What you Need to Know About IT on the BEC Exam

Of the four components of the CPA Exam, Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) is the only one that requires students to display extensive familiarity with information technology (IT) and its uses.  Although IT questions account for only 15%-19% of the BEC, lack of appropriate IT-knowledge can be an impediment to passing the exam. We’ve heard from many students that this is one area where they can mess up, so this blog is to help students prepare for all the IT they will face on the BEC Exam.

Among the knowledge needed to do well with the exam’s IT questions is a basic understanding of IT-terminology. You may be expected to provide reasonably articulate definitions of what IT equipment or processes are.  This can be difficult for two reasons:

  1. The range of IT-related information potentially asked-for on the BEC is as extensive as the business uses for IT.
  2. The selection and placement of IT questions throughout the BEC can be exceptionally random, situated without any discernible order, in comparison to the rather standard arrangement of questions for other subjects throughout the test.  

The reason you’re being tested IT topics is to make sure that when you’re licensed, you’re prepared to use IT for accounting purposes.  Accountants’ uses of IT will grow in years to come, as computerized processes become more prevalent in all aspects of business. Thus, despite the difficulties they pose to students, BEC IT questions prepare future accountants for expanded computer use, as an increasingly integral component of expected CPA skill and performance.

BEC IT questions may assume the form of simple questions, such as, “What is computer hardware?”  However, more difficult questions are not uncommon:

  • What are 4 types of Computer Connections?  
  • Are the Internet and the World Wide Web the same?  
  • What are 5 advantages of an Online Real-Time System?  
  • What are 5 Costs associated with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)?

Of course, these are just a sample of the kind of IT-related information you’ll be expected to provide in response to the BEC.  If you’re process-literate with computers, but don’t really know terminology or HOW IT works, the BEC provides an opportunity to learn about:

  • the advantages and disadvantages of Database Management Systems (DBMS),
  • what comprises computer threats,
  • technological risks and IT risk-assessment processes,
  • the uses of Business Information Systems (BIS),
  • the functional requirements of Accounting Information Systems (AIS), and
  • types of reports suitable for Management Information Systems (MIS). 

These questions represent a real diversity of subject matter, covering virtually anything concerning the intersection of business and IT.  As far as specifically accounting IT, learn what financial elements are always required as part of a Financial Report’s system-specification document, as well as what these elements are called and their purposes.  (HINT: The answer for all three problems is Data Elements, the building-blocks of all Financial Report data).

If you don’t know what either ‘Modular Conversion’ or a ‘Mutual Authentication Scheme’ are, be sure to study! While these requirements seem more suited to a programmer, than accountant-specific, don’t be surprised if at least some of them are on the test.  And while IT questions represent a wide-ranging topic-area, they’re nothing you can’t easily overcome with appropriate preparation.

If you’re uncertain about these topics, take an IT-auditing course and take numerous practice-tests.  Many of the BEC questions concern IT-processes, with comparatively little connection to accounting IT.  For the most part, these topics will require simple memorization of IT-terms and their meaning, which is really much easier than learning full-fledged accounting-processes… right?

Good luck!

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