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Where do CPA Exam Research Questions Come From?

Students taking CPA ExamSo, how well do you know the Financial Accounting Standards Board Accounting Standards Codification? Can you recite it from beginning to end without missing a beat? Is committing the standards to memory even a reasonable or practical expectation? A similar question posed one of the primary challenges that led to the development of research questions on the U.S. CPA Exam.

In a periodic assessment of accounting practice known as the Practice Analysis (1999), the AICPA CPA Exam team found that accounting references were becoming increasingly lengthy and complex, and were also available in an electronic format. Essentially, in the real world, CPAs were only memorizing sections of the standards that they used on a daily basis and used an electronic search to find any additional information they required. At the time of the 1999 Practice Analysis, the CPA Exam was still in pencil and paper format, so testing the application of accounting references that reflected real-world accounting practice posed an obvious challenge for CPA Exam developers.

The transition of the CPA Exam to a computerized format in 2004 offered the perfect opportunity to test the real-world use of accounting references by introducing the ability to include searchable reference documents. In 2004 the CPA Exam team introduced a new type of question that required information found in the authoritative literature associated with three of the examination sections. This allowed the assessment of skills required to search and synthesize information from an accounting reference, much in the same way a search would be conducted in entry-level accounting practice.

Currently, research questions are administered in the AUD, FAR and REG sections of the CPA Exam. For a hands-on demonstration of a research question just like those found on the CPA Exam, try the CPA Exam Sample Test.

Richard “Dick” DeVore, Ed.D., Senior Research and Development Scientist, American Institute of CPAs. Dick has been a member of the CPA Exam team since 2000, and holds a B.S. from Lehigh University and an M.S. and Ed.D. from Rutgers University.


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