Are the CPA Exam simulations looking like rocket science to you? What exactly are they? And on the CPA Exam, is a TBS weighed? Let’s take a look at the importance of simulations on the CPA Exam. Plus, this article will review how to get CPA task-based simulations partial credit and tell you where to find a CPA simulation test bank. So if you keep failing the TBSs on the CPA Exam, this article is for you.
The CPA Exam includes traditional multiple-choice questions (or MCQs) and task-based simulations, or TBSs or SIMs. Simulations are essentially “condensed case studies” for examiners to evaluate your knowledge in a specific area. These complex problems ask you to apply your conceptual knowledge and skills to real-world applications. In a way, TBSs test your skills at a higher level than the MCQs. For instance, they ask you to apply your knowledge, analyze situations, and evaluate problems before you solve them.
For example, a simulation could ask you to prepare part of a financial statement, adjust a journal entry, or update an audit report. Likewise, a TBS could also require you to apply the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct to a given scenario. After all, I often tell people that the CPA Exam covers a huge amount of material but it never drills into the details. In a way, simulations are the examiners’ solution to make sure you know how to apply your accounting knowledge. Additionally, simulations prove that you have the right skills for an entry-level accountant.
The AICPA describes task-based simulations in comparison to multiple-choice questions in the following way:
Simulations typically include greater background information and context to create a more robust, authentic experience for candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Candidates receive a set of questions related to a scenario they would encounter as a newly licensed CPA. They may be required to solve problems using Excel spreadsheets, research authoritative literature, and write memos.
Simulations provide a flexible format for presenting a realistic setting, thus making the examination better suited for assessing higher-level skills by requiring individuals to apply what they know in a real-world context. — Invitation to Comment for CBT3
Yes—Every part of the CPA Exam, including AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG, includes simulations. And what’s more, task-based simulations (or TBSs or SIMs) total about 50% of your score and over half of the exam time. Therefore, the other 50% of your score is from MCQs or multiple-choice questions. (Keep in mind, however, that the CPA Exam is going to be modified next year. It will still have simulations, though. You can learn more in our guide to the 2024 CPA Exam changes.)
So are the CPA Exam simulations worth studying? Absolutely. As you can see from above, you can’t pass the exam without doing well on the CPA task-based simulations. And therefore, it’s critical to get a lot of CPA simulation practice before your exam day.
As I already mentioned, every section of the CPA Exam has task-based simulations. However, different types of CPA Exam TBS testlets appear throughout the exam. In fact, the CPA Exam has six kinds of TBSs. Moreover, some types of TBSs can be combined into one problem. For example, a multi-part simulation could incorporate a numeric entry with an options list.
In a document review TBS, you’ll review sample business documents and source materials. Basically, you need to check them for accuracy. Different parts of the sample document, such as individual words of entire sentences, will be underlined. As a result, you must determine what needs to be correct from the underlined passages. Additionally, document reviews can appear in any section of the CPA Exam.
In this type of TBS, you’ll be asked to do some calculations based on a given problem. Then, you must enter the correct numeric response, which might be a currency amount or a ratio. And again, free-responses numeric entries can be in any section of the CPA Exam.
Journal entries only appear in AUD and FAR. The CPA audit task-based simulations are really designed to ensure you understand these basic practices. Fundamentally, the sample journal entries are similar to what you might see in your daily practice. So, you’ll solve the problem and enter the appropriate amounts in the given account or credit columns, for example.
Option lists are just that—you’ll be given a list of options on how to address certain problems. You simply need to select the best answer. Option lists can be placed in any section of the exam.
The CPA Exam research simulations can appear in AUD, FAR, and REG. However, you won’t find a research question in BEC. In the research TBSs, you’ll read a problem that can only be solved by referencing the appropriate authoritative literature. Therefore, you must search through a list of authoritative literature and cite the correct source. For example, the Internal Revenue Code could be a source for a tax rate scenario. However, other sources could include the AICPA Professional Standards, the PCAOB Auditing Standards, and others.
Technically, written communications are task-based simulations, too. Nevertheless, they are a unique kind of question that only appears in BEC. But be warned: they can actually cover any of the CPA Exam content from any section, including AUD, FAR, and REG.
In a written communication, you are normally asked to respond to a given scenario with a memo or a short business letter. Essentially, the written communications just test your ability to clearly communicate accounting concepts to a co-worker or client. You are also expected to write in a professional (organized, coherent, and typo-free) manner.
Some candidates struggle with the written communications. But in my opinion, they are probably one of the easiest ways to score points in the CPA Exam. After all, the examiners are looking more at your writing ability than the content itself. In other words, you don’t need to know the exact answer, but you can still score points if you manage to type up a piece of professional writing.
Since I receive so many questions about them, you can find more info on CPA written communications in this post.
If you count the written communications as simulations, too, then the simulation questions make up 50% of your CPA exam. (Yes, a lot!) And what’s more, the simulations are graded positively. That is, you don’t get a penalty if you pick the wrong answer. The strategy is to make sure you never leave anything blank — if you pick the right answer by pure chance, you get the points. For that reason, you have nothing to lose.
