Being an accountant is a great career choice. As they say, there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. This being the case, accountants are always in high demand.
Many people that become accountants want to become a certified public accountant or CPA. This certification indicates that you are a highly skilled accountant. Many accountants try to become a CPA each year. But according to the American Institute of CPAs, the pass rate for all four sections of the CPA exam is just 53 percent.
To ensure that you are part of that 53 percent, you need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to studying for the exam. Studying will be much easier if you take a CPA review course.
When looking for a CPA review course, many accountants ask the question, “What are the best CPA exam prep courses?” This ranking will help you determine just that!
To sort through all the possible classes you can take, we developed a three-factor method for finding the best CPA exam prep courses:
- Student Support
It’s important to look critically at CPA exam prep courses from multiple points of view. For example, if you look for the cheapest course, you might find that it offers low accessibility or little student support. Likewise, courses that have a great student support center might be really expensive.
So, try to avoid having too narrow a focus. Instead, take all three factors into account. Doing so allows you to see which courses are a good mix of the criteria listed above.
Let’s talk more about our method for ranking the best CPA review course.
Methodology to Determine the Best CPA Exam Prep Courses
From our point of view, the best CPA review courses are the ones that have a good mix of affordability, accessibility, and student support.
All of these factors are important on their own. But as noted earlier, not all CPA exam prep courses are alike.
By looking at each course on these three measures, you make it more likely to enroll in a class that is worth your time and money. After all, you don’t want to get into a course only to find that it doesn’t fit your needs!
It’s necessary to examine each course in two ways. First, look at the overall score. We have indicated the overall score for each class in the rankings below.
Second, look at each of the three individual measures too. In some cases, two classes might have the same overall score, but have different scores for the individual criteria.
For example, two courses might have a total score of 9, but one has a higher individual affordability score than the other. If you want the most affordable course, you then know which course better fits your needs.
Below is a more detailed discussion of each of the three factors we used to rank the best CPA review courses.
The best CPA review courses come at a cost. If you want to get the fullest educational experience, you’ll need to pay for it.
We take the price of each course into account. But we also consider factors that make a course more affordable. This includes the availability of discounts, financial aid, or payment plans.
- Under $1,000: 5 points
- $1,001-$1,500: 4 points
- $1,501-$2,000: 3 points
- $2,001-$2,500: 2 points
- $2,501 and above: 1 point
Additionally courses can earn extra affordability points by offering payment assistance. These points are assigned as follows:
- Financing options: 1 additional point
- Free trial: 1 additional point
You no doubt have a busy schedule as an accountant. This makes the accessibility of the best CPA review courses extremely important.
Many people that are preparing for the CPA exam need to do so on the go. For this reason, some CPA exam prep courses offer mobile learning. Other CPA courses have different learning formats to make the material more accessible. This includes live classes, video lectures, audio recordings, and more. The more accessible a course is, the more points it earns:
- High accessibility: 2 points
- Moderate accessibility: 1 point
Note that each course in our rankings offers high or moderate accessibility. Courses that made it difficult to learn on-the-go were not considered.
The third factor we used to rank the best CPA review courses is student support.
Learning remotely is convenient, for sure. But it can also be difficult. This is especially true when you’re preparing for a long and detailed test like the CPA exam.
Some CPA exam prep courses do a very good job of offering learning assistance to students. Others aren’t quite as good. Understanding which courses offer support benefits will only help you in your learning process. It could even be argued that the courses with the most student support services are the most likely to help you pass the CPA exam.
We’ve ranked the support systems of CPA exam courses as follows:
- Extensive student support services: 3 points
- Moderate student support services: 2 points
- Limited student support services: 1 point
Now that you have a better idea of the criteria we’ve used to rank the best CPA review courses, let’s get to the rankings!
Ranking the Best CPA Exam Prep Courses
#9: Universal CPA Review
In terms of pricing, Universal CPA Review is one of the lowest. The affordability of this course is definitely attractive when compared to other courses that are thousands of dollars.
