How do we identify the best CPA review courses?
Some based on brand. Others based on price, number of products, apps, freebies, gimmicks…
The fact is, there is no absolute best.
Start narrowing down the choice based on your background, budget and learning style. Then, sign up for the free trials. I am going to show you how.
Most Popular CPA Review Courses
self- study system
|Short videos + Adaptive learning technology||Bite-sized lectures|
backed by Wiley
|Fun and engaging|
|Biggest brand name|
in the market
|# Lecture hours||70-100+||100+||80||100+||100|
|# MC questions||9,200+||6,700+||12,000||5,000+||~7,000|
|# Sim questions||1,000+||260||600+||200+||~300|
|Audio Review ||$449 extra|
|Flashcards ||$136 extra||$179 extra|
|Final Review /|
|(coming soon)||$970 extra||$495 extra|
|Access ||Until you pass||Until you pass||Until you pass||24 months||12 – 18 months|
|Pass Rate||n/a||89.7%||9 out of 10||88%||Twice non-Becker students|
 Included for free in Roger’s elite course.
 Conditions apply. Please check the respective review course providers for details.
Top 5 CPA Review Course Comparison
Here is a more extensive and comprehensive list of top CPA review courses, each with my analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.
Gleim CPA Review Courses
- Great practice test prep software. Practice questions are tough and great for those who want a higher comfortable level to pass the exam. Good supplementary to other lecture-heavy courses.
- Thoughtfully designed. Easy three-step study approach that teaches you how to effectively study. Videos are now included in the course and feature experienced, university level professors going over difficult CPA Exam topics and multiple-choice questions.
- Personal Counselor is a great help. If you sign up for the Gleim CPA Review System, a personal counselor will be assign to take care of your needs in your CPA journey. These counselors are accounting gurus but they coordinate with the in-house experts to get you the answer, help tailor-made your study plans and cheer you up.
- Affordable. The full 4-part CPA Review System costs $1,399 for premium version and $1,099 for traditional version (further 10% off here) — one of the most affordable among the full review course providers.
- Some features only for premium customers. With the launch of premium course, some of the features are no longer available to traditional course. Examples include instructor videos, access until you pass guarantee, and access to accounting experts.
- Books can be overwhelming. It’s very detailed. While some of my readers really like the comprehensiveness, others seem to think it’s too lengthy. You will need to pick and choose what is necessary for you to study.
- Excellent choice for those who prefer self-study but need occasional help through personal counselor and accounting experts.
- A great alternative to Wiley test bank if you are looking for additional online test practice questions.
- Check out my evaluation on Gleim CPA Review
Surgent CPA Review
Surgent CPA Review (formerly Surgent-Kolar CPA Review) is a relatively new brand name, but their founders, Jack Surgent and Liz Kolar, are both well respected veterans in the industry.
What’s special about Surgent CPA is the “Adaptive Learning Technology”, a system that feeds students questions based on their weaker areas. According to Surgent, their students can use this tool to reduce the prep time to less than 100 hours, and at the same time maintain an overall 89.7% pass rate among their student pool.
- Short lectures. Excellent choice for those who hate long lectures as much as I do. Each lecture is 10-20 minutes. Lecturer Liz Kolar won awards such as PICPA Outstanding Educator of the Year.
- The amazing Adaptive Learning Technology. As described above. Super efficient for first-time candidates and a god-send for retakers.
- Free trial and pass guarantee. A big plus if the provider is confident enough to offer these benefits.
- One of the most affordable. The pricing remains to be a more affordable option, especially if you utilize the discount code on this site.
- Better suited for PC-based learner. Since everything is delivered online, if you are a type of learner who needs “live support” (a real person to explain something to you, either in person or by phone); or if you are accustomed to highlighting, circling and dropping notes on the side of the textbooks, then Surgent CPA may not fit your learning style.
If budget isn’t too tight, Surgent has all the goodies — great lecturer, adaptive learning, online tracking, free trial and pass guarantee — all in one nice package.
- Check out my evaluation on Surgent CPA Review
Wiley CPAexcel (Fully-Integrated Course)
Some of you may not understand the difference between Wiley “CPAexcel” and Wiley “CPA review course”. Let me explain.
This one (usually called “CPAexcel”) refers to the premium, fully-integrated product that Wiley is offering. Major products are textbook, practice questions and video instructions. This is an enchaced package from the original CPAexcel, which Wiley acquired in 2012.
The other one (usually called “Wiley books” or “Wiley test bank”) is now sold as a self-study pack. This brand includes (1) text books and (2) practice questions, known as the test bank, and (3) focus notes which is like a spiral-bound notes for final review.
Please note that CPAexcel and Wiley have two different sets of text books and practice questions. If you are to get the “platinum” version of CPAexcel, you will get both. If you have any questions, please drop me a note in the comment section below.
- Bite-sized lectures. Similar pros as Surgent CPA. The lecture length ranges from a couple of minutes to ~ 30 minutes. The lecturers are actively-teaching professors from various renown universities.
- Unlimited upgrade. Most generous in the industry — a real, no-gimmick no-nonsense offer. No more pressure of not finishing within 12 months and have to pay an extra $1,000 for a retake!
