How to Choose a CPA Exam Review Course

The rewards of passing the CPA exam can be great, but the test requires a significant investment of your time and money.

What can you do to help you achieve a passing score? Most CPAs will tell you the key to a successful exam is a CPA review course. But with more than a dozen options available, how do you choose which program to use?

Best learning method

"Your learning style should certainly be considered," points out Grant Thornton Senior Associate Katie Goeman. "If you can commit yourself, online is fine. If you like lectures or you're more of a visual learner, then maybe live is better."

You should also be realistic about your study habits. Look for a review course that compliments your schedule and location to make the most of your time.

Live review courses are a good option if you benefit from structured and focused study. Kate Krause, also an associate with Grant Thornton, says, "It was kind of like a college course. They gave me timelines and things to focus on." Ryan Schumacher of Target Corporation benefited from the focus of a live review course. "It was a great refresher. Plus, they seemed to touch on the parts to pay attention to."

Self-study and online CPA review courses are preferred by many exam takers because they offer flexibility and choice. Self-study was the answer for Bronson Power, a CPA with LarsonAllen LLP, in New Ulm, Minnesota. "I thought I'd be able to better apply myself. I don't do well in lectures. Plus, the live class was two hours away. I figured I'd save that driving time for studying."

Cost

The price of a CPA review course shouldn't be the ultimate factor in your decision.

Often, employers cover part or all of review course costs or sometimes offer a bonus once you've passed. Talk with your company or firm to see how they can assist you.

Kara Hanson, an accountant with the Minnesota Wild, earned a free review course from Becker by becoming a campus representative. "Reaching people wasn't hard. I had some sessions, handed out some materials," she says. Ask exam review course providers if you're interested in similar opportunities. Or select review course providers offer an MNCPA group discount (see details for eligibility).

Other suggestions we've heard

  • Look for a CPA review course that replicates the exam experience. Some courses provide realistic exam simulations. Others give test questions in exam format. Some offer final exam reviews. The more comfort you have with the exam format, the easier your test experience will be.
  • Get a clear explanation of any exam review course guarantees. They can be confusing and complicated, so be sure to ask questions about what's required of you and what you'll really get in return.
  • One of your best sources of advice in choosing a review program is other exam passers. Find out what they used, what they did and didn't like, and suggestions they can offer.
  • One exam passer recommends keeping your old accounting books. Sometimes a review course tries to teach a concept in a new way; your old books allow you to go back to familiar text to better understand their instruction.

Don't put it off

"Commit to it and get it done," emphasizes Eden Feddick, a tax accountant. Schedules only continue to get busier and the idea that you can take the exam next month will never go away. There will never be a "better" time to take the exam.