How data analytics affect the CPA Exam

By Megan Bierwirth

data analytics cpa exam

Sherlock Holmes once said, “Data, data, data! I can’t make bricks without clay!” This quote alludes to the fact that decision making can’t be accurate if the correct data isn’t presented, an idea that the business environment is increasingly concerned about. As technology has advanced, so has our access to data. But data can be misinterpreted if it isn’t analyzed and pieced together correctly. That’s why data analytics has seen exponential growth, why companies and industries are putting more and more resources into accessing and analyzing data, and why that is being reflected on the CPA Exam. They want to know how to grow, and accurate data analytics will help companies make decisions about their customers, their financials, and their processes.

Accountants are no exception to this change, and CPAs need to be fluent in data analytics now more than ever. Below, we’ll discuss what, exactly, data analytics is, where candidates can expect to see it on the CPA Exam, and how you can prepare yourself now to have a better understanding of data analytics into the future.

Data analytics in the accounting profession

Data analytics is essentially taking raw data and putting it together in a specific way to form conclusions. Often the data is put together in a meaningful way, and as technology has advanced, data analytics have become more automated and based on algorithms for easier analysis. This information can then be used to improve processes and increase efficiency within a business.

As accountants, we want to know the numbers, but we also want to know the story the numbers tell. We use data analytics to discover valuable insights within a company’s financials, identify areas of improvement, and help manage risk. By analyzing past trends, we can help create a better future for the companies or clients we work with. The technical and problem-solving skills that come with becoming a CPA make accountants excellent data analyzers, increasing their value in any organization.

Data analytics on the CPA Exam

Data analytics is being added to the CPA Exam as of July 1st, 2019. What does this mean for CPA candidates in 2019? Not much. The update simply added the term “data analytics” to the CPA Exam Blueprints, despite the fact that data analytics are already being tested on the exam. This affects both the AUD and BEC sections of the exams.

For AUD, the Blueprint states: “The revisions expand upon or add more detail to the AUD Blueprint on audit data analytics. The revisions do not change the nature or scope of content eligible for testing in the AUD section. The audit data analytics concepts addressed in the revisions are covered by the existing AUD Blueprint and are currently eligible for testing.“

For BEC, the Blueprint states: “The revisions are not intended to significantly change the content eligible for testing in the BEC section.”

If you’ve already taken either of these exams, you’ve likely already tackled the data analytics part. And if you haven’t, there’s no need to panic or update your study materials because the exam is not changing. What you are currently studying (provided it is up to date for other exam changes), will be perfectly suitable to help you pass AUD and BEC in 2019.

So where, exactly, are we seeing these fancy data analytics within the exam content?

For AUD, you’ll want to know the relationship between data analytics and the risk of material misstatement, how to use data analytics to plan an engagement and how to use data analytics to identify relationships and discover evidence during the audit. You will not have to create analytics, and there are no new items being present on the AUD exam.

For BEC, you’ll want to know how to use data analytics to support business decisions, something you’ve likely already learned about.

How you can prepare for data analytics while still in school

You’ve likely already done some data analytics while in school. Statistics classes are a core course for most college majors, and many business majors have to take a business-specific statistics course. But this probably wasn’t your first taste of data analytics. Data is analyzed in high school classes, from chemistry to English, and you probably even did some data analysis when you were in elementary and middle school. You’re already on the right path!

However, data analytics in the accounting sense is more specialized and centered around making business decisions. Professors can encourage students to use data analytics in managerial accounting or strategic decision-making classes by presenting them with a data set and asking them to analyze it and come to a conclusion. You’ll probably also do a fair amount of analysis in your audit classes as you learn about planning and executing an engagement, which can help you on the AUD exam.

Again though, no changes to the CPA Exam have been made in regard to data analytics. However, as a CPA, data analytics are going to be an integral part of your job. Taking some time now to discover more about data analytics will help you bring out your inner Sherlock Holmes and make you a valuable asset to your future accounting team.


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Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passed the CPA Exam within six months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.