CPA Exam Changes 2021

Every time the accounting profession undergoes a change, the CPA Exam responds by changing its testing content. This is to keep the newly licensed CPAs aligned with the professional needs of changing times. The Uniform CPA Exam has undergone significant changes in 2021 with regards to its content, testing policies, and credit extensions.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) often publishes new pronouncements from time to time, reporting any changes to the CPA Exam. The focus of the recent revision has been to incorporate the reforms in the profession on the technological front.

The AICPA’s exam blueprints are designed to provide detailed information on the topics to be assessed in the CPA ExamCPA ExamThe CPA Exam assesses accounting professionals not just on their financial knowledge, but also on their ability to review and seek out key abilities.read more. The AICPA’s latest CPA Exam Blueprints and Practice Analysis (PA) report outline all the recent changes to the CPA Exam in 2021. 

Note that the AICPA administers the CPA Exam in association with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the State Boards of Accountancy (BOA). Let’s take a look at the changes in detail along with their purpose and process.

CPA Exam Changes

Current changes to the CPA Exam

Future changes to the CPA Exam

CPA Exam Changes

Why are the changes needed?

The purpose of the CPA ExamCPA ExamThe CPA Exam assesses accounting professionals not just on their financial knowledge, but also on their ability to review and seek out key abilities.read more is to ensure that the newly licensed CPAs are well equipped to tackle both current and future accounting challenges. And also uphold the professional standards and regulations of the accounting bodies while safeguarding the public interest.

To attain this objective, the AICPA conducts practice analysis (PA) periodically to understand the changes to the accounting profession. This analysis helps to modify the existing curriculum of the exam, ensuring it remains relevant and reliable.

How did the changes happen?

As part of the AICPA’s practice analysis, AICPA identifies topics to be added, removed, or revised from the existing curriculum. The proposed changes are subject to comments from the stakeholders of the professional community. On acceptance, the proposed changes are published in the updated CPA Exam Blueprints. 

The following image depicts the process followed by the AICPA to update the CPA Exam Blueprints (effective July 2021).

What are the changes to the CPA Exam 2021?

The recent changes to the 2021 CPA Exam are classified as follows:

  • Changes to the exam content (addition and removal of topics from CPA exam sections)
  • Other updates, including credit extensions, testing center policies, and introduction and extension of CPA testing in other countries.

Let’s discuss them in detail further.

Changes to the CPA Exam 2021

CPA Exam content change

Overview

The essence of the recent changes to the 2021 CPA Exam curriculum is to place greater emphasis on understanding business processes, developing data-driven digital mindset, and using SOC reports. These revisions also prioritize testing critical knowledge and skill of candidates. Let’s elaborate on this further.

1. Prominence to business processes

Understanding the business processes has been emphasized in the recent changes to the CPA Exam. A proper comprehension of the business processes will assist the newly licensed CPAs design audit procedures receptive to assessed risks. Hence, the curriculum has been reorganized to include all aspects of a business and its:

You can witness these changes in the Auditing and Attestation (AUD exam) and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC exam) section blueprints. The AUD and BEC blueprints also include topics on automated aspects, risk identification, and internal control mapping.

Here is the brief breakdown.

Exam Section Area Group                    Changes
AUD Area 2 C Inclusion of topics and tasks that describe business processes and transaction flows considering IT systems and manual and IT controls (general and application)
Area 3 A Inclusion of tasks on the completeness & accuracy of audit evidence data
BEC Area 1 C Addition of a new group to cover business procedures and transaction-level risks and controls

2. Inclusion of data analytics and digital approach

The current changes have stressed the need for future CPAs to possess a data-driven and digital mindset. It involves understanding the source, accuracy, and relevance of business data.

In addition, due importance is given to the use of data analytics. This change ensures future CPAs have a basic yet strong knowledge of data access methods and their potential usage.  

Hence, the CPA Exam will contain audit data analytics (ADA) task-based simulations (TBS). Note that the TBS questions will present data in exhibits in the form of worksheets, charts, reports, or graphics. However, there will be no excel-based TBS for the exam.

Both AUD and BEC Blueprints have been modified as per the same. 

Exam Section Area Group Changes Type of questions
AUD Area 3 B & C Addition of a new topic Audit Data Analytics (in Group C) Application-analysis skill-based TBSs Small case studies
BEC Area 4 A Data analytics-oriented content
New Group Focused on data management and relationships, including topics related to
  • data governance
  • extracting
  • transforming
  • loading data and visualizations

3. Focus on System and Organization Controls (SOC1) Reports

This latest curriculum has reinforced the importance of understanding the SOC 1 reports for future CPAs.  Nowadays, companies are outsourcing information systems and business processes to third parties along with cloud data storage.

