New CPA Exam 2017: What are the Changes? Is it Harder?

New CPA Exam 2017

CPA Exam Change Timeline: 2011 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

You may have heard of the CBT-3, the latest development of the new CPA exam, to be launched on April 1, 2017. It is now finalized and officially announced by the AICPA.

Here is a video summarizing the upcoming changes, and why it’s getting harder:

Why a New CPA Exam?

The examiners are not aiming to change the exam content, but more on testing a higher level of skills.

Specifically, they are looking for critical thinking, problem solving, analytical ability, and professional skepticism, as well as a strong sense of ethics and professionalism.

This means less on rote memorization and more on analysis, and even evaluation.

Now vs 2017 New CPA Exam


The FAR exam will remain to be a 4-hour exam, but the number of multiple choice questions will reduce from 90 to 66. The emphasis will be more on task based simulations, with questions increasing to 9. Please expect to see fewer straight-forward questions on definition and understanding of basic concepts.

There will be extra test on analysis through a new TBS called the Document Review Simulation (DRS). For these questions, we will need to reference phone conversation transcripts, legal letters, authoritative literature, and other written documents to discern what’s important or not when solving the problem. You will also see DRS in other parts of the exam.Now vs 2017 new CPA exam (FAR)


The duration of the AUD exam will stay at 4 hours, but similar to FAR, number of multiple choice questions will reduce from 90 to 72, and sims increasing to 9. Given the nature of audit, you will still see a fair amount of traditional questions. But do get prepared for the new TBS covering analysis and evaluation.



Duration for the REG exam will be increased to 4 hours, covering 76 multiple choice and 9 simulation questions. now vs 2017 new cpa exam (REG)


BEC will also change to a 4-hour exam. Multiple choice weighting will be slightly reduced from 72 questions to 62. The nature of the questions will be quite different, with less memorization and more analysis.

Simulations are added back this time with 5 questions. For written communications (to be called written responses), there will be 3 questions as before, and the nature remains the same.

now vs 2017 new cpa exam (BEC)

Multiple Choice / Sims Proportion

It will now be 50/50, as shown below:

Exam SectionsMCQSimsWritten Response
FAR, AUD, REG50%50%

Other Changes

Since it will be more tiring to take this “higher-order” test, there will be an optional 15-minute break outside of the 4-hour exam period. In other words, these breaks do not count against the exam time.

A new testing interface utilizing Excel to be launched in 2018.

Question from Reader

1) If I pass two parts in 2016, would they be counted in the new exam or do I need to retake all?

Yes, they will be counted. The combination of old (pre-April 2017) exam and new (April 2017) exam can be counted toward licensure, as long as they are completed within the 18-month window.

2) Will the exam fee increase with this change?

Exam fee will increase for REG and BEC because the exam duration will be increased from 3 to 4 hours. For FAR and AUD, you can expect the level to be similar.

Is the New CPA Exam getting Harder?

Yes! Candidates generally fear and perform not as well in task-based simulations. Now that the sims’ proportion is getting bigger and the questions are becoming more complex, I suspect the CPA exam will be tougher for most of us.

AICPA mentions about a new media dimension, such as audio, video and image, to the exam in the near future. The faster you get done with the CPA exam, the better!

Your Next Step

One thing we know for sure — the new format isn’t going to be easier. If you are serious about taking the CPA exam, I would take it sooner rather than later.

Reference Materials

Infographic and pie chart source: AICPA, Roger CPA Review

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites

follow me on:
  • Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    So what do you think of these changes?
    Do you think it is still worth pursuing with pass rates likely to go from 48% to 20s%.?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Haha, probably not that drastic Rob. I probably wouldn’t take it in the first window of the change (likely 2nd quarter of 2017), but base on the experience from the last major change in 2011, the pass rate dropped slightly and only in the first testing window. Regards, Stephanie


    Hi, what would you see about the changes? I heard so many things about this changes? Some says its better to finish CPA before the changes. For me its not possible now? Is there any hope I can pass with the changes?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Sonjoy, if you don’t like simulations, then there is a big incentive to get it done before 2Q 2017. But it isn’t the end of the world if this is not possible. The CPA exam makes considerable changes every 5-6 years. The last one was done in 2011. Regards, Stephanie

  • Sebastian says:

    Hi Stephane please does this mean that the new CPA exams will give opportunity to ACCA qualified members to take the exams without requirements of bachelor and master degrees?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Not that I know of Sebastian… the exam requirements should remain the same. Where do you get this info? I can take a closer look.

  • Stephanie says:

    Can you elaborate on this comment from Chee Kin above please?

    “I will throw in a third point which is a CSR opportunity for the AICPA. Not everyone especially in the developing world can afford a traditional 150-hour education. There are simply not enough university spots for those who deserve them, and the cost of education is rising. AICPA ought to have qualifying exams leading to the final four exams. In this way, it captures a larger market, burnishes its CSR chops, and alleviate the CPA from being overly “elitist.”

    I bet we will see an expansion in the US as well because people are beginning to question the cost and benefit of the 4-year bachelors let alone the masters.”

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Stephanie, the 150-hour requirement (ie. requiring all candidates to have a master’s-equivalent degree) has been controversial. Some people believe a high entry barrier is necessary to uphold the prestige of the US CPA title, but at the same time, many candidates, especially those outside of the US, may not be able to afford a graduate degree. This has nothing to do with their ability not to have such graduate degree.