The affordability is more apparent when you look at other purchasing options. You can buy just the test bank questions for $299. You can also buy Universal CPA’s e-books and animated video lectures for $799 if you don’t need or want the complete CPA exam prep course.
This course includes well over 5,000 multiple-choice questions to study. There are more than 200 simulations that mirror task-based questions on the CPA exam as well.
The study materials provided to you were developed by CPAs. Furthermore, the learning tools are designed with the American Institute of CPAs standards in mind.
Other features of this course include:
- Unlimited access until you pass the CPA exam
- More than 1,500 pages of textbook material
- Hundreds of video explanations for the most difficult questions
- Unlimited progress tests to help you identify your weaknesses
Affordability: $999 (at the time of writing). There are no payment plans or free trials mentioned on the Universal CPA website.
Accessibility: High accessibility. All course materials are easily accessed online. This includes audio and video lectures that you can use 24/7.
Student Support: Limited. Universal CPA’s website makes no mention of live help. There doesn’t seem to be a student support center or homework help center either.
#8: Ninja CPA Review
Unlike many other CPA review courses on this list, Ninja CPA Review does not offer video-based lessons. However, if you learn well by reading, taking notes, and listening to audio lectures, this course could be for you.
In addition to the services listed above, Ninja also has a review book to help you extend your learning. There’s also a flashcard app to quiz you on common concepts found on the CPA exam.
Additionally, there is a crash course called Ninja Blitz. This program has thousands of multiple-choice questions. There are also hundreds of simulations you can use to prepare for the CPA exam.
If you need assistance, it is readily available in Ninja’s private study forums. You can also get live assistance by phone. Email support is also available.
Other features include:
- Prepared study notes
- 85-90 percent pass rate
- Monthly subscription with no minimum time commitment
- No upfront costs
Affordability: $67 per month (at the time of writing).
Accessibility: Moderate accessibility. This course is completely online. However, you only have access to study materials for one exam section at a time. You can switch to studying a different section after one month.
Student Support: Moderate. There is a CPA exam forum you can utilize to get questions and answers from other Ninja CPA Review students. But support services beyond that are limited compared to other courses on this list.
#7: Becker CPA
The Becker CPA Review is one of the oldest CPA exam prep courses. It is also one of the most respected.
Becker’s courses are all self-paced. This helps you tailor your studying to your specific schedule. Becker also offers all sorts of learning options. This includes live and recorded lectures.
You get a lot of learning tools with Becker’s courses as well. You can test yourself using thousands of multiple-choice questions. There are also hundreds of simulations that test you on specific accounting tasks.
Becker also has SkillMaster videos to help you learn. These videos take you step-by-step through solutions to practice problems and questions.
Other features include:
- Money-back guarantee
- 14-day free trial
- Student support with a live tutor
- Smartphone app and video game for fun learning
Affordability: $3,499 (at the time of writing). Becker offers financing options and a free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. You get unlimited access. There are live and recorded tutorials. Learn on the go with the Becker mobile app.
Student Support: Extensive. Becker offers live one-on-one help from CPAs. You get unlimited test advisement too. The course also adapts to your specific needs using artificial intelligence.
#6: Wiley CPAexcel Platinum CPA Review
Wiley’s CPAexcel Platinum CPA Review is designed to provide you with small “chunks” of information at a time. By studying in bite-sized portions, you are able to digest the information more readily and remember it better as well.
One of the interesting features of Wiley Platinum CPA Review is its FocusMe Technology. This tool is adaptive and evaluates your ability level to adjust the difficulty of the questions being asked. This helps you work on your areas of weakness.
Among the exam prep courses on this list, Wiley has the largest collection of multiple-choice questions with more than 12,000. These questions are based on the actual CPA exam blueprints.
