Changes to the CPA Exam 2021

November 24, 2020

The AICPA’s 2021 CPA Exam Blueprints Have Been Released

The AICPA released the July 2021 Blueprints on November 20, 2020, based upon input from their Practice Analysis Final Report. In the Executive Summary of the Practice Analysis, the stated purpose of the update to the Blueprints is to “…ensure the Exam remains current, relevant, valid and legally defensible, and supports the profession’s commitment to protecting the public interest,” providing “reasonable assurance…that individuals who pass the CPA Exam possess the minimum level of technical knowledge and skills necessary for initial licensure.”

The Journal of Accountancy explains that this update to the Blueprints is prompted largely by the increasing role of technology in both business processes and in the data analysis methods needed to evaluate those processes. The Blueprints and CPA exam are updated at least annually to maintain the relevance of the exam to current industry practices. In the current update, tech-related topics are being phased in, and topics that are deemed less relevant are being phased out.

The majority of the changes in the Blueprints occur in AUD and BEC, but there are some changes in FAR and REG, also. The changes include:



  • A greater understanding of how technology systems are used in business processes, including internal controls, measures of completeness, and audit evidence.
  • A greater emphasis on data analytics in CPA exam TBSs, including the process of gathering and interpreting such data. The Practice Analysis emphasizes that these TBSs require the use of Microsoft Excel®.
  • Increased testing on the differences in SOC 1 and SOC 2 reports from the auditor’s perspective.


  • An increased assessment of governance and the development of internal controls as they relate to business technology systems.
  • Introduction of a new topic “on data management and relationships, including tasks related to data governance, extraction, transforming and loading data, and understanding the capabilities and uses of visualizations.”
  • An emphasis on SOC 1 report details from the user’s perspective because of increased business reliance on 3rd parties and cloud data storage.

The BEC Written Communication Section May Soon Be Eliminated

Forward-looking measures were also considered in the recent practice analysis for potential future changes to the CPA exam. Although the value of business written communication skills was acknowledged, for the following reasons, “the AICPA will likely eliminate the written communication assessment in a future update to the Exam.”

  • The current written communication testlet (WCT) is scored on the candidate’s writing skills rather than on relevant knowledge or judgment.
  • The candidate’s technical accuracy in the WCT is not judged.
  • A significant proportion of the BEC testing timeframe is dedicated to the WCT.


  • The removal of differences between IFRS and GAAP.


  • The removal of estate taxes and trusts.
CPA Exam Blueprint

The 2021 Blueprints Update Will Not Cause Changes to the Current Exam Format

The additional emphasis on technology, however, can be viewed as a step toward meeting the requirements of the evolution project, a joint endeavor by the AICPA and NASBA to release an evolved CPA exam starting in 2024. The new format will still have a 4-part exam but will have a core + discipline structure in which 3 of the tests focus on core knowledge and the 4th test focuses on one specific area of discipline, chosen by the candidate

The Areas of Discipline Include:

  • Tax compliance and planning,
  • Business analysis and reporting, or
  • Information systems and controls. 
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