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Review Course and Study Materials for CPA Exam



Passing the CPA examination is challenging. Every candidate hopes to take each section only once. What can you do to give yourself the best shot at passing each section on your first attempt? Sometimes it’s the simple things we do in life that help us achieve our goals more effectively and efficiently. Are you hoping to find a time in your life when everything will be operating smoothly? Think again. There is never an ideal time to sit for the CPA exam. A better way to phrase the question is: Are you ready to make the commitment it takes to become a CPA? If your answer is YES! Find out what materials and/or courses you should use to study. This post tries to provide guidance and motivate you in the same time on selecting study aids materials for CPA exam through the following sections: should you enroll in a CPA review course? CPA review materials for self-study.

CPA candidates often believe that their college textbooks and notes are the most helpful study aids. Think again. Usually college texts are some of the least effective tools. Why? By the time you complete a course, some of the material may already be out-of-date. Candidates are responsible for knowing accounting and auditing pronouncements six months after a pronouncement’s effective date, unless early application is permitted.


When early application is permitted, candidates are responsible for knowing the new pronouncement within six months of issuance date. In the tax area, candidates must know the tax laws in effect six months before the examination date. In the law area, candidates are responsible for knowing laws six months after their effective date and uniform acts affecting state laws, one year after they have been adopted by a simple majority of the jurisdictions.

Over the past ten years there have been many changes to technical pronouncements. Every time the accounting profession changes an accounting rule, the auditing profession must respond with changes in audit techniques and procedures. The United States Congress also passes laws that affect the accounting and auditing profession. The passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was a momentous change.

On average, textbooks are revised every two to three years. Many of the testable topics on the CPA exam may not even be presented in recent college texts. In addition to being out-of-date, college texts usually contain more material than what is testable on the CPA exam. You don’t have time to study extraneous facts. Your studies must be focused on the concepts that are tested on the CPA exam, not all of the concepts ever developed.

Another problem occurs with the presentation style. Material offered in a college class does not necessarily reflect the type of material that is tested on the exam. The CPA exam is more integrated than the typical college class. For example, each of the four exam sections could test overall knowledge of the business environment. Overall business knowledge affects how we audit, how we account for transactions, and the laws that are in place. In some college classes, professors discuss only their individual subjects. Your college texts can be useful reference sources, but understand that the CPA exam is unique, and your primary study materials should always be based on the CPA examination.

Where will you find CPA examination based materials? One source is the AICPA itself. At the time of this publication, it is unclear what tools and products the AICPA plans to provide. Since the AICPA writes the exam, it is always wise to check the Web site first. If you search the Internet, you will find a number of CPA exam review course providers.

Should You Enroll In A CPA Review Course?

Whether to enroll in a CPA review course is not a decision to make quickly. Review courses cost about $2,000-$2,500. Price is only one of the many variables to consider. A quality CPA review course should offer you:

  • A focused study plan
  • Exam-taking strategies
  • Up-to-date materials
  • Support material such as software and/or flash cards
  • Confidence-building techniques
  • Simulated practice exams
  • Assistance in obtaining and completing the CPA exam application
  • Follow-up counseling or regrouping for unsuccessful attempts

If the price is less than the going rate, the course may omit one or more of the listed features. That’s OK if it is a feature that you feel you can live without.

Maybe you don’t need a review course. If you learn better by working questions on your own, you might not want to take a course. Don’t get too excited about saving money yet. If you choose to self-study, you still should purchase certain study materials and you must be highly disciplined. Do you have the ability to prepare a study plan and stick to it? If you think you do, go to the next section, “CPA Review Manuals for Self-Study”. Be honest; if you procrastinate, you would benefit greatly from the structure that a review course provides. Try a review for one section. If you think you benefited, then plan to take another course. If not, try the next section on your own.

Are you a visual learner? An online interactive review course might work for you. Like self-study, an online course puts the responsibility on the learner to stay on track. Online reviews are a good choice for busy people who travel frequently for their work, or for those who have small children and can’t leave home to attend a class.

Before you enroll in an online course, or any review course for that matter, be sure to preview the format. Stay away from a course that does not allow you to attend or preview at least one session. You should evaluate the course style. Does the presentation style help you to learn? Avoid pushy sales representatives who call you at home and work and promise you the world. The decision is yours to make. In most instances, you do not need to make the decision quickly. Take the time you need to evaluate your choices.

Consider using more than one approach. Attending a live course and supplementing the classroom experience with flash cards and software is a wonderful choice. Live instruction can be the quickest method to help you review material that you have learned already and to help you understand new material. Live CPA review courses are usually more up to date than online “canned” programs. Live courses and online courses usually offer email support.

Evaluate the timeliness and the quality of such support. Are real professionals, who are experts in a particular area, responding, or will you receive a generic response? You want and most often pay for detailed, customized answers tailored to your weaknesses. Be sure you understand the type of live instruction that the course is promising. Some courses advertise live classroom sessions when what the review course providers really are doing is playing an audio recording in a classroom setting. The person playing the recording may or may not be knowledgeable about the CPA exam and the subject matter presented. Live lectures keep the candidate in a structured environment that is motivational because the presenter is a real person who cares about audience members. Be sure to read the instructors’ qualifications before you enroll. Are they part-time instructors who work at full-time accounting jobs during the day? This could indicate that they really are not fully informed about the CPA exam. Their everyday work experiences are not necessarily helpful in understanding today’s CPA exam. Beware of the professor or working professional who relies only on personal experience.

They most likely took the pencil-based exam, not the new computer-based test, one which is very different. Look to people who understand the new exam model, not the old one. Find an instructor who is up-to-date and who understands and studies today’s CBT.