Other features of this course include:
- 90 percent pass rate
- Unlimited course access until you pass
- Accredited, expert instructors
- Mobile app access
Affordability: $2,499 (at the time of writing). Wiley offers financing options and a free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. This course has live classes available anytime online. Recorded classes are available on-demand anytime as well.
Student Support: Extensive. You get one-on-one support. An expert team is available 24/7 to assist you. You also get individualized mentoring from instructors
#5: Yaeger CPA Review
One of the unique features of Yaeger CPA review is the number of ways you can interact with the study materials.
On the one hand, there are online resources you can use to study on your computer, tablet, or mobile phone. On the other hand, there are offline materials like textbooks to supplement online learning.
Additionally, you can choose to buy any of several different course levels in a lump sum. There are zero-interest payment plans as well. Alternatively, you can buy a subscription plan to pay month-to-month and save money.
Other features of this course include:
- Mobile flashcards
- Online textbook with video sync
- Step-by-step video lectures
- Free 7-day trial
Affordability: $1,649 (at the time of writing). Alternatively, you can buy a monthly subscription starting at $89 per month. Yaeger offers financing options and a free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. Access to course materials is available online and offline as well. You get immediate access to the course upon enrollment.
Student Support: Extensive. Develop a study plan with Founder Phil Yaeger. Get assistance in the online student community and message boards. Access to live help from instructors is available with some course plans.
#4: Surgent CPA Review
Surgent CPA Review is known for having short lessons. This helps you digest the material while also making learning on the go much easier.
Like other review courses on this list, Surgent offers courses that have four parts, one for each section of the CPA exam. Each course allows you to learn at your own pace. This is made easier because each lesson is recorded. There are nearly 400 video lectures. No live lessons are offered.
Surgent has a collection of nearly 8,000 multiple-choice questions. There are also flashcards and a personalized study plan available.
Perhaps Surgent’s best feature is its ReadySCORE technology. This AI-powered tool helps identify your weakest areas. This enables you to focus your time and effort where it needs to be.
Other features include:
- Tuition reimbursement if you don’t pass the CPA exam
- 5-day free trial
- 88 percent pass rate
- Live support from CPAs via chat, email, and phone
Affordability: $1,599 (at the time of writing). Surgent offers financing options and a free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. You get unlimited access to the course. You can access course materials via computer or a mobile device using the accompanying app.
Student Support: Extensive. This course comes with unlimited support. This includes support for technical issues and for questions regarding the CPA exam prep content. Responses to questions are guaranteed within one business day.
#3: Fast Forward Academy
Like other CPA exam prep courses on this list, Fast Forward Academy offers a comprehensive study program designed to help you pass the CPA exam on the first try. As an added benefit, Fast Forward Academy’s course has been newly updated for 2020. This includes new study materials for each of the four sections of the exam.
This course helps you learn on the go with study tools that are available on desktop, mobile, and tablet-based devices. All told, there are about 80 hours of video-based instruction and more than 7,000 study questions and simulations.
Since you get unlimited access to the course until you pass, you also get access to new updates. Along with that comes direct support from an instructor.
Other features of Fast Forward Academy include:
- An adaptive learning system that adjusts to your specific needs
- An online intelligent textbook
- Printed CPA exam textbooks
- CPA practice exams
Affordability: $734.30 (at the time of writing). FastForward Academy offers financing options and a free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. You get unlimited access to the course until you pass it. Learning materials are all online for ease of access.
Student Support: Moderate. Email support is available from an instructor. There is also an online community forum where you can connect with other students. There is no homework help center. There are also fewer support materials available than other services.
#2: Gleim CPA Review
Gleim CPA Review includes two different CPA review courses. There is also a test bank you can purchase separately. This allows you to tailor your learning experience to your specific needs.
Gleim’s courses are all self-paced. Each lesson includes video lectures. There are also audio lectures. There are no live courses, though.
One of the best features of this course is its extensive test bank. There are over 10,000 multiple-choice questions. There are also more than 1,300 task-based exercises to help you learn.