      In other qualifications e.g. ACCA, there are various paths for people to make up to the same education level through a course provided by ACCA. So this is a clearer path for people in this situation. This is what Chee Kin is trying to say I believe.

      Anyway, at least for this 2017 exam, this has not been addressed. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Ravit says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I plan to sit for my first CPA exam this coming October. I think I can handle passing 2 exams before 2017. What 2 exams do you recommend I take before the change?

    Thank you

  • Anand Padmanabhan says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am planning to register myself for CPA and i am confused now because of the change in 2017.
    Say if i am registering in Aug’16 i will be taking my exams in around Apr’17 or May’17. Will i get my books and software from Becker’s in a new version as per new changes or how does it work?. Will have to get the books again when the changes happen?

  • Lauren Hawley says:

    Hi Stephanie!

    Thanks for this, it really helped reduce my anxiety about these changes. I plan on taking each section once before the changes, but I will have to deal with the new format if I fail any sections.

    My question is this – given the changes in questions, will studying the content be significantly different?

    Also, would you mind elaborating slightly on how much you think the pass rates will drop? Again, my anxiety is pretty high at this point RE these changes haha.



    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Lauren,

      Sure! I don’t think the studying tactics need to be changed. The only thing is, if you absolutely loathe simulations, you may want to take BEC first because there is no sims in the current BEC.

      In terms of the pass rate, no idea, but looking at the last major change in 2011, there is a dip in FAR, REG and BEC in 1Q 2011 (the first test window after the change). Things get back to normally in 2Q. Part of the reason is that even the review course providers are not prepared for the new change and right after the first window, they were able to adjust the questions and coverage.

      If you get really worried, you can skip one testing window (i.e. 2Q 2017). Cheers, Stephanie

  • Cpa student says:

    Hi Stephanie, I have started studying for my cpa. Do u think is a good idea to give my exam for bec in Feb 2016 before the change ? The changes are happening only in second quarter right ?

  • Lydston G.Williams says:

    The 150 credit is not a Master’s degree…it’s just credits…undergraduate credits

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      That’s true… it could be a 4-year bachelor degree plus 30 credit hours of non-degree courses. But most candidates take an accounting program that are often a master’s degree covering 150 credit hours.

  • Reda says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you for your useful information. My question is related to the study material. I want to start preparation for the cpa exam but still don’t know if I purchase now an online review course (Wiley) or wait until April. Does the change require a different preparation material from those in the market right now ?

  • Sree says:

    please help me with this question.

    I have passed AUD BEC & REG , however my REG score will expire on May 23rd 2017, i am taking my FAR exam on April 17th 2017 and i know my results would be declared in August, if i pass my FAR exam, will i need to write REG again ? ( Results of FAR will be declared 3 months after my credit expire date of REG)

  • Bhumika says:

    Hi, I am appearing for FAR in the beginning of May 2017.Any tips? Considering the success rate to be lower now, is it not a good idea to appear in May?

    • Rachana says:

      Hi Bhumika, I am appearing for FAR in July 2017. Can you please share your experience about the new exam? Are the MCQs and simulations more difficult than before?

      • Bhumika says:

        Hey! It was a mixed experience. I did not find MCQs too tough to attempt, First MCQ testlet was pretty general. Second one was more towards the analytical side and you’d have to be familiar with the concepts and a little quick in solving the questions. Simulations part was a bit more challenging. They were not that difficult but were a little time consuming since they’ll now ask you to look into various resources/documents to figure out the correct answer. I got two DRS in the paper. And also got a simulation on Inventory reconciliation which was not in the material I studied from.
        I would say practicing a little bit more would be a great idea to build up analytical skills and speed. Also, do not skip any concept!

        • Rachana says:

          I am studying Becker right now. Though some inbuilt simulations are bit tricky, rather all are somewhat easier. I am also struggling with time management during simulations. I am sitting for FAR next month. If you can suggest some handy tips to overcome the simulations, then I would be thankful? Were there any simulations in regard of JE?

          • Bhumika says:

            I studied from Becker too. I wouldn’t say I would be able to a give a perfect advice until my result is out :P. But here’s what you can try- The first time you practice a simulation, take it easy and do not spend too much time thinking. Once attempted, check what all answers you did wrong and study the correct answer’s explanation thoroughly. Then try the same simulation again after sometime, not immediately. If you still don’t get it right, may be you can give a week or so revisiting the concepts and then get back to the questions again. And read them from the book this time not the video. Good luck:)

    • Rachana says:

      Thank you so much for your reply and best of luck for your results. Hope your dream come true..!!

      • Bhumika says:

        Thanks:) I forgot to mention, for the JE’s I got a DRS. And other simulations covered topics like cash flow, contingencies and subsequent events. Stay confident, you’ll sail through! 🙂

        • Rachana says:

          On average how many tasks can we expect on one simulation for final exam? If they are more than 4, then it must be more time consuming?

  • Jessica says:

    I’ve prepared for AUD before the test change and failed 🙁
    Is there new materials that I’d need to learn? Or are the materials same and only the test types are changing?
    Thank you!

  • I’m not certain the place you are getting your info, however great topic.
    I needs to spend some time studying more or working
    out more. Thanks for fantastic info I used to be in search of this information for my mission.

  • >