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The 2017 CPA Exam is launching in less than a year from now—April 1, 2017 to be exact. And while administration and overall structure of the exam are changing, perhaps the change that has CPA Exam candidates most concerned is the testing of higher order skills. In this blog, we’ll give you some background context as to what higher order skills are, where they were derived from, and why they’re so important on the next version of the CPA Exam.


Why the 2017 CPA Exam is testing higher order skills

When the AICPA conducted its research for the next version of the CPA Exam in 2014, also known as a practice analysis, they collected feedback from a variety of stakeholders who shared an interest in preserving the strength and mission of the CPA profession. This included boards of accountancy, accounting firms, academia (including Roger CPA Review), standards setters, and regulators and business and industry.

As information was collected through means such as focus groups, interviews, meetings with CPAs from across the profession, and an invitation to comment with these stakeholders, the AICPA Board of Examiners concluded that a consensus was clear: due to advances in technology and its ever-increasing use, CPAs new to the profession are now expected to perform at a more advanced level earlier in their careers. Therefore, CPA Exam candidates needed to be tested with higher order skills in order to reflect these types of tasks and responsibilities.


Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

In order to better understand what higher order skills are, we must reference its origins, bringing us to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Developed in the 1950s by Benjamin Bloom, the model categorizes educational goals based on a hierarchy of how people understand and learn new information. In the image below, you can see how each category describes the cognitive process in which thinkers encounter and work with knowledge. The hierarchy in which information is absorbed and understood goes from the bottom to the top, beginning with remembering and ending with creating.


This framework has been applied by K-12 teachers and college professors for years, putting these skills and abilities into practice in order to get students to truly understand concepts and apply them to everyday life.


How Bloom’s Taxonomy applies to the 2017 CPA Exam

When the AICPA were deciding how to focus on and enhance higher order skills, they turned to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Adopting this framework that basically classifies a set of skills that candidates need to learn and demonstrate on the CPA Exam, the AICPA utilized the model to direct candidates’ learning objectives and aid in the development of exam questions.

With this framework in place, the AICPA then had to figure out what these higher order skills would be and how they would be tested on the exam. To do this, they asked exam staff to identify about 700 tasks that newly licensed CPAs were expected to perform. These tasks were then reviewed with the Exam staff’s content committee as well as its subcommittees, who then assigned each task to specific areas within each section of the CPA Exam.

To narrow down these tasks even further, they were included and distributed in a broad survey of newly licensed CPAs and supervisors of newly licensed CPAs who rated how frequent and critical each task was for CPAs to know and execute as they protect the public interest early on in their career. Based on the survey ratings, the Exam staff and subcommittees chose the tasks that were most pertinent in terms of frequency and criticality to newly licensed CPAs. Once selected, the tasks were further designated into one of four skill levels originating from Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives from which they would be tested:



As the current CPA Exam stands, it only assesses remembering and understanding and application level skills in AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG. In the 2017 version, higher order skills will be tested by distributing the focus to include analysis of exam content as seen in AUD, BEC, FAR, & REG, and evaluation of exam content as seen solely in AUD.


What this implies about the CPA Exam and the Industry

As the advancement of technology continues to impact the way companies and organizations process data and information, we can expect that the CPA Exam will continuously evolve as the accounting profession does the same. To meet these needs, this not only means higher demand from the accounting industry to do more quickly, but also higher demand for CPAs to adapt to these changes. CPAs are now required to perform more advanced tasks and contribute to increasingly complex projects earlier on in their accounting careers.

Because CPAs are at the forefront of protecting the public interest, professional content knowledge that is tested on the CPA Exam is no longer enough. The industry is seeing that newly licensed CPAs must also have a thorough understanding of professional and ethical responsibilities, the business environment and processes, and effective communication skills. Combine these with the desire for higher-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, professional skepticism, and analytical abilities, and we see that the testing of higher order skills will not only reflect this new need, but also allow the CPA Exam to remain relevant as a measure of the knowledge and skills CPAs must have in order to practice their profession more efficiently and effectively.
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