Other learning aids include a mobile app, flashcards, and a final exam review.
Gleim CPA Review also offers:
- A money-back guarantee
- Live support via phone and email
- Practice exams
- Personalized study plan
Affordability: $1,399 (at the time of writing). Gleim offers financing options and a limited free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. This course was specifically developed for internet learning. You can access the course materials any time of day. You also get unlimited access to the course.
Student Support: Extensive. Gleim gives students a personal counselor upon enrollment. You can also get help from an accounting expert. Assistance is provided via phone or email.
#1: Roger CPA Review
Roger CPA review is known for being an effective course. It is also known for making the process of studying for the CPA exam a more enjoyable experience.
This best review course includes four distinct units, one each for the four sections of the CPA exam. Each unit is self-paced, so you can take as long as you need to master the content. Lessons are offered with video and audio lectures.
You also get access to more than 6,000 multiple-choice questions and hundreds of test simulations. To assist your learning, you can get support via chat from a real, live person.
The Roger CPA review course also uses artificial intelligence to help streamline your studies. Their SmartPath technology examines your progress and compares it to the performance of people that have passed the CPA exam.
Other features include:
- Unique and engaging teaching style
- 7-day free trial
- 91 percent pass rate on the CPA exam
- Live student support with a CPA exam advisors
Affordability: $1,499 (at the time of writing). Roger offers financing options and a free trial (which results in two additional affordability points).
Accessibility: High accessibility. Access is unlimited until you pass the CPA exam. You can access learning materials online and offline as well. There is also a companion app for on-the-go learning.
Student Support: Extensive. You can access a homework help center 24/7. There are lots of learning tools as well, including audio lectures, memorization strategies, flashcards, and a final CPA exam test review.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I study for the CPA exam for free?
There are some free CPA exam study materials available online. However, these resources tend to be less detailed than paid courses. They tend to be less current than paid courses as well.
Likewise, free resources typically don’t cover all the material that is tested. They might do a good job of preparing you for one or two sections of the exam. But they might not have many resources for studying the other parts of the CPA exam. For this reason, it’s best to view free CPA resources as introductory materials for your studies.
A better approach for many learners would be to take a paid CPA exam prep course after reviewing free materials. Paid CPA exam prep courses offer extremely detailed study materials. By going in-depth, these courses give you more chances to learn skills that are tested on the CPA exam. Additionally, these paid courses are updated to reflect the latest standards of the CPA exam.
Another benefit of taking a paid CPA exam prep course is that they come with features that will help you learn. For example, a free CPA exam course might not come with access to tutors, mentors, or other forms of help. But with a paid CPA exam prep course, you often get professional assistance. In some cases, paid courses offer live one-on-one help.
Free courses usually don’t offer the same level of resources, either. For example, the paid courses we’ve ranked as the best CPA review courses include resources like video downloads, tutoring, flashcards, and homework help, to name a few. These resources can be extremely helpful to you as you study for the CPA exam.
So, while it is possible to study for the CPA exam for free, it is simply not recommended. You will be better prepared by paying to take an in-depth course.
Which CPA exam prep has the best pass rates?
There are several CPA exam prep courses that have very high pass rates. Among the top marks is Roger CPA Review. This is one of the best CPA review courses because it boasts a pass rate of 91 percent. A major reason why Roger CPA review has such a high pass rate is that it offers so many resources for students. This includes proprietary SmartPath AI software that helps you determine how you’re doing when compared to students that have already passed the CPA exam.
Another top option is Surgent CPA Review. This is another course in our rankings due in large part to its pass rate of 88 percent. Surgent CPA Review offers all kinds of tools to help you engage with the material and learn effectively. Likewise, their ReadySCORE technology assists students in identifying their areas of strength and weakness. In fact, Surgent claims that ReadySCORE has been proven to accurately predict your CPA exam score within 1 percentage point.
