Which CPA Review Course is Right for You?

Why should you take a CPA Review Course?  Less than 15% of candidates pass the CPA exam on their first attempt, proof that a university education is not enough.  Your accounting courses, regardless of academic intensity, are simply not geared toward the exam itself.

Many candidates find a CPA Review Course helps them apply their accounting knowledge to the specific topics tested. 

  A good course provides testing strategies, tips, and practice questions designed to prepare you for the exam itself.

Each CPA Review Course will tell you that your money is best spent with them.  They can’t all be the best, though, can they?  Candidates like you spend years completing the academic requirements for the CPA exam.  

The pressure is high to pass the exam, hopefully on the first attempt, and move into the career you’ve planned on.  How can you read through the marketing material and choose the best course for you?

Before you get too caught up in the hype, take a moment to evaluate your own learning style.  Do you learn best through simulation?  Is a textbook your best option?  Do you need the discipline of regular classes or can you work at your own pace independently?  When you have the answers to these personal questions, you are ready to consider your options.

Some Factors to Evaluate 

As soon as you register to take the CPA exam, you start receiving offers and marketing pieces from lots of different companies offering review courses.  In fact, you might feel bombarded by ads.  There are some factors you should consider when giving each company a proper evaluation:

  • Course Presentation -   Now that you’ve evaluated your own learning style, look for a course that caters to your needs.  A good course will increase your general knowledge, gauge your weaknesses, and offer lots of practice problems.  You can choose if this is accomplished in a classroom, online, from a DVD or via a textbook.
  • What about Content? – Make sure you select a program that is based on topics from past exams.  Stay away from courses that are so in-depth you get information overload.  Remember, you should have learned this material while at the university.  The point here is review.
  • Convenience – Once you select a course you have to use it to be successful.  Consider how far you have to drive to attend classes, availability of make-up sessions, and the ease of accessing course materials.  If it’s not convenient for you, given your situation, it’s not the best choice.
  • Value – These courses, in most cases, are rather costly.  Examine the renewal policies, discounts available to you through your alma mater or employer, and pass rate for graduates of the course.  The least expensive course is not a good value if it doesn’t deliver on its promises.
  • Extra Options – Perhaps you plan to pursue other certifications such as a Certified Internal Auditor or Certified Management Accountant.  If so, check on courses that offer discounts or other options to allow you to prepare for these exams as well.
  • Help and Customer Support – What if you have a problem with the online testing, the DVD provided, or some other technical aspect.  Does the course you are considering offer technical support?  What about access to your instructor?  Make sure you know what you’re paying for.

A Brief Overview of CPA Review Courses

Here’s a brief overview of several courses to help you begin your evaluation.  The list is alphabetical, so don’t assume the first course listed is the top rated.  Use this list narrow down your search, but make sure you conduct your own review of the courses that seem interesting to you.  Ultimately the course must be the best fit for you!

  • Becker CPA Review – offers both live classes and DVD based self-study material.  The materials are comprehensive and updated regularly.  The live lectures are endorsed by the Big 4 accounting firms, but vary from region to region.  In some cases you get an actual lecture, in others the lecturer only plays the DVD and comments briefly on it.  Becker allows you to retake their course if you don’t pass the exam, but you must meet attendance requirements to do so.  Course includes over 6000 practice questions and two full practice exams per section.  Cost: $3,245 for full course.
  • Bisk Education CPA Review – offers online, live classroom, and CD based self-study options.    Bisk does not publish pass rates, but offers to refund your money if you don’t pass and you meet their study requirements.  Customer reviews state, however, that qualifying for a refund is more difficult that passing the CPA exam itself.   Cost: $1,980 for full course.
  • CPA Excel – focused on the online learner.  All content is delivered online or via DVD.  Lectures are short, 30 minutes on average, which is great if you have a tight schedule or easily get information overload.  While there is no guarantee, CPA Excel does not expire until one year after you pass the exam.Cost: $2,320 for full course.
  • CPA Review For Free – This is a free repository of practice questions and guidance material.  There is no charge for thousands of practice questions that are searchable by keyword.  So, for example, if you are struggling with one section of the exam you can find questions just for that section.  It’s a great supplemental study source, but not in depth enough to be your entire preparation strategy.
  • ExamMatrix for CPA Review – This course has no classroom component and is designed entirely for self-study.  It has over 4000 sample multiple choice questions, 213 sample simulations, and 1700 pages of text material to review.  Between the “pass or refund” guarantee and the positive reviews from candidates who used it, this is a decent option if you prefer to study independently.  The entire course is $995, or you can buy each individual section for $295 each.
  • Gleim CPA Review – This online course doesn’t use lecture, but rather utilizes PowerPoint slides with audio.  This could be a drawback if you prefer face to face interaction.  The practice tests are very comprehensive and include a “simulation wizard” to give you realistic practice.  Gleim guarantees you will pass the exam the first time or they will give you the option of a full refund or access to their materials until you do pass.  Cost: $989 for the full course.
  • Kaplan CPA Review – offers live online courses or self-study review.    Kaplan’s website offers a free practice CPA exam for you to check out before you enroll with them.  Their products appear to be very information intensive, including a lot of foundational information you should have gained while in college, however that could be helpful for you in some areas.  Kaplan’s guarantee is not tied to passing the exam but is instead a standard 30 day money back guarantee, however your purchase entitles you to access the program for a full 24 months.  Cost: $1,399 for entire course.
  • Lambers CPA Review – offers their material in iPod format, making it convenient to study during small moments of downtime.  Lambers offers your training in modules.  You can purchase audio courses, test prep software, flashcards, iPod classes, or textbooks for each module, depending on how you prefer to learn.  To help you compare costs, the total for online coursework and test prep software for all four sections of the exam is $1,799.  An iPod class for a single test section is $299.95.
  • Roger CPA Review – offers live classes, online classes, and self-study.  If you are considering a live class, Roger will allow you to attend a class for two hours at no charge just to make sure you benefit from the format.  While there is a help channel, the response can be slow.  There is no guarantee offered, and your enrollment allows you 12 months access to the materials.  Cost: $1,995 for the full course.
  • Wiley CPA Review – The practice tests and simulations are some of the best.  Other review courses purchase Wiley material and sell it as supplementary material to their own courses, so you know its first rate.  There is no guided review, though, and the material can be overwhelming due to its sheer volume.  This course is low cost, but focuses on information and provides very little test taking strategy.  Cost: $ 229 for the full course.
  • Yaeger CPA Review – classes are offered on DVD or audio file.  This is old style guided review, complete with video of a teacher at a blackboard.  Practice questions are explained and there are lots of tips and tricks.  In addition, Yaeger offers live phone support.  Cost: $1,787 for the full course. 

CPA Review Course – Time to Do Your Homework

As you can see, there’s a lot of investigation required before you can choose the best CPA Review Course for you.  Use this review to select your top three options and then search the internet.   Start with each course’s website.  Review their claims and posted information.

Most courses give a student first time pass rate, although since the AICPA doesn’t track this information it can’t be verified.  Focus instead on the learning systems offered and comments from past candidates.  This advance work will allow you to move forward with one course with confidence.