CPA Simulation: How is TBS Grading Done? How to Master Sims?

CPA Simulation: How Is TBS Grading Done? How to Master Sims?

cpa simulationIs the CPA Simulation looking like Rocket Science to you? What exactly are they? Let’s take a look at what they are and their importance in the CPA exam.

CPA Simulation: What’s That?

Simulations are essentially “condensed case studies” for examiners to evaluate your knowledge in a specific area. This is how the AICPA describes task-based simulations:

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 knowin a real-world context.” — Invitation to Comment for CBT3

I often tell people that CPA Exam is a “Lake Superior with one inch deep”, which means that it covers huge amount of material but it never drills into the details. In a way, simulations are the examiners’ solution to address that “not so deep” problem.

Does Each Section have Simulations?

FAR, AUD and REG parts of the exam contain simulation questions. BEC doesn’t, but have a section for written communication tasks instead.

Beginning April 2017, there will be sims in BEC as well. The proportion of sims will be increased from 40% to 50%. Please expect to see 9 sim questions in each of the 4 parts of the exam.

Some CPA Simulation Tips Please?

There is a testlet with 7 questions, notably a “research” tab and “core” simulation questions.

1. Research Tab

This is a test on your research prowess. In my opinion, if you know how to search in Google, you can handle this.

Learn How to Search by Exact Words

Similar to perform 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.

Practice Using the Free Database

Please also take the time to practice on the Authoritative Research access that you get for free (for 6 month) once you are approved of taking the exam.

This is not a major tab because it represents only a few points for your exam, but they can be easy points to score if you know the way.

More info on CPA Exam Authoritative Literature here.

2. Miscellaneous Sim Question

This is a wild card. You can be asked to do anything in any topic. Just treat this as a more elaborate form of multiple choice questions. This also means that you cannot blindly memorize the concepts because simulations are all about testing you how to apply the concepts to real business situations.

Note on Written Communications Tab

This is technically not part of the task-based simulations and only appears in BEC exam, but given its importance I will briefly explain it here.

The written communications task represents 15% in BEC. You are normally asked to write something in the range of business memo, a letter, or an inquiry from a client, and you are expected to write in a professional (organized, coherent and typo-free) manner.

Some candidates struggle in this tab but in my opinion it is probably one of the easiest ways to score points in the CPA exam, because the examiners are looking more in your writing ability than the content itself. In other words, you don’t need to exactly know the answer but you can still score points if you manage to type up a piece of professional writing.

More info on CPA Written Communications in this post.

How is CPA Simulation Grading Done?

The simulation questions make up 40% of your CPA exam. (Yes, a lot!) Simulations are graded positively, i.e. you don’t get 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. There is nothing to lose.

The simulation questions are graded by computer except for the written communications part (In fact, the written communication task is mostly graded by computer according to the official CPA exam website).

What is the Pass Rate?

There isn’t a separate pass rate for CPA simulations, but we have data from NASBA on the percentage of “comparable” or “stronger” in score report, by country. Candidates scored in these categories are thought to have passed this section:

FAR Performance


AUD Performanceaud-sims-pass-rate-2013-b

REG Performancereg-sims-pass-rate-2013-b

Source: NASBA report

So, IS There a Way to Practice Sims?

Readers’ opinions differ widely on this. Some believe spending no more than 10 minutes, because the chance of encountering the same exact question is virtually zero. So why bother?

Others insist that the simulations are essentially “giant” multiple choice questions. The sims exercise train us to work on a problem in different perspective, and by practicing more the benefits spill over to the multiple choice section.

Conclusion: it depends on your learning style. Everyone agrees that candidates should at least know how a typical sim question looks like, and how to use the research tab.

More Tips

For Task-based Simulations 

Tips by exam section

General testing strategies

About the Author Stephanie Ng

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!

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