Passing the CPA Exam: Harder than it used to be?

William Parrott, Ph.D., an associate professor of accounting at the University of South Florida wrote a great article recently on the old “paper and pencil” version of the CPA Exam vs the new computer-based exam.

The article is titled Passing the CPA Exam – Is It Easier or Harder Now?
It compares the two exam formats in the follow areas:

  • Length of the CPA Exam
  • Knowledge Tested
  • Fixed vs. Flexible Scheduling
  • Applying to Sit for the CPA Exam
  • Studying for the Exam
  • Taking the CPA Exam
  • Exam Day Differences
  • Exam Format Differences
  • Exam Grading
  • CPA Exam Pass Rates and Release of Exam Results
  • Cost, ?Conditioning? the Exam, Exam Location
  • CPA Review Options

If you have a boss who likes to tell “war stories” about the old exam format and remark that new candidates have it so “easy”, slip a copy of this under his/her door. Maybe at the end of the day we can all just agree that old school or new, the Uniform CPA Examination is one of the toughest professional examinations around.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Esthr under this Creative Commons license.

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12 comments

The Cooking Accountant 12 years ago

William Parrott's article was very interesting. Since I first started taking the Exam in 2000 when it was a paper and pencil exam (I actually gave up after I lost 3 conditional credits) and started from scratch taking it at the end of 2008, I am always asked how they compare. The paper and pencil exam was indeed more physically and mentally demanding because you were put in a large auditorium with hundreds of other test-takers and had to pass 2 parts in order to get credit (in NY; other states required you to pass 4 parts at once to get credit). You had to take the parts during those 2 days in November or May (no flexibility), so you were studying for more than one part at a time. Yes, a lot of the material has changed and many things have been added to today's exam, but I personally feel other things make the exam easier these days. You can focus on one part at a time and schedule it for when you are better able to study and pass. Not to mention that we are now in a quiet temperature-controlled room with headphones to block out noise. I was against the computerized exam when it first came out in 2004 (got a headache staring at a really bad computer monitor and couldn't see straight for the rest of the day). But now, I am satisfied with it because you can study for one part at a time and take it when you feel ready.

Butch 12 years ago

Hey Cooking Accountant...you sound like the old boss telling war stories. The new exam is definitely harder.

BCool 12 years ago

Butch, any evidence to support that? I'm a new schooler too - just started taking the exam this year - so I obviously think the computer-based exam is difficult, but I'd hesitate to make any broad statements about it without any backup...

Jeff - another71.com 12 years ago

I came away from the article with the opinion that it's a "push". The actual exam day experience under the pencil and paper was more difficult, but they had the benefit of partial credit (ask anyone who has scored a 74 on the computer exam about needing a few extra points here and there). The eligibility requirements just to sit for the exam today are much more strict and there's a lot of hoops to jump through - as well as a lot more $$ invested in those 20-30 extra hours a lot of candidates need to reach 150. Also - the current format is a lot more broad in scope, and 50-100 more hours of studying are necessary according to the professor. I call that a "wash" or close to it.

Rich in CA 12 years ago

Interesting article. I also think it is a push, though personal circumstances my tilt one way or the other. I passed the exam a couple of months ago at age 43. Spaced the exams out with at least two weeks between each session. I couldn't imagine the grind of the paper-based test. Not sure I would have passed all the parts in a two day period. Also, I'm a lefty with horrible hand writing. Good luck grading my essays. Excellent Blog Jeff - keep up the good work.

The Cooking Accountant 12 years ago

Hey Butch, I have taken both the old version and am currently taking the new version, so I can say based on my experience the old one was definitely harder. I had passed AUD when it was paper and pencil, but I lost my credits in 2005, so I had to re-take it on Saturday. Like I said, even though there's a lot more info on the new exam, you only need to study one section at a time. Back then, you had to study for and pass 2 parts at once in NY (4 parts at once in some other states). Imagine you had to schedule all 4 parts at Prometric on 2 weekdays (2 parts a day with an hour break in between)? That's what the old test was like. But like others have said, your opinion can differ based on your own personal experiences.

Zero Cool 12 years ago

Dr. Parrott is the best accounting teacher ever (btw, that's not him in the picture) c/o 2008 FAR 91 AUD 96 BEC 83 REG ??

Jeff - another71.com 12 years ago

Zero - yeah, I assumed no one would think that was Dr. Parrott. It's the "war story" boss, actually :)

Jake1044 11 years ago

My God..........just took 4th part(AUD) yesterday and feel like puking. I have 3 down so far (did fail twice at first before passing three parts in succession). I think that it sucks no matter how you had(have) to take it. But, once we are on the other side, I'm sure that we won't want it to be any easier - ay? Don't want to dilute the profession after we went through this crap!

Jason
Pittsburgh, PA

Jake1044 11 years ago

My God..........just took 4th part(AUD) yesterday and feel like puking. I have 3 down so far (did fail twice at first before passing three parts in succession). I think that it sucks no matter how you had(have) to take it. But, once we are on the other side, I'm sure that we won't want it to be any easier - ay? Don't want to dilute the profession after we went through this crap!

Jason
Pittsburgh, PA

John Smith 10 years ago

I think the new exam is alot harder than the old version...this is all for reducing the amount of fraud that went on in the USA back in 2008; is this going to stop fraudsters? NO. Cigarettes kill people every year...have this stopped people from smoking..? NO. I took AUD and passed it studying 8 hours a day for 3 months...and the people i know who take this exam...have to take crazy concentration pills and sum other crazy things to absorb the info to pass the exam

Daryl 5 years ago

The article link is dead, anyone please share if they have an extra copy. Thanks