Becker CPA Review does not advertise their pass rates. However, there is another metric by which we can evaluate this course’s success in preparing students for the CPA exam. Each year, the American Institute of CPAs gives out the Elijah Watt Sells Award. This award goes to high-performing candidates that passed all four sections of the CPA exam on the first try and who also achieved a cumulative score of 95.50 or above on all four sections. Students that studied for the exam with Becker have won more than 90 percent of these awards.
In other words, there are many great options regarding CPA exam prep courses that have high pass rates. Just remember that not all prep courses advertise their pass rates. Also remember that just because a CPA exam prep course has a high pass rate does not guarantee that you will pass the CPA exam simply by using their course.
As noted throughout this article, passing the CPA exam requires time, effort, and diligence on your part. CPA exam prep courses are not a magic bullet. You must put in the hard work to get a passing score regardless of which prep course you decide to use.
How should I study for the CPA exam?
Studying for the CPA exam is something that has to be personal to your specific needs. What works best for you might not work well at all for another CPA candidate. Having said that, there are some general guidelines that might help you find better success as you study.
First and foremost, you need to choose a high-quality CPA exam prep course to help you structure your study time. Any of the courses in our rankings are a good choice. However, each course offers slightly different resources and teaching methods. This makes it necessary to spend some time investigating each one very thoroughly. Doing so will help you select the course that has the tools, support, and resources you need to be successful.
Additionally, when choosing a CPA exam prep course, ensure that it is structured in a way that makes it more likely for you to pass each of the four exam sections on the first try. Just about 50 percent of CPA exam takers have to retake at least one of the four sections of the CPA exam. Not only does this involve more time and effort in studying, but it also extends the timeline before you get your CPA credential. Since you must successfully pass each of the four exam sections within an 18-month period, time is precious.
This being the case, you want to do everything you can to be best-prepared for passing each CPA exam section on the first try. Again, thoroughly vetting each of the CPA exam prep courses is the best way to ensure that you get what you need to be prepared for the exam and to pass each section in a timely fashion.
Regarding the approach to studying, it’s best not to overdo it. It can be tempting to study for hours and hours a day. But studying too much can actually hurt you more than it can help you! Develop a study schedule that gives you several hours of studying each day at a time that’s convenient for you. Do your best to study at the same time each day to give your mind and body the consistent expectation that this is study time.
Studying is best done in a quiet place. Going to the public library, the library at your college, or even a room in your home away from everyone else will give you the peace and quiet that you need to concentrate.
Be sure to take frequent breaks as you study. A good rule of thumb is to study for about 45 minutes and take a 15-minute break. During breaks, have a snack, get a drink, walk around, and stretch. Take your mind off your studies to allow yourself to reboot a little before you resume.
Studying for the CPA exam is best done by studying one section at a time. This will help you make more sense of the material and avoid getting concepts from each section muddled together in your brain. Quick reviews of what you’ve just learned could be a good approach as well. So, not only should you focus on one section at a time, but as you work from one concept to the next, be sure to review what you’ve just learned before starting on the next concept.
Many students find that creating their own review materials is helpful in retaining information as well. For example, you might jot down quick notes on an index card as you learn about a concept. This allows you to encode the information by reading it, listening to it, or watching it in your CPA exam prep course. You also encode the information by writing it down. Then, you can pull out your index cards and review over the course of the day to help keep those concepts fresh in your mind.
Ultimately, the most important part of studying for the CPA exam is to understand how you best learn and finding resources that speak to your unique methods of learning. If you can do that, you will increase your chances of passing the CPA exam significantly.
Is the CPA exam hard?
This is a difficult question to answer. That’s because the difficulty of the CPA exam depends on many factors. But, in short, if you’re prepared for the exam, you will find it to be much easier than if you go into the exam blind.
That said, there are some things that you can do to make the exam less difficult.
For starters, dedicate time to studying for the exam. This can’t be just a few minutes here and there. You need to plan on studying for many hours each week for many months if you want to be in the best position to do well on the exam. Taking online courses like those outlined in the rankings above is a great place to start.
