CPA test-takers offered free redo after problem-plagued exam
Aspiring Canadian chartered professional accountants who failed a gruelling three-day final examination that was marred by technology problems and long delays in some cases found out Tuesday that they can re-take the exam for free and it won’t count as one of their three lifetime attempts to get the valuable CPA designation.
CPA Canada released the exam results Tuesday, with 6,283 candidates passing, representing 76.3 per cent of test takers. That compared to a pass rate of 77.6 per cent in both 2017 and 2018.
For days after the September writing of cross-country common final examination (CFE), which costs around $1,500 and requires candidates to analyze a series of complex accounting cases, test takers expressed frustration on online forums. CPA candidates who wrote in Edmonton told the Financial Post they faced a five-hour delay and didn’t have access to crucial reference materials during the second day of the examination.
A Victoria test taker, meanwhile, told the Post that candidates there were ultimately instructed to access required online resources through the building’s WiFi connection, which opened up the potential to cheat by looking at other prohibited websites.
CPA Canada, which oversees the Chartered Professional Accountant designation and the final examination, responded to the problem-plagued exam — memorably referred to as the “Fyre Festival for accountants” in one online posting — by retaining law firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP to conduct an independent review of what went wrong, and conducted a separate process to grade the examinations by taking the extenuating circumstances across the country into account.
I passed so I feel OK now
“Over the last number of months, the profession has undertaken a comprehensive process to ensure that students are treated fairly, and that the due diligence completed is thorough,” CPA Canada said in a statement Tuesday.
“As a result of this work, we have every confidence in the integrity and reliability of the results of the September 2019 CFE (common final examination) and that all passing candidates have met the same entry requirement for the CPA profession as in previous sittings.”
A handful of candidates who were successful on the final examination expressed relief after receiving their results Tuesday morning, more than a month later than usual due to the circumstances.
“I passed so I feel OK now,” said one newly minted Ontario CPA, who had expressed frustration in earlier correspondence with the Post over what he described as longstanding technology issues with CPA Canada evaluations.
Another CPA candidate, who wrote the final exam in Ottawa, called the offer of a free re-write — along with a complementary course module to prepare for the final exam — a “kind gesture.” But he said the “compensation” would fall short for those who prepared for months and still feel they failed the final “because of the system’s glitches.”
The independent review concluded that there were no examinations where the “threat to validity was too high to warrant scoring.”
The review also concluded that the Board of Examiners “conducted the appropriate analyses to determine what the impact of the interruptions were on the scores for each of the identified groups of examinees … and whether an adjustment was necessary.”
Based on the final passing rates and the process, the review also found that candidates who received “special marking” were not likely given an unfair advantage.
The Board of Examiners looked at number of factors including time delays in writing centres, lack of access or partial access to reference materials, significant challenges with exam software, and delays in start times that resulted in potential advanced knowledge of exam content due to different time zones across the country. Additional reviews were conducted for individual failing candidates “where there was any indication of exam writing difficulties.”
The months-long process included consultations with psychometricians, who are specialists in measuring the validity, reliability, and fairness of exam programs, as well as a psychologist who “provided input on the extent to which the issues experienced … contributed to increased levels of stress and anxiety for candidates and how that may have impacted their performance.”
Unsuccessful candidates can appeal for a review or re-mark of their examination. However, there are usually fees associated with such appeals that are waived only if the appeal is successful.