig Browning

The Uniform CPA Examination may be a fully operational computer-based examination as early as 2003. James Blum, examinations director for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), presented an overview of the process involved in this change to the CPA exam at a recent luncheon at CLEAR's annual conference in Denver, Colorado. Blum discussed the formation of a joint oversight committee to study the development and implementation of a computer-based CPA exam. This committee, the Computerization Implementation Committee (CIC), is comprised of members of the AICPA and National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The CIC's goals were discussed including the proposed format of the exam, advantages to a computer-based environment and a timeline for the unveiling of the new exam.

One of the major changes to the existing examination format proposed by the CIC is the number of sections on the exam. Currently the test consists of four sections-Auditing; Financial Accounting and Reporting; Business Law; and Accounting and Reporting. The computerized examination would consist of two sections intended to test the fundamental knowledge and performance skills of the candidate. Blum discussed the ideal fundamental portion of the exam envisioned by the CIC, which would be based on the computer mastery test (CMT) type model. With this type of computer-based test model, the computer would supply sets of questions (testlets) intended to test the candidate's competency level. The computer could administer further testlets if a required level of mastery was not met in the initial sets of test questions. The CIC's proposed test would administer the base set of questions in a morning session and would possibly supply additional testlets in an afternoon session. The performance section of the exam would consist of a performance-based set of questions intended to assess the higher level skills of the candidate. This would be achieved through a series of simulation-type questions in Auditing and Financial Accounting and Reporting intended to test the necessary skills of entry-level CPAs.

Advantages of a computerized format for the exam include increased availability to candidates and simplified workloads of state regulatory boards. Currently the exam is given twice per year in May and November. With the advent of a computer-based exam, candidates may have the option of taking the test by appointment. Blum added that this was subject to the availability of computer test sites. Once the candidate finished a section of the exam, the computer would then transmit the grade to the board of accountancy in that area, simplifying the board's paperwork in the grading process. The board could then contact the candidate with his or her grade on the test. With a computerized grading process, the candidate could receive his or her grade for the exam much quicker than the current waiting period of approximately 90 days.

A proposed timeline for administering a computer-based Uniform CPA Examination includes a possible pilot test as early as the spring of 2001 and an unveiling of the complete test in spring of 2003. Blum noted that this was conditional on many factors including acceptance of a structure for the computer-based examination by all involved parties including the various boards of accountancy, the AICPA, NASBA and others, as well as resolution of all legal issues prior to the new test format's adoption. The CIC is seeking the advice and input of educators, boards, and state regulators in respect to such issues as the security and proposed format of the computerized exam. Blum added that many of these issues and others dealing with development costs and the cost to candidates still remained to be answered prior to a pilot test of the computerized exam. However, Blum insisted that the CIC would continue to seek the advice and support of all involved parties to make the proposed computer-based exam a reality.

For more exam information, visit the AICPA's website at www.aicpa.org/exams.