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Future CPAs prepare for new test procedures

CPA wannabes will move into the modem age next spring when computers replace paper in the professional examination.

Beginning in April, people sitting for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination also will be able to spread taking its four parts over 18 months, allowing them to focus on specific sections at a time.

In the past, the Indiana accountants had to spend two days taking the 14-hour CPA exam, which was administered in Indianapolis only in May and November.

Under the new regulations, the exam will be available for the first two months of each quarter at privately operated test centers in cities throughout the country, including at least six in Indiana.

Most of the testing will be conducted at sites managed by Prometric, a computertesting division of Maryland-based Thomson Co. Registration also is available online.

“Most staff members are viewing the changes in a positive light,” said Monica Graf, human relations officer at Blue & Co., a public accounting firm in Indianapolis.

Employees are expected to like the flexibility in taking the exam and the quicker return of results.

“It's perceived as a relief,” because sitting two days in a row for an exam can be quite a load, especially for people working full time, she said.

The new exam better reflects the actual skills demanded in the workplace, said James Schmutte, chairman of the department of accounting at Ball State University's Miller School of Business.

The exam requires takers to he familiar with computerized spread sheets, online research, analysis and other skills, he said. BSU accounting students participated in preliminary testing of the examination.

Multiple-choice questions remain a part of the exam, and they are pulled randomly from 15,000 options. However, about 70 percent of them are new.

Essay questions have been replaced by “simulations,” which require test-takers to do online research of regulations or accountancy rules and cut and paste answers into a narrative format. The random selection of questions ensures security and prevents cheating, said Gary Bolinger, president and CEO of the Indiana CPA Society.

Content for the new exam was determined by the Board of Examiners of the The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the largest national, professional organization for CPAs.

Each state's accountancy board, including the Indiana Board of Accountancy, sets its own eligibility requirements for taking the CPA exam, and the new system screens or qualifies people to meet those requirements.

To take the test in Indiana, for instance, people must have 150 academic hours of college education-about 25 hours more than a typical bachelor's degree requires – or a “fitth” year. Those extra hours air usually more business-related, such as management, marketing and com munications, Schmutte said.

Eric Meeks, a two-year employee at Ernst & Young's Indianapolis office, was among those who took the last paper exam this month. The Franklin College graduate said he won't get the results until at least February, and he's a bit worried about having passed all four sections.

“If I pass, I won't be sitting for the new exam,” he said. But, if he doesn't, he said he would be able to study for the troublesome section or sections and retake the exam with a lot more flexibility.

“With a working environment, especially when you work full time, you have more opportunity to work [die exam] into your schedule,” Meeks said.

That kind of flexibility is attractive for employers, too, said Amy Trobec, marketing manager at Ernst & Young. “It just fits in better with people's schedules and [offers] convenience in taking the test.”

The exam will still likely take 14 hours and is divided into four sections: auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, regulation, and business environment and concepts.

The computer tools include spread sheets and wordprocessing programs, spell checkers, access to professional literature, and a four-function calculator Tutorials for the exam also are available online at www.cpa-exam.org.

In the past, it took three months or more for test-takers to get their scores, but under the new system, the results will come within the quarter they took the exam. Eventually, Bolinger said, the scores will come within a week.

However, if a retake is necessary, candidates must wait until the next quarter to ensure the integrity of the exam.

The new format “is of benefit to us because it is more frequent and is based on [die test-taker's] plan,” rather than just a couple of days twice a year, said Anita Sherman, director of audit and accounting services at Greenwalt Sponsel & Co., an Indianapolis firm.

The speeding up of the grading process also may enable employees to gain bonuses or raises that comes with the certification. CPAs are more valuable as employees because they can review and sign off on audits and analyses of financial statements, Sherman said.

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