Many accountants studying for the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam use a CPA review course to help them prepare. A good review course will minimize study time as well as maximize the chances of successfully passing the CPA exam. With so many different courses on the market today, it can be difficult to pick the one that best fits both criteria above. Below are some of the factors to be considered when choosing a CPA exam review course.
1) Course Materials
Although all courses cover similar accounting concepts, every instructor explains things differently. Good review courses are only taught by engaging instructors that are capable of explaining difficult concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. Also, a good instructor will spend more time on tricky concepts and just touch on the more self-explanatory ones to make lectures more efficient. The best CPA review courses have available free lecture samples that you can evaluate before deciding to buy. Another way to evaluate the quality of a review course is by visiting CPA exam preparation forums as well as product review sites to see what people are saying about the lecture quality of individual review courses.
As well, the lectures can be available through a variety of media, such as live or recorded webcasts, CDs, DVDs, or USB. The portability and accessibility of the media the course materials are available in should be taken into consideration when evaluating a review course.
Also, when shopping around for a review course, be sure to note any expiry dates for the course materials. Some questions and simulations software will become disabled at a certain time after activation. As well, some courses have lectures that are only made available to a student for a certain duration before the access expires. The best type of course materials and software is the kind that does not require access to the internet to view or use, and therefore does not expire. If you must purchase the type that does expire, make sure that you will have ample time to digest the materials before it expires on you.
2) Practice Questions
Having studied the course materials, the student is usually provided with practice questions to drill the knowledge into their memory as well as apply the concepts they have learned to actual case scenarios.
When it comes to practice questions, some CPA review courses take the exhaustive approach by making the student do every question that has the slightest chance of appearing on the CPA exam. While this may be a safe route to take, it can also be extremely time-consuming. Many students simply run out of either time or patience, or both, and never get around to finishing many of the practice questions, leaving them ill-prepared for the exam.
On the other hand, there are those review courses that do not provide enough practice questions to adequately prepare the student for the exam. Obviously, this situation is far from ideal also.
The ideal CPA review course will contain only questions that are most likely to appear on the exam. This can be done by analyzing past exams to identify questions that appear the most frequently. This will ensure the highest rate of return for the student’s study time by allowing the student to focus on areas that will probably matter the most.
3) Student Support
Different CPA review courses provide different levels of customer support. If you tend to be a question-asker and prefer to talk to instructors over the phone, then be sure to choose a review course that has that kind of service. On the other end of the spectrum are courses that have minimal support, and in the middle are courses that allow students to email questions to the instructors. Some review courses provide message boards and forums to allow students to interact with instructors and with one another. Before buying a review course, make sure that it will provide the level of support you need.
4) Frequency of Updates
Due to changes in accounting-related legislature amongst other things, CPA exam study materials need to be updated correspondingly on a regular basis. Some review courses update their course materials and practice questions more often than others, so be sure to take this into consideration when choosing a course.
One factor that many people take into account, that has not been discussed, is price. However, considering the typical substantial pay-raise that is experienced by many accountants after they become CPA-certified, it is advised that you choose a CPA review course based on its quality and level of support from the instructors, rather than on price. Considering that the average pass rate for the CPA exam is only 47.49-49.10% (pass rate for Uniform CPA Examination in 2008), failing one or more sections is not unlikely. You will not want to re-study for and re-sit sections of the exam just because you decided to save a few bucks by purchasing a lesser quality review course. The only exception is when the course fees will be reimbursed by your employer, in which case you may want to take advantage of this, even if it would mean having fewer options to choose from.