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Along with the speedy score releases on the back end of the testing process, the 32 states who are a part of NASBA's CPA Examination Services have also rapidly accelerated their timeline for determining a candidate's eligibility. What once took five to eight weeks can now be done, in most cases, in five business days.

NASBA has been working with our testing partners, the AICPA and Prometric, to shrink the entire testing timeline. At NASBA, that began with allowing candidates to apply online. When the applications were paper, staff had to enter the data, reconcile it and then evaluate the applicant's transcript and other information. As we continue to update our IT environment, we can, not only process the application faster, but also manage the data better as we conduct our due diligence.

On the backside of the process, we give a lot of credit to the AICPA, which has done tremendous IT work to speed up the test-evaluation and grading process. That gets the scores to us quicker, and we are then in turn able to process that information and get it out to our member state boards. The continuing partnership between NASBA and the AICPA has greatly improved the scoring and release process this year, and we look forward to creating further efficiencies in the coming months and years.

For now, though, this accelerated timeline does two things. One, it lets a candidate sit for an exam while he or she is best prepared. Two, if they don't pass, they find out sooner so they can schedule a retest as soon as the next available window. They can ramp up their studies, and have a much better chance of being successful the second time around thanks to the faster process on both sides of the test itself.

That's why we want to continue encouraging CPA candidates to schedule their exams early in the testing window. Our testing partner, Prometric, has a fixed number of seats. Those who apply early stand a better chance of securing a testing position, as well as their preferred time and location.

Even more importantly, candidates should always remember their "conditioning time." That's the 18-month window that most states allow a candidate, after he or she passes the first part of the exam, to complete and pass the other three. Sometimes the candidates lose track of time, and wind up having to retake part of the exam because that window has closed.

Now, with a faster testing and response period, we think it's much more likely that candidates will finish the process during the conditioning period. And with the new data systems in place, those people can be given a heads-up about their time frame, so that they'll be sure to schedule their tests in a timely manner.

With scheduling, as with every other service we provide our member boards and the CPA community in general, NASBA will always look at the delivery methods, and explore efficiencies. We are always seeking to improve our services to candidates and the state boards.