Birth of a Certification Exam

As a consultant, I work on various projects and when the work is completed, I move on to the next ones, often not being able to see the fruits of my labour, such as improved programs, new program growth and the like. But recently I had the tremendous pleasure of seeing the culminating product of a project I was fortunate enough to be a contributing part of.

My consulting business started out in 2008, and one of my first clients were the Society of Certified Management Accountants of Canada (CMA Canada). My team and I conducted some work on their national certification program’s assessments. Over the years, I worked on several smaller projects for them, all relating to their national assessments. In 2011, my work with CMA Canada was instrumental in landing a contract with CICA (the Canadian Institute for Chartered Accountants). All the while, I was hearing talk of “unification” between Canada’s three governing bodies for accountants: CICA, CMA Canada and the Certified General Accountants (CGA Canada).

In the early part of 2012, I was asked by CMA Canada and CICA to sit on the Assessment Development Task Force for a new, unified accounting body in Canada: the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada), which would replace the legacy bodies of CMA Canada, CICA and CGA Canada. I met a lot of smart and dedicated people with the common goal to create a leading-edge, robust assessment program to accompany a new education program, the Professional Education Program (PEP), for Canada’s new and unified accounting profession. After about a year and several working meetings, our task force’s ideas and structure for the assessment program started to become a reality. We developed a six exam system, culminating in the Common Final Examination or CFE. The CFE would, in the Task Force’s vision, culminate a rigorous, cutting-edge, multi-modal professional certification assessment program. To many professional accounting candidates, the CFE would replace the former UFE, or Uniform Final Examination.

The first exams in this new system, the Core 1 Exam went live in the Fall of 2013. Over the next year and a bit, I consulted for CPA Canada on documenting process and performance validity evidence for the new exams.  I also was honoured to be invited to conduct workshops on various psychometric topics, such as Item Analysis and Standard-Setting for CPA Canada’s new Board of Examiners (BOE) at their inaugural and second annual summer meetings.

Additionally, I co-presented our assessment and validation work on the assessment program at the Annual Exchange of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) in 2014 with one of CPA Canada’s lead Assessment Principals, whom I worked closely with on  exam validation. Our work was lauded and validated by the professional measurement community there. It was an incredible feeling!

Over the years, CPA Canada has taken on more of the psychometric analyses of the PEP assessments, and my role has decreased, which to me is a sign that I did my job well, helping the assessment staff take their measurement expertise to another level.

Then this past Fall, I had another feeling of tremendous satisfaction, as it was like the CPA Canada Assessment Development Task Force’s baby was born! The first ever Common Final Examination was written by the first cohort of new Chartered Professional Accountants. There is an article on the inaugural CFE in CPA Canada’s membership magazine that can be found here.

As noted, I am somewhat distanced from the CPA Canada PEP assessments now, but have a tremendous sense that my work as part of the dedicated Task Force and with the exceptionally talented Assessment staff at CPA Canada over the years helped create something progressive, and more importantly for a measurement expert, something valid, ushering in Canada’s first wave of new Chartered Professional Accountants.

I thank CMA Canada, CICA and CPA Canada for the opportunity to be part of something so ground-breaking.

P.S. my work with financial professionals does not end with CPA Canada. I am currently working on projects for the Royal Bank of Canada and the Canadian Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Professionals.