The simulation questions are graded by computer except for the written communications part. In fact, the written communication tasks are mostly graded by computer, too, unless your score is right on the passing line. In that case, your written communications will be graded by a human examiner instead of a computer program.
Yes—you can receive CPA Exam TBS partial credit. As a matter of fact, they usually incorporate several responses. And you’ll even get credit for each individual response that is correct.
The AICPA doesn’t have a separate pass rate for CPA simulations. But, we have data about the CPA pass rates in general over the last several years. As you can see, the overall pass rate has been slowly increasing. However, the CPA Exam isn’t getting easier. Instead, it’s likely that candidates are better prepared because they are studying with the right CPA review course, which just continues to improve as the market gets more competitive.
Here are some tips for improving your score on the task-based simulations. Remember: most of the simulations (except for the numeric entries and written communications) have drop-down menus with answers to choose from. So the answer is right there in front of you. In the end, you just need to solve the problem and pick the best answer.
The biggest simulation tip is simply to carefully read the question and make sure you know what is being asked. Omit distracting information and answers that don’t pertain to the question.
Some simulations can have multiple parts. Therefore, make sure you answer each and every part. For example, journal entries can have several steps. Don’t leave anything blank!
Some CPA candidates feel that they don’t need to practice the simulations. Instead, they think that if they go through their CPA review course and can correctly answer all of the multiple-choice questions, then they’re good to go. But still, some aspects of the TBSs require some practice, like CPA simulations rounding.
So therefore, in my opinion, not studying the simulations is a huge mistake. In fact, these questions are super important because they test your ability to analyze and apply information and not just recall it. Plus, candidates can spend too much time on the simulations if they don’t practice their pacing. Because really, you’ll only have less than 10 minutes or so to solve each TBS. So you need to be prepared.
The research simulations aren’t necessarily hard, but they do require a little practice. Basically, you should learn how to search through the authoritative literature by exact words.
Similar to performing more precise searches in Google, you can put quotation marks between a phrase so the search engine knows that you want exact matches. For example, if you type in “CPA simulation,” it will search for articles with only this string of text, instead of those with the words “CPA” or “simulation” anywhere in the articles.
Please also take the time to practice with the Authoritative Research access that you get for free (for 6 months) once you are approved to take the exam.
You can find more info on CPA Exam Authoritative Literature here.
For the written communications, make sure you format your response with an introduction, body, and conclusion. Then, incorporate appropriate keywords and phrases related to your response. After all, the computer grading problem actually scans for related keywords in your essay. The computer software also scans for the elements of “good” writing like organization and the use of complete sentences.
Some of my readers insist that the simulations are essentially “giant” multiple-choice questions. However, simulations force us to look at problems from a different perspective than the MCQs. But still, practicing the TBSs spills over to the multiple-choice section. And therefore, it’s important to practice simulations before your exam day.
So if you’re wondering how to improve simulations for the FAR CPA exam or any other section, the way is to practice. First, find CPA task-based simulation samples from the AICPA or in your CPA review course. For example, the Wiley CPA TBS count is over 300. If you study with NINJA CPA for task-based simulations, you’ll have access to more than 200 practice TBSs. Or if you go with Becker, you can practice with over 500 simulations. However, the Gleim CPA courses have 1,300 practice simulations, the most available on the market. After you’ve chosen a review course, work through all of your simulations, drilling each type.
Plus, you should take several timed practice exams, too. After all, the simulation sections can trip you up if you spend too much time on each problem. So, you need to practice the pacing so you don’t run out of time on the real exam.
Many of my readers have found success with the simulations after studying with Becker. Of course, Becker is known for its high-quality prep materials that have helped many candidates pass their CPA exams.
But even more, Becker has recently added even more study tools to help candidates tackle the simulations through the addition of SkillBuilder videos. These 15-minute videos accompany each and every sample TBS in the Becker review courses. They break down the simulations and show you how to solve them. And in fact, they are currently the only review course available that gives you this level of study on the simulations. No other course has a video for every practice TBS, which is a big learning tool.
So for example, if you need help on how to do a task-based simulation for the CPA FAR exam, Becker will teach you step-by-step. Or if you need more CPA regulation simulation practice, the Becker SkillBuilder videos can help you overcome these tricky questions.
Becker’s team of accounting professionals works to ensure that their questions are just as hard—or even harder—than what you’ll encounter on exam day. Therefore, you might have good results if you compare the Becker simulation exams and your result on the CPA Exam.
When you take the CPA Exam, you’ll have access to the following tools for the simulation questions:
Yes! You can receive partial credit for the multi-answer simulations. So, don’t leave anything blank.
The AICPA has sample tests for AUD, BEC, FAR, and REG that you can download online. Each practice test includes MCQs and simulations. Plus, if you study with a CPA review course, you should have access to several hundred samples. If you need help picking study materials, check out my review of the top CPA courses.
And if you want an even deeper dive into simulations and how to master them, download a free copy of our newest publication, the CPA Exam Guide.
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!