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CPA Now
Apr 30, 2020

Navigating the CPA Exam in Times of Crisis

By Meg Killian, vice president - member relations


In the midst of the dire coronavirus pandemic, we all could use some good news. Here’s a bit about our future CPAs: the AICPA recently announced the 2019 Elijah Watt Sells Award winners. Five of the winners are from Pennsylvania and are among our state’s top 10 scorers. Congrats to all these top candidates! The Elijah Watt Sells Award has been given out since 1923 in honor of Sells, who was one of the country’s first CPAs. It’s given to those who passed all four parts on their first attempt and completed the exam with a cumulative score of 95.

Who would have though those taking the exam in 2019 had it easy, huh? Taking the CPA Exam in 2020 has proved to be much more challenging. But don’t let delays, extensions, and coronavirus uncertainty throw you off course. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) is still accepting and processing applications. Its processing time is still around four weeks, but delays in getting transcripts from universities have been extending the total time. Candidates should email cpaexam@nasba.org with any questions.

Here are a few more details about testing to keep in mind.

Notice to Schedule Extensions

Cover of PICPA's CPA Exam BookAll notices to schedule with expirations between April 1 and June 30, 2020, have been extended until Sept.30, 2020. Candidates whose exam credits expire during the time of the emergency disaster declaration (signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on March 6, 2020) will be granted an extension that lasts for the duration of the emergency plus an additional 180 days from the end of the emergency.

Scheduling an Exam

Some testing centers will open on May 1, depending on the location of the center and directives from state and local authorities. The 2020 second quarter testing window will be extended from June 10 to June 30, 2020. Continuous testing for CPA Exam candidate will begin July 1, 2020, allowing candidates to take the exam year-round. When testing centers do open, spots will fill up quickly, so don’t delay.

The most recent announcement from Prometric was that testing centers are closed through May 31, however NASBA is working to get some testing centers reopened sooner. Specific social distancing procedures, including fewer testing appointments and additional operating guidelines will be implemented. 

Continuous testing (mentioned above) will be launched in July as planned. The exam will be offered year-round with no testing windows. One major benefit is that candidates will be able to retake sections as soon as they receive their score. This will also shorten the exam completion time for highly motivated candidates who are able to take all the exam parts in a shorter time frame.

Pass/Fail Effects

Many colleges switched to a pass/fail grading system for the disrupted spring 2020 semester. Some have been concerned about what this means for exam eligibility requirements. Pennsylvania is one of NASBA's CPA Examination Services (CPAES) states and does not require a certain GPA to sit for the exam. In that regard, pass/fail will not affect a candidate’s exam application. Other states’ requirements may vary, so check with your state board of accountancy for its requirements.

Remote Testing

One big question is whether the AICPA will offer remote testing. The AICPA is working on a white paper considering this option, but it will not be released and reviewed until next May. There are several logistical, technological, and security issues to resolve, but it sounds like this may be an option in the not-so-distant future.

Don’t Give Up!

If you are starting or are currently in the exam process, Pat Hartman from NASBA offers the following advice: “Keep studying, keep testing. We are monitoring the situation. We’ve extended NTSs and are working with boards on extending credit. The process to change credit extension dates is very manual, so don’t panic if you don’t see it changed on your NASBA account. We know who you are and will get your records updated as appropriate, just know it will take us time.”

The PICPA will also continue to monitor the situation and post news and updates. Good luck to all the exam candidates out there!


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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.
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