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A behind-the-scenes look at the CPA Exam

Behind the scenesMost CPA Exam candidates can rest assured knowing the time and energy they’ve spent leading up to exam day has prepared them for what to expect. Reviewed content and structure, section by section in the Blueprints? Check. Practiced with the sample tests to learn the exam’s functionality? Check. Confirmed test windows, how scoring works and made that test day appointment? Check. Understood the importance of language in the exam and what goes into the wording of each question? Che...wait. What?

Understanding what goes into the development of exam questions may provide extra insight for test day when you sit for the exam, which surely adds to your confidence. Read on to explore some of the behind-the-scenes considerations from creation to approval, fairness in the wording, as well as knowing with certainty that each multiple-choice question has only one right answer.

Think of it like an assembly line

The process of developing, reviewing and ultimately approving an exam question is rigorous. A question could go through as many as 20 reviews with 20-30 different people before it appears on your exam. This process makes the question, and the test, as fair as possible. Fairness in this sense means that each question gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and abilities that entry-level CPAs are expected to have. Fairness also means that emotion-laden words and concepts are removed from the questions so that you will hone in on the intended CPA-related content.  

Leave emotion out of it

According to Lead Manager of Test Development, Jeff West, “We want to ensure that candidates are able to focus solely on the content of the question and not be distracted by anything other than the content.” He adds, “For example, an item might test the important concept of disaster recovery, but we refrain from providing any unnecessary and upsetting details about the disaster itself.”  

What you see is what you get

Have you ever wondered if there could be more than one right answer on an exam question? According to Tim Habick,  test development manager, “Questions are designed to have one and only one correct answer. All incorrect answer choices are designed to be clearly incorrect, and the correct answer choice is designed to be clearly correct. If you understand the content, you should be able to distinguish the correct choice from the incorrect choices. Do not introduce unrealistic possibilities into question scenarios. There is no reason to make assumptions about facts not in evidence in the question. All relevant facts are already established in the construction of each question’s scenario, so don’t overthink with “What if” digressions.” All of the choices in a multiple-choice question are designed to be plausible. Given the facts in the question, the correct answer is “always correct”. Some of the other choices may only be correct either some of the time or only if you assume other facts to be true.

Tim combines his background in linguistics and logic to ensure every word in every sentence of each test question is completely clear on first reading. In fact, each word in each question is there to perform a particular function.  So, when you read a sentence, rest assured it means exactly what the words indicate, in the overall context of the other words and sentences in the question.

Now that you’ve had a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes preparation of a CPA Exam question, hopefully you feel a little more comfortable and acquainted with the material you’re being tested on. Remember, if you’re stumped on a multiple-choice question, pick answer choice “C.” You’ll be right 25% of the time.

Lauren Walter, Exam Communications Manager, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Behind the scenes courtesy of Shutterstock


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