Don’t Let 2011 CPA Exam Changes Keep You From Studying This Year

I’ve talked to a lot of panicked CPA exam candidates out there who seem to be bewildered and anxious about CBT-e changes coming up in just a few short months and even though we’ve covered it plenty here on Going Concern, I figured I’d take the time to remind you once again to relax. Please. Seriously. Like now.

A few things to keep in mind and then we’ll get to the good part.


1. Accounting is still accounting and IFRS puts debits on the left too. While international standards are spooking everyone, let’s take a deep breath and remember that accounting is still accounting whether it’s GAAP, government, IFRS or that wonky version of financial accounting that the Fed gets to make up. For the first few testing windows, if not years, it is highly likely that the AICPA will take a conservative approach when it comes to integrating the new standards into the CPA exam. They are not going to scrap years worth of effort put in to the computerized exam just to test international standards that aren’t even used in the U.S. so stop thinking 2011’s exam is THAT much different.

2. Regulation isn’t really changing at all. Does it ever? You’d be surprised how little the exam changes from year to year even as new standards are released and introduced to the bank of questions candidates receive. The fundamentals haven’t changed much over time and probably won’t. In the last three years, I can only remember two very large changes: a massive overhaul of Audit in mid 2007 that changed a lot of terminology but not much else and FAS 141(r) or, as candidates know it, business consolidations last year. Beyond that, the meat and potatoes of the exam have remained pretty constant in the 6 years since the exam went computerized.

3. Simulations will be easier. Believe it or not, the new sims should be way easier than the current ones. Instead of hoping you get a simulation that covers the two or three areas you studied (ahem, procrastinators, I’m talking directly to you), you get 6 or 7 smaller simulation problems that cover a multitude of areas. This makes your crapshoot odds of knowing what you’re doing far better than they are under the current structure.

So, now that we’ve pointed out those few things, I think you should know that there’s no reason to hold off on studying this year if your plan is to start taking exams in the beginning of 2011. GAAP will not change and will still be tested, it is just that new international standards will also be added to the mix.

You can certainly get a jump on studying by going over the current material towards the end of the year and then hit the 2011 stuff once it is available. Otherwise you’ll have to cram up to 150 hours of studying into a couple weeks right after New Year’s when you’re probably in no mood to study anyway. Trust me, a fourth quarter 2010 FAR exam isn’t going to be drastically different from a first quarter 2011 FAR exam except for the obvious international stuff sprinkled throughout. No big deal.

You CAN use 2010 books to START to prepare for the 2011 exam, just be sure to update them with 2011 material once it is available. If you rely solely on 2010 materials you will probably fail but you can definitely use them to get the foundation on topics that are still going to be tested in 2011 and beyond in much the same way they have been since 2004.

Hope some of you can now sleep at night. You’re welcome.

I’ve talked to a lot of panicked CPA exam candidates out there who seem to be bewildered and anxious about CBT-e changes coming up in just a few short months and even though we’ve covered it plenty here on Going Concern, I figured I’d take the time to remind you once again to relax. Please. Seriously. Like now.

A few things to keep in mind and then we’ll get to the good part.


1. Accounting is still accounting and IFRS puts debits on the left too. While international standards are spooking everyone, let’s take a deep breath and remember that accounting is still accounting whether it’s GAAP, government, IFRS or that wonky version of financial accounting that the Fed gets to make up. For the first few testing windows, if not years, it is highly likely that the AICPA will take a conservative approach when it comes to integrating the new standards into the CPA exam. They are not going to scrap years worth of effort put in to the computerized exam just to test international standards that aren’t even used in the U.S. so stop thinking 2011’s exam is THAT much different.

2. Regulation isn’t really changing at all. Does it ever? You’d be surprised how little the exam changes from year to year even as new standards are released and introduced to the bank of questions candidates receive. The fundamentals haven’t changed much over time and probably won’t. In the last three years, I can only remember two very large changes: a massive overhaul of Audit in mid 2007 that changed a lot of terminology but not much else and FAS 141(r) or, as candidates know it, business consolidations last year. Beyond that, the meat and potatoes of the exam have remained pretty constant in the 6 years since the exam went computerized.

3. Simulations will be easier. Believe it or not, the new sims should be way easier than the current ones. Instead of hoping you get a simulation that covers the two or three areas you studied (ahem, procrastinators, I’m talking directly to you), you get 6 or 7 smaller simulation problems that cover a multitude of areas. This makes your crapshoot odds of knowing what you’re doing far better than they are under the current structure.

So, now that we’ve pointed out those few things, I think you should know that there’s no reason to hold off on studying this year if your plan is to start taking exams in the beginning of 2011. GAAP will not change and will still be tested, it is just that new international standards will also be added to the mix.

You can certainly get a jump on studying by going over the current material towards the end of the year and then hit the 2011 stuff once it is available. Otherwise you’ll have to cram up to 150 hours of studying into a couple weeks right after New Year’s when you’re probably in no mood to study anyway. Trust me, a fourth quarter 2010 FAR exam isn’t going to be drastically different from a first quarter 2011 FAR exam except for the obvious international stuff sprinkled throughout. No big deal.

You CAN use 2010 books to START to prepare for the 2011 exam, just be sure to update them with 2011 material once it is available. If you rely solely on 2010 materials you will probably fail but you can definitely use them to get the foundation on topics that are still going to be tested in 2011 and beyond in much the same way they have been since 2004.

Hope some of you can now sleep at night. You’re welcome.

Have something to add to this story? Give us a shout by email, Twitter, or text/call the tipline at 202-505-8885. As always, all tips are anonymous.

Related articles