This requires future CPAs to recognize risks and related controls of such outsourced business processes and information systems. For this, they have to rely on multiple SOC reports. Hence, this change has factored in the increased reliance on SOC 1 reports.

Kindly note that only the AUD and BEC sections reflect this change. 

CPA Exam Section Changes
AUD
  • Differences in SOC1 & SOC2
  • SOC for Service Organizations: Trust Services Criteria (SOC2) reports
  • Reliance on SOC1 Reports
  • Implications to Nature & Extent of testing of controls
BEC Coverage of SOC1 reports from the user entity’s perspective (including the period covered and any complementary user entity controls)

4. Attention to critical knowledge and skills

Most of the recent changes are made to remove irrelevant content. This ensures that the exam stresses crucial skills and knowledge that future CPAs must possess. You can spot the recent changes in mostly AUD, Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG) sections. 

For instance, AICPA has removed the differences between IFRS and US GAAP from the FAR exam section. This is because US companies have not widely adopted IFRS. Also, it is usually client-specific and inappropriate for the newly licensed CPAs.

Moreover, the exam does not test the estate taxation topic under the REG exam section anymore.

Changes to CPA Exam Blueprints 2021

AICPA publishes the CPA Exam Blueprints 1-2 times annually. It details the minimum level of skills and knowledge required to qualify for licensure. 

The AICPA’s updated CPA Exam Blueprints are effective from July 1, 2021. As evident from the overview of the changes, the AUD and BEC sections of the CPA Exam have undergone significant changes. However, there are only minor revisions to the FAR and REG sections.

Most of these changes are in terms of content allocation and skills required. There are no changes to the number of questions and score weighting. Let’s understand this in detail. 

AUD

As mentioned before, the AUD CPA Exam section has been restructured to provide greater emphasis on the business processes, data-driven mindset, and SOC Reports.

Here is its impact on the exam blueprints.

Content weightage

Content Area Title Former Weighting Current Weighting
Area 2 Assessing Risk & Developing a Planned Response 20%-30% 25%-35%
Area 4 Forming Conclusions & Reporting 15%-25% 10%-20%

Skill weightage

Skill Former Weighting Current Weighting
Analysis 15%-25% 20%-30%
Remembering & Understanding 30%-40% 25%-35%
SkillFormer WeightingCurrent Weighting
Analysis15%-25%20%-30%
Remembering & Understanding30%-40%25%-35%

BEC

Like AUD, BEC has also reorganized to focus more on comprehending the business processes, data-driven mindset, and SOC Reports. 

Content Weightage

Content Area Former Title Current Title Former Weighting Current Weighting
Area 1 Corporate Governance Enterprise Risk Management, Internal Controls, & Business Processes 17%-27% 20%-30%
Area 2 Economic Concepts & Analysis Economics 17%-27% 15%-25%
Area 3 Financial Management Financial Management 11%-21% 10%-20%

FAR

A significant change in the FAR section is the removal of IFRS due to the reasons mentioned above. There are no changes in the content and skills weighting. However, a few topics have been added and removed. 

Area Group Topic Topics Removed Added
Area 1   B   2   Discontinued Operations Discontinued Operations (Example)
Going Concern
Area 2 G Compensated Absences
Retirement Benefits
Area 3 D Application skill level content for derivatives and hedge accounting
Differences between IFRS & US GAAP

REG

The topic Estate Taxation is removed from the REG Section. Let’s see the other significant revisions. 

Content Area Group Topic Blueprint Page Number Removed Added
Area 2   C   –   REG 9      
  • Application skill level content from bankruptcy, insolvency, and secured transactions
  • Separate topics from Group C
D REG 10 Topic – Federal Securities Regulation Group renamed to Federal Laws & Regulations
Area 4 Group – Alternative Minimum Tax
Area 5         C 2 REG 17 Analysis skill level content related to net operating losses and capital loss limitations
G REG 22 Topics –
  • Income & deductions
  • Determination of beneficiary’s share of taxable income
H 2 REG 22 Topic – Obtaining & maintaining tax-exempt status

Other updates or changes to the CPA Exam 2021

Credit Extension

Owing to the Coronavirus pandemic, the 55 US jurisdictions reported their modified credit extension policies. 

You don’t have to fulfil any requirement or contact your State Board or NASBA to acquire the extension. Just wait for up to four weeks for processing the extension and updating of the records. Then, log in to your NASBA CPA Candidate Account to view the revised date. For updates on credit extensions, visit the NASBA website.