Are you a traveling auditor or accountant? If you are, don’t automatically rule out a live course. Classes meet on weekends. Audio recordings may be made available to those who travel. Software is a great tool for candidates who are mobile. They can use their downtime on planes and in airports to work CPA exam questions.

Audio recordings are great for those who learn better by listening. If you are in the comfort of your own home, you can repeat lectures out loud. This will help you remember the ideas presented for a longer period of time. Video- or audio-taped lectures and online CPA reviews played in the home offer little or no structure. Procrastinators, beware. It is better for you to enroll in a live classroom setting where you feel you must attend. Today’s CBT gives you more freedom to choose sessions that fit your schedule.

Gone are the days where you would be required to attend classes for four months to learn all four sections’ worth of material. Now you can enroll in one class for a short period, take that particular exam section, and take some time off from studying before you move on to the next section.

Should you select a review course based on passing percentages? This is almost impossible to do.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) publishes externally generated CPA exam-passing percentages yearly in August. Passing percentages are presented not by CPA review courses but by universities and colleges. Proprietary CPA review courses quote their own internally generated passing rates. Providers may show only the passing rates of those who attended more than 95% of the lectures or those who worked each set of questions more than once and scored a certain percentage. Beware of a review course that promises a pass rate of 75 to 90%. It might be referring to a select group of people who passed.

You want pass statistics for the average person. Your best information about review courses comes from those who have passed. Ask your friends and coworkers about the study aids that they felt were most helpful. Recommendations from satisfied customers are powerful statements. Keep in mind that the methods used to pass the exam two or more years ago may now be out-of-date.

Survey those who have passed within the last eighteen months. CPA review courses are most beneficial in these situations:

  1. You are a procrastinator and need the structure of a course to keep you disciplined.
  2. It has been a long time since you completed your accounting courses.
  3. Your university or college program was deficient in providing you with the necessary coursework.
  4. You got by with memorization rather than learning and understanding.
  5. You learn best when guided.
  6. You are an international student whose first language is not English. A review course helps you to equate terms to your language.
  7. You want to give yourself every possible advantage to pass this exam the first time through.

Don’t fall for the 100% guaranteed pass rates. There are usually stiff requirements to meet, such as nearly perfect class attendance and a high percentage of homework completed. Take the time to investigate just how those guarantees work. Remember, it is not the review course alone that will get you closer to your goal; it is your hard work and dedication. There is no magic CPA potion.


CPA Review Materials For Self-Study

All candidates should purchase a high-quality, up-to-date set of review materials. These materials must include software. Acquaint yourself with the exam question formats, breadth, and depth of testable topics by practicing the actual concepts tested. Lack of practice time can set you up for failure. Don’t let the price be your sole influence. You could receive great value by using manuals and software that cost as little as $50 per exam section.

Watch the publication dates. Anything over one year old is probably out-of-date. If a friend offers to give you his materials, do not use them if they are more than one year old. You may save a few bucks on materials, but you will be sorry when you get to the exam only to find out that the materials didn’t help you learn the concepts that are tested. Why waste your precious time studying incorrect materials? Thoroughly investigate the products available, make your selection, and spend the money! The time and money that you spend investigating and using review materials will pay off in the future. Using materials that are not a good fit for you, or that are old, actually can hinder your studies.

Find what works for you. When you are researching products, consider simple things, such as the look and feel of the product. Is the software product user-friendly? Does the software emulate the look and feel of the real exam? To see how the real CPA exam looks and feels, take the AICPA sample exams at Are there enough questions to test your understanding? Does the software contain answer explanations? Can you track your progress and identify which questions you answered incorrectly? Are you allowed to create comprehensive sample exams based on the units or modules you have already studied? If you are using a textbook, do you like the color of the ink, the feel of the pages, and the general layout? Think about the amount of time you will spend with the materials. If the look and feel do not suit you now, it will only get worse as you spend hours and hours with the product. Are the review manuals easy to read? Long, complex sentences are difficult to read and understand. Are the materials offered only online, requiring you to spend time printing them? Printing hard copies can be costly in both time and money. Paper, printer cartridges, and binders are not cheap. If you prefer to read from a book rather than on the screen, ask if hard copies of materials are available.

As mentioned, your review materials must contain software. The CPA exam is computer based. You must practice in the form of the actual exam. Studying a text-based review manual in print or on the Internet is very helpful, but you must be able to work the questions as they are presented on the exam. However, don’t underestimate the value of text-based materials. Before you can answer a question on the exam, you first must understand the formulas, concepts, and application of those concepts. You can’t simply click your way to an answer. Use a combination of products that include practice exams in the form used by the AICPA.

Numerous types of review course materials are available. The essential characteristics of any study materials are:

  • Up-to-date materials, no older than eighteen months
  • CPA exam focused
  • Software using a format that emulates the real CPA exam
  • User-friendly—easy to use, easy to read
  • Comprehensive—demonstrating all question-format types and giving complete answer explanations
  • Materials that include simulation-question formats
  • Software that is automatically updated

Take your time to preview a variety of materials. Be wary of high pressure sales tactics that promise you a 100% pass rate. Be skeptical of review courses that require candidates to pay for all four exam sections up front. It’s better to try one section first to see if it fits your learning style.

Use a live course format to help motivate you and keep you disciplined. Look for automatic updates when professional standards are changed. Ask about e-mail support; is it generic or customized to your needs? Spending money for materials only to leave them to collect dust is foolish. Find a place to keep your study aids handy and ready for use.

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