The Best Way to Approach Task-based Simulations on the CPA Exam


Task-based simulations (TBS), also known as ‘Sims’ for short, are on every section of the CPA Exam and are designed to encourage CPA candidates to think more critically when faced with simulations of real-world work scenarios. There are usually six to seven Sims per exam section, divided into subsections called testlets. There are three TBS testlets in the AUD, FAR, and REG sections, and two TBS testlets in the BEC section.

What Types of Sims are on the CPA Exam? 

There are different types of Sims on the CPA Exam. These types include research, journal entries, document review, open response, and multiple choice. 

Sims can include short or long problems with many tabs, and some may require you to complete journal entries. The good thing is that one Sim will usually cover more than one topic, so if you are struggling with a certain topic, you will not be risking losing a whole question if you can answer part of the question.

Most candidates feel that the easiest Sims format type is research. At first, it might be difficult to search for answers using the search tools provided on the exam, but if you practice with the authoritative literature prior to taking the exam, you will become more comfortable with the user interface on exam day. 

How are Simulations Scored? 

Scaled scores on the MCQs and Simulations of the exam are calculated using formulas that factor in whether the question was answered correctly and the difficulty of each question. 

The scores for the AUD, FAR, and REG sections of the exam are a weighted combination of the scores from the Multiple-Choice Questions (50% of the exam) and Simulations (50% of the exam). The score for the BEC section is a weighted combination of the scores from the Multiple-Choice Questions (50% of the exam), Simulations (35% of the exam), and Written Communication (15% of the exam). To score the CPA Exam, think of the MCQ and the Sims/WC as two separate exams. The grades of each are combined (per the above ‘weight’ percentages) to form your overall score. Although one would think that answering 75% of the MCQ correctly and scoring 75 or better within the Sims/WC would combine for a passing grade, this is not the case due to the pretesting of questions and the varying point values assigned to each question.

How to Conquer Simulations

  1. Thoroughly study and review CPA Exam content. This may sound like a no-brainer, but remember that Sims test you on applying concepts you’ve learned to real-life situations and work scenarios. Therefore it’s important that you not just memorize concepts but actually understand them.
  2. Familiarize yourself with how the interface of a Sims works. Be sure you know how and where to use the tools such as calculators, authoritative literature, and spreadsheets. Do not forget to scroll all the way through the question and learn how to input answers correctly. Luckily, if you are one of our current students, our interface does this for you, so you’ll have no surprises on exam day. 
  3. Read simulation directions carefully because many candidates get docked points by simply omitting this step. 
  4. Practice different types of Sims using our customizable quizzes so you can adequately answer and feel comfortable with each type’s format and content/structure.
  5. Take a Sample Test like one of our full-length practice exams to test your Sims skills and ensure that you allot enough time per Sims question to complete each testlet.
  6. Sign up for the AICPA’s free 6-month access to the authoritative literature after you get your Notice to Schedule (NTS). This will give you a chance to practice with the same database resources you will see on the exam.

We’ve changed how candidates prepare for the CPA Exam. With our revolutionary program, you’ll master difficult accounting topics on a deeper level so you can truly understand how to master simulations —ensuring you excel not just on the exam, but beyond in your career.

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