Another factor that will determine how hard the exam is is how long it’s been since you’ve practiced accounting. Whether you’re a recent student or you are currently in practice, having accounting principles fresh on your mind will help you on the exam. Likewise, utilizing essential accounting skills on a daily basis will prepare you for taking the exam. On the other hand, if you have been out of school or out of accounting for a while, you will need more time to study, practice, and hone your skills.
Your particular areas of expertise will influence how hard the test is as well. The CPA exam consists of four parts, each of which tests you on a wide range of knowledge and skills. If you have a lot of experience in financial auditing, then the Financial Auditing and Reporting section of the CPA exam might be easier for you. But if you’re weak in the area of Regulation, the Regulation portion of the exam might prove difficult.
This is a very big exam as well. Each section has a time limit of four hours. That means you could spend 16 hours taking the CPA exam. The sheer length of the exam and the time required to prepare for it make it a tough task. However, if you plan ahead, dedicate yourself to studying, and focus on your areas of weakness, you will increase the likelihood of passing the test.
Having said that, test-takers report that the Financial Auditing and Reporting section of the CPA exam is the toughest. The primary reason for this is because it is a very comprehensive section. It is also a lengthy exam and tests twice as much information as the other parts of the test.
Pass rates for the Financial Auditing and Reporting section bear this out. So far in 2020, the Financial Auditing and Reporting section has the lowest pass rate at 46.37 percent. The Auditing and Attestation section has a pass rate of 47.97 percent in 2020 thus far, making it the second hardest section. The Regulation section has a higher pass rate of 55.42 percent. The easiest section according to pass rates is the Business Environment and Concepts section with a pass rate of 61.76 percent.
What does the CPA exam cover?
The CPA exam is a lengthy exam. It has 324 multiple-choice questions. There are three writing sections as well. There are also 20 task-based questions that simulate real-world tasks for CPAs.
The exam is divided into four parts:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
The four sections of the test are taken separately. You can take these tests in any order you prefer. However, when you pass the first section, you must pass the other three sections within an 18-month period.
As for the specific content of the exam, it is determined by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Once or twice a year, AICPA publishes CPA Exam Blueprints. These blueprints outline the minimal level of skills and knowledge you need to pass the exam. Additionally, the blueprints outline:
- Content on the exam
- How topics are weighted on the exam
- Sample tasks you might encounter on the exam
- Reference materials for studying
- Number of questions (and their type)
Each of the four sections of the CPA exam address different types of questions and tasks. Below are examples of test content from each of the four sections.
Auditing and Attestation – This section is 90 multiple-choice questions and seven task simulations. Materials covered include internal controls, planning and reviewing engagements, and documenting information. You must be able to show an understanding of International Standards on Auditing and U.S. auditing standards as well. Ethics are also covered in this part of the exam.
Financial Accounting and Reporting – This part of the CPA exam also includes 90 multiple-choice questions and seven task simulations. It focuses on the standards required to create financial statements. This includes how to properly report finances to government agencies. You’ll be asked to prepare various statements, too, including income statements and balance sheets. Test-takers must also enter data into general ledgers. Content in this section of the exam includes the roles of agencies like the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
Regulation – The regulation section of the CPA exam revolves around ethical practice and professional responsibility. Subjects including tax procedures, federal taxation, and business law are also included. You’ll be asked to show an understanding of things like the legalities of business transitions and the rights of creditors and debtors. This section is shorter than others. It has 72 multiple-choice questions and six task simulations.
Business Environment and Concepts – This section covers things like business structures, information technology, and financial management. Specific topics include financial risk management, corporate governance, and operations management. You’ll be asked to discuss the impact of business cycles. You’ll also be tested on quality control initiatives. This section of the CPA exam is also short. There are 72 multiple-choice questions and three written communication tasks. These tasks are used to determine your writing skills, clarity of thought, idea organization, and conciseness.
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