According to AICPA’s recently released CPA Exam Blueprints, starting July 1st, 2021, the CPA exam is changing! In order to stay relevant and useful, the AICPA has interviewed educators, regulators, and field professionals in a comprehensive practice analysis to determine what content needs to be updated. While this doesn’t change the structure or general rigor of the exam, the content has shifted in a few key ways that students will need to be aware of.

Business Processes

There will be a new emphasis on data analytics, business processes with automated aspects, and transaction-level risks. The goal is to focus on how auditors now rely more on IT controls and use technology in the audit, so they will be incorporating these aspects into the AUD and BEC sections specifically.

In the AUD section, content questions regarding IT systems, application, and controls will be developed. There will also be a focus on audit evidence that uses completeness and accuracy of data tasks.

In the BEC section, new assessments of business processes will focus on general IT and application controls, as well as governance and design of internal controls.

New Focus On Data

The AUD section will now have questions about analysis skill level task-based simulations that use basic data knowledge and interpret analytical procedures.

The BEC section will include a new topic that focuses on data management and relationships. This includes tasks involving data extraction, governance, and the capabilities of visualizations.

System and Organization Controls (SOC) Reports

Since there is a newly increased reliance on SOC reports, especially to newly licensed CPAs, this is another topic that the AICPA wants students to focus on.

For the AUD section, students will need to know the differences between SOC 1 and SOC 2 reports. There will be a heavy reliance on SOC 1 reports specifically and the extent of testing controls.

The BEC section will also cover SOC 1 reports, but from the user entity’s view.

General Update To Material

Of course, some of the CPA exam changes in 2021 will be more subtle. As part of their practice analysis, AICPA has evaluated what material is no longer relevant and worked to clean up some of the more outdated content.

For example, estate taxes and trusts will be completely removed from future exams. Students will also no longer be tested on differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS. These were topics that research showed as being less useful according to professionals and educators, so it was removed to allow students to focus on more important material.

There is also consideration to remove government accounting, or at least de-emphasizing it. However, so far it has been kept on the exam. This will stay a topic for now, but it will most likely come under scrutiny again during the next review.

Less of a content focus but still new is an increased emphasis on technology. Since CPAs and businesses are becoming more dependent on technology, the exam will work to assess students’ ability to work with IT systems and controls. This will be included throughout the exam in tandem with the standard content and ability assessment.