Jurisdiction Original Credit Expiration Date Credit Extension Date
Connecticut April 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021 December 31, 2021
Minnesota December 31, 2020 – September 29, 2021 September 30, 2021
Mississippi September 2021 (Not more than 90 days) Candidates must submit the request to administrator@msbpa.ms.gov.
Nebraska April 1, 2020 – September 29, 2021 September 30, 2021
Puerto Rico December 31, 2020 – September 29, 2021 September 30, 2021
Tennessee December 31, 2020 – September 29, 2021 September 30, 2021

CPA Exam testing center policy revisions

There have been several changes in the CPA Exam testing center policies in 2021.

Phased Implementation of Pre-COVID Test Center Protocols

Prometric will execute the phased transformation of its test center policies from August 2, 2021. It will return to or modify the basic operating procedures practiced earlier according to the government restrictions.

This will ensure the absolute safety of both candidates and staff members. For updates on the latest test processes, visit the Prometric website. 

The procedural implementation will take place in two phases.

Phase 1 (From August 2, 2021): Prometric will do the following:

  • Follow government restrictions (wherever applicable)
  • Use hand sanitizers for everyone
  • Enable virtual walkthroughs
  • Display test center protocols on walls in crowded areas of test centers
  • Discontinue recording of details from IDs displayed on sign-in logs
  • Keep note of check-in and check-out times for candidates 

Also, Prometric will re-execute several standard COVID protocols wherever allowed.

Phase 2 (From September 1, 2021): Prometric will do the following:

  • Make masks optional for vaccinated individuals. However, this policy is subject to the local government restrictions. Moreover, non-vaccinated candidates need to wear their masks. 
  • Develop test center signage to display new mask policies and promote awareness on all airborne diseases. 
  • Discontinue the practice of accepting IDs that expired more than 90 days back. 

CPA Exam testing in other countries

AICPA introduced and extended CPA Exam testing in different countries. 

Continuous Testing in India

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, AICPA, NASBA, and Prometric announced the availability of continuous testing for the CPA Exam in India from January 1, 2021. Moreover, all the 55 US jurisdictions support this move. It will help the candidates in India take up the test in any of the eight Prometric testing centers with ease. 

  • Ahmedabad
  • Bangalore
  • Calcutta
  • Chennai
  • Hyderabad 
  • Mumbai
  • New Delhi
  • Trivandrum 

Besides Indians, citizens or long-term residents of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the US, Maldives, and Nepal can avail themselves of the opportunity. 

Testing Availability in Israel & Saudi Arabia

The eligible Middle-East based CPA aspirants can take the test in Israel (Tel Aviv) and Saudi Arabia (Riyadh, Jeddah, and Khobar) from May 5, 2021. 

Moreover, citizens or long-term residents of Bahrain, India, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, and the United States can also sit for the exam in these two countries. 

Testing Extension in Japan & South Korea 

Testing in South Korea and expanded testing in Japan is extended from February 1, 2021, until the end of the year. 

Changes to the CPA Exam in future

CPA Evolution

CPA Evolution is a joint initiative by AICPA and NASBA to transform the CPA licensure model in 2024. However, it should be distinguished from PA, which is usually conducted periodically to update the CPA Exam curriculum.  

As per the CPA Evolution licensure model, the CPA Exam will be revamped with four sections (three core and one discipline).  The core sections are mandatory for all, while candidates can choose to specialize in one of the three discipline sections.

The following image outlines the proposed CPA Evolution Model.

However, please note that this model is not expected to come into effect before January 2024. Hence, current CPA candidates need not be bothered. 

CPA Evolution Model Curriculum

AICPA and NASBA released the CPA Evolution Model Curriculum on June 15, 2021. The curriculum demonstrates the skills and competencies needed by a newly licensed CPA to work in future.  It also acts as a model for accounting programs preparing CPA aspirants.

Furthermore, AICPA plans to release the Evolution model Exam Blueprint by January 2023 and begin testing in January 2024.

To conclude, CPA aspirants in 2021 and beyond must be aware of all the exam-related changes. Hence, candidates must keep visiting the AICPA and NASBA websites to stay updated about exam scoring criteria, testing policies, content, and a lot more.

Now that you know what has changed in 2021, gear up for your exam ASAP! Plan your study schedule as per the same and ensure the best exam performance.

A Guide to CPA Exam Changes 2021. Here we discuss the changes to the 2021 CPA Exam with regard to content, blueprints, credit extensions & other policies. You may also have a look at the below articles to compare CPA with other examinations –