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How to Study for the CPA Exam

CPA Study Guides and Review Courses

By Chris Ferro, CPA

Man sitting at desk typing
Chad Springer/Image Source/Getty Images

There are three basic types of CPA Exam Review: a traditional classroom structure, an online or recorded class, or self study.

Classroom reviews are extremely popular but are also the most expensive. Here in Illinois, the Northern Illinois University review course is very highly regarded and has an excellent track record of passing exam scores. This comes at a price, though – it costs several thousand dollars to take the review courses for all four exam sections. If you have the funds available, classroom review courses are great, provided you do your research first and make sure the course has a good reputation. Many people find studying easier if there is an instructor leading you through the subject matter.

Online or recorded reviews are similar to a classroom setting, but the pace of the course is controlled by the candidate rather than the course schedule. It has elements of both traditional classroom instruction and self study. The courses have structure and format similar to a classroom, but the responsibility of motivation and time spent studying lies directly on the shoulders of the student, like self study. This is a good option for someone who really desires a classroom setting but may not have the funds to attend a class.

Lastly, self study is basically what it says – the candidate does all of their studying on their own. There is nothing inferior about this method, in fact this is the way I prepared for (and passed all sections on the first try) the CPA exam myself. The secret is to have the proper study materials. I chose the Wiley series of CPA exam review books: they are very highly regarded, and they issue a new version every year to ensure that the content matches what will be on the exam.

I decided to attempt to study on my own to save the money that a review course would cost, figuring that if I wasn’t successful I could always take a course later. I also (like I mentioned in an earlier post) had gotten my family on board with my study plan, so I knew that I was going to be able to devote the time and energy necessary to be fully prepared.

Different review courses are available depending on where you live, a quick internet search will surely give you a lot of choices. I also suggest contacting your state’s CPA society for recommendations, as well as contacting college accounting program faculty to see who they suggest. It is a big decision and expense and as much research as possible should be done.

Regardless of what method you choose, one other resource should be added to your study plan: the website www.cpareviewforfree.com. It is the only website that offers free practice questions with full explanation of answers on the web right now. They have some paid content as well, but the free content alone should be an integral part of your exam prep. I used it as a source of extra practice questions over and above the studying I was already doing and I am sure that the extra practice is what helped me pass.

One final note – whatever review you choose, make sure you only use up to date materials to study and not your college textbooks. Exam content changes every year and studying old materials, even something as basic as intermediate accounting, from your textbooks could give you inaccurate information and cost you points.

Coming up next – a post for each of the four sections of the exam, beginning with Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR).

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