- State-of-the-art technology. CPAexcel fully utilizes the online capability and churns out personalized exam plan and a collection of diagnostic charts and analysis for you, which I (as a financial analyst by profession) finds very attractive.
- A Bit Confusing At First… candidates can pick and choose the offering and I find it quite intimidating when I first visited the site. But then when you think about it, the fact that they give you a choice could be a good thing, if you are willing to spend some time to navigate around and learn about the various offers.
- Better Suited For The PC-based learner. Same case as Surgent.
- Another highly recommended program – users achieve “9 out of 10” passing rate and the course is endorsed by one of the Big 4.
- Especially suitable for busy candidates juggling with work/family commitments.
- Strong backing from Wiley.
- Check out my evaluation on CPAexcel
Roger CPA Review Courses
- Entertaining lectures: Roger Philipp (the founder) has a very unique teaching style — entertaining and “intense”. Many of his students are die-hard fans.
- Quality is guaranteed. Roger writes his own notes. He also records the lectures for every class so you know for sure who is teaching you.
- No more live classes. Roger CPA stopped offering live classes since Feb 2013. It’s not as entertaining watching him on video vs in person.
- May skim over details. Roger purposely wants to skip the non-critical part of the exam content. Some students love it, while others may struggle a bit to catch up.
- If you like an instructor who can make accounting interesting, give Roger a try.
- Check out my evaluation on Roger CPA Review
Becker CPA Review Courses
- Excellent lecture notes, MCQs and software. The materials are comprehensive and user-friendly.
- Big 4 endorsement. The live lectures are recommended by the Big 4.
- Materials constantly kept updated. Becker has a professional team to update the materials on a very regular basis. Their proof-reading is also done well so there are few typos and errors. If there are errors, Becker does a good job in posting in their website and letting everyone to see.
- Overpriced. If you are paying full price on your own you are subsidizing those who get deep discounts from their employers through Becker’s partner program. Not Fair!
- Live classes way overrated. They show you a DVD in a classroom, tell you to “circle this, highlight that” for 8 hours straight. Quality of “lecturers” (whose main job is to turn on and off the DVD) is really mixed. Check out my experience at the Becker CPA Review Course.
- Expensive re-take. Software license expires in 12 months and this is often not enough time for many candidates. Re-take of classes costs $1,000+ (50% of retail price) with harsh attendance rate which I find ridiculous.
SKIP Becker. They do have great notes, but so do Yaeger (for lectures) and Wiley / Gleim (practice tests). Unless you are so lucky to get a star lecturer (who tend to set up their own shops), live classes are, in my own opinion, a waste of time.
Other Major Review Course Providers
These providers are not on my general recommended list, but they are among the better ones in the market.
Wiley CPA Exam Review (Book and Test bank only)
Wiley CPAexcel is the overall brand, but for most of us
Wiley CPA review is the “original” Wiley product, consisting of (1) text books and (2) practice questions, known as the test bank, and (3) focus notes which is like a spiral-bound notes for final review. This is now sold under an official name of self-study pack.
Please note that the CPAexcel and Wiley text books + practice questions are two different sets. However, if you are to get the “platinum” version of Wiley CPAexcel, they include the Wiley test bank and Wiley focused notes in the package. So for this platinum course you have a combination of the two.
I will try to rewrite the above with clearer explanation. Thanks for your questions and feedback. Hope it’s helpful for you for now! Regards, Stephanie
- #1 Selling Review Book and Test Bank. The book and test bank (test prep software) are both very popular and proved to be useful for many CPA candidates. Even competitors (Yaeger and Roger) choose Wiley to bundle-sell as supplementary material.
- It’s Affordable. A good bargain in the world of CPA exam prep course: single-part test bank costs
$150$127 for single parts, and $575$495 for complete set (discount is available at my site here).
- Book Could Be Overwhelming. Especially when there is no guided review, it could be discouraging to go over the entire guide. Too much material in my opinion.
- Get the test bank if you need additional practice questions as supplement, or if you are a retaker.
- Check out my evaluation on Wiley CPA test bank
CPA Review for Free
- The questions are quite comprehensive and signing up is easy. There is no string attached — they may promote an ebook or something but they aren’t annoying.
- Some of the practice questions e.g. Information Technology within BEC are very helpful.
- You can’t work on the questions in the Exam Mode: that is, do all the questions, time it, and get a score.
- I may not have spent enough time to make a firm conclusion, but I think the overall “usefulness” or relevancy of the questions is not as high as the other paid providers. Afterall, it does take a lot of resources to keep the materials updated. There is no free lunch in my opinion.
Definitely a site that you want to bookmark to get some extra multiple choice questions in the future, but I wouldn’t rely solely on CPA Review For Free for my study.
Check out my evaluation on CPA Review For Free here.
Lambers CPA Review Courses
- Established Provider. Lambers CPA Review has been around for 45 years, although it is now part of a company called ExamForce.
- AUD Is The Hidden Gem. Professor Garland is excellent and I can feel his passion of teaching and helping the candidