July 18, 2018

Cheating on the CPA exam

Illinois Candidate Caught Cheating on the CPA Exam

We have better things to do than comb through the minutes of each accountancy board’s meetings, so thanks to the tipster who obviously doesn’t and sent in the following tip from the January 25, 2011 minutes of the Illinois Board of Accountancy:

b. Mr. [Richard] York led a discussion regarding a recent candidate caught cheating by Prometric. The Committee agreed with the Executive Director’s recommendation to void the candidate’s scores for that examination. It was agreed by the Board to implement a prohibition of testing privilege for 2-5 years as provided by Administrative Rule for future candidates caught cheating.

It’s common knowledge that if you are caught cheating on the CPA exam you should expect for your scores to be thrown out and will likely receive some sort of administrative penalty (such as being barred from taking the exam again for a certain number of years) but this is the first reference I have seen to an actual candidate getting busted.

How does one go about cheating on the CPA exam anyway? With countless questions completely locked down by the AICPA, how could a candidate cheat? Sharpie notes on the palm of his hand? Smuggled in snot rags?

The official line on cheating from the AICPA, NASBA and Prometric goes something like this:

The Boards of Accountancy, NASBA and the AICPA take candidate misconduct, including cheating on the Uniform CPA Examination, very seriously. If a Board of Accountancy determines that a candidate is culpable of misconduct or has cheated, the candidate will be subject to a variety of penalties including, but not limited to, invalidation of grades, disqualification from subsequent examination administrations, and civil and criminal penalties. In cases where candidate misconduct or cheating is discovered after a candidate has obtained a CPA license or certificate, a Board of Accountancy may rescind the license or certificate.

If the test center staff suspects misconduct, a warning will be given to the candidate for any of the following situations:
· Communicating, orally or otherwise, with another candidate or person
· Copying from or looking at another candidate’s materials or workstation
· Allowing another candidate to copy from or look at materials or workstation
· Giving or receiving assistance in answering examination questions or problems
· Reading examination questions or simulations aloud
· Engaging in conduct that interferes with the administration of the examination or unnecessarily
disturbing staff or other candidates

Grounds for confiscation of a prohibited item and warning the candidate include:
· Possession of any prohibited item (whether or not in use) inside, or while entering or exiting the testing room
· Use of any prohibited item during a break in a manner that could result in cheating or the removal of examination questions or simulations

Inquiring minds are dying to know what went down.

The scariest part is that in 2 – 5 years, this candidate can head back into Prometric and give it another shot. Looks like it’s payroll clerking it in the meantime.

Can You Tattoo a CPA Exam Cheat Sheet On Your Arm?

Listen, this may seem like a ridiculous question and knowing our tax-obsessed friend Joe Kristan, chances are he was kidding when he asked it but I couldn’t help but indulge him since this is actually one I have thought about more than once.

Being pretty well-covered from head to toe in ink myself, if it were allowed (and were I completely bankrupt of ethical fortitude), tattoos #34 – 47 co be mnemonic cheat sheets. But is it allowed?

Joe asks not so subtly via Twitter:

@adrigonzo Can you tatoo [sic] cheat sheets on your arms? If so, what parts do you recommend?

Valid question (if ridiculous), no? Let’s look at the rules.


You cannot bring paper, pencil, notes, your cell phone, a calculator watch (who even USES one of those?!), or even a hat into Prometric and if you choose to bring a jacket (I hear those rooms get chilly), you’ve got to wear it all 3 – 4 hours of the exam or else risk running out of time to take a break and put it in your locker. But as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no requirement that would otherwise bar someone from writing down the “answers” in fancy script on the absorbent epidermis of their inner forearms. After all, it’s not like you can remove your skin, right?

Here’s the problem (or four):

The first is that the AICPA Board of Examiners guard their proprietary CPA exam questions with their lives. If it came down to someone being able to bypass the rules by slipping past Prometric with answers tattooed on them, chances are they’d not only skin the offender but sue the shit out of them to find out where they got those answers. Review courses may have practice questions that are similar to actual exam content and the AICPA may retire 50 questions from each section a year but NO ONE except for the AICPA Board of Examiners has an actual answer key.

That being said, if by some fluke someone were able to get their hands on real exam content (unlikely since you aren’t allowed to take scratch paper out of the room and trust me, every sheet is accounted for), the CPA exam that you get is actually pulled from a test bank of thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of questions. So even if you illegally smuggle out exam content and hand it to a tattoo artist, the odds that you would get the same questions on an exam are slim to none. Sure there are likely repeats (as anyone who has taken an exam section two or – God forbid – three or more times can tell you) but not so many that getting an entire random exam tattooed on you would do you any good.

So, let’s just say somehow someone gets their hands on an exact exam and somehow someone else just so happens to get that same exact exam (after tattooing the answers on their forearm). Exam content, as many of you should already know, changes twice a year. So even if the first two somehow work out, the tattoo will be obsolete in 6 months. Then what? Scrawl FAS 141(r) underneath the other rules like a cover-up? Tacky!

Lastly, let’s all keep in mind here that this is the CPA exam, a professional licensure examination that tests not only your knowledge but your personal ethics and ability to protect the public interest. Times may be changing and the public may be OK with being served by a CPA with a visible butterfly tattooed on their ankle (or, we can only hope one day, a full sleeve tattoo) but there is no way you are protecting the public if you’re starting off your career looking for ways to cheat the system.

So is it allowed? Technically yes from what I can gather. Morally that’s a big fat hell no and I shouldn’t have to explain why. We look forward to an announcement from the AICPA that all candidate tattoos must be biometrically logged before admission to the exam is granted.