According to A History of Public Accounting in the United States by James Don Edwards:
The first examination was given by the New York Board of Examiners on December 15 and 16, 1896. The first section of the examination, on the theory of accounts, was given on December 15, 1896 from 9:15 A.M. to 12:15 P.M. Candidates had to answer five obligatory questions and any five of the other questions. The first question pertained to the essential principles of double-entry bookkeeping as contrasted with single-entry. Other questions required the candidate to distinguish between accounts— revenue account, trading account— and to define such terms as fixed assets, cash assets, stock, capital, and loan capital.
Practical accounting was given in the afternoon from 1:15 to 4:15 P.M. There were two obligatory questions: the first required a statement of affairs, and the second had to do with a partnership problem. The third question concerned the opening of the books of a company after purchase at a receiver's sale. A balance sheet was to be made from the ledger accounts. The fourth question dealt with a partnership liquidation problem, the fifth with foreign ex- change, and the sixth with a problem of a joint venture.
The auditing examination was the following day from 9:15 A.M. to 12:15 P.M. Ten questions had to be answered by the candidate, five of them required, with a choice of five from seven remaining questions. The subject matter pertained to the duties of an auditor, and the principal points to which he should direct his attention while auditing a corporation. The examination then went into specific questions in regard to auditing cash payments and receipts as well as other specific audit procedures. The candidate had to make a grade of 75 out of 100 on each section of the examination to pass. The examination apparently covered the functions which the public accountant performed during the 1890's.
So the next time an old timer whines about how easy you kids have it when it comes to the CPA exam, remind them that way way back in the day, future CPAs had just a handful of questions to answer.
Anyhoo, the questions. Oh, the questions. Can you answer this?
Describe a method of keeping accounts so that the aggregate sums due from customers and due to creditors can be known without preparing a schedule of the accounts of such customers and creditors, and so that an independent bal- ance of the Ledger, containing only the real, nominal, special and controlling accounts, exclusive of the individual accounts of customers and of trade creditors, may be taken.
How about this one?
State the purpose for which series of perpendicular columns are employed in books of original entry, and how these purposes may be accomplished relative to the following conditions: (a) several Ledgers comprehended in one system of accounts, (b) several departments comprehended in one business, (c) several accounts comprehended in income and expenditure.
Oh, and they had simulations too. Each was worth 25 points and you had to answer questions 1 and 2, as well as 2 others of your choice.
1. Jones and Robinson, merchants, are unable to meet their obligations. From their books and the testimony of the insolvent debtors the following statement of their condition is ascertained:
Cash on hand $ 5,500.00
Debtors: $1,000 good; $600 doubtful; but estimated to produce $200; $1,000 bad 2,600.00
Property, estimated to produce $9,000 14,000.00
Bills receivable, good 4,250.00
Other securities: $3,000 pledged with partially secured creditors; remainder held by the fully secured creditors 28,000.00
Jones, drawings 9,000.00
Robinson, drawings 8,400.00
Sundry losses 13,500.00
Trade Expenses 7,400.00
Creditors, unsecured 25,000.00
Creditors, partially secured 23,900.00
Creditors, fully secured 17,000.00
Preferential claims: wages, salaries and taxes 700.00
Jones, Capital 10,000.00
Robinson, Capital 16,050.00
Prepare a statement of affairs, showing the liabilities and the assets, "with respect to their realisation and liquidation; also a Deficiency Account, showing such of the above stated particulars as would account for the deficiency shown by the statement of affairs.
You can see all the questions in the Appendix of A History of Public Accounting in the United States which is conveniently available in text form here.