CPA Exam UX

A little more than a week ago I took the REGulation section of the CPA Exam. Of course, I can't tell you what was on it specifically, and I don't really want to say anything about the general content of the testing. However, there is one thing that stood out during the experience, the UX. UX is the "user experience," and has a lot to do with how the interface was designed; or not designed.

In general, the interface of testing software is predictable, and somewhat improved, but it does have some quirks that need improvement across the board. When the exam consists of multiple choice questions where the individual is allowed to navigate and/or flag any question, the list of questions at the bottom screen border is quite handy.

Another neat feature on the CPA exam was the multi-tabbed interface, where you could research in one tab to answer a question in another tab. It was even possible to split the screen to show separate content on each side.

On the downside, test-taking is not very efficient in a couple of ways. After selecting an answer, the tester has to move the mouse all the way down to the bottom right corner to go to the next question. Navigational buttons directly below the content (and sometimes also above the content) is a common design of multi-page web sites and other software. 

Another way that the interface of some test software fails is in the spacing of the content. It's good that the font-size is larger enough to read without squinting and that spacing helps prevent losing your place in a large block on text. It's not so good when the content is spaced inside a table with margins on all side that are as big as the text. On several questions, the spacing needlessly required scrolling up and down to get the information and answer the questions, or complete the exercise. If that is not enough, the handy scroll wheel on the mouse was not enabled, so you had to drag the scroll bar up and down. A testing software developer would be best advised to observe some of the basic principles of web design when deciding what to put in the "viewport" or window for the user.

On one question, the information and answer fields were spread out over three screen heights, with widely spaced base information at the top and widely spaced answer fields at the bottom, and transaction information in the middle. In order to complete the answer at the bottom, I had to refer to the base data, and then apply the transaction information. At home I would have printed the information out first, but that was not an option. Since everything was all on one page, I couldn't use any screen-splitting escapes either. It's true that the AICPA does have a practice exam (recommended) on their website, but no amount of practice will help you get used to this.

I actually wanted to take the exam at the end of July just to become familiar with the exam process, but all of my paperwork wasn't ready in time, so I had to wait. When I did take it I knew the material pretty well, but there is one thing that I did learn from this experience. If navigating a long page is too time-consuming and error-prone, I'll copy it to the scratch paper provided and work from that. Sadly, that could save a lot of my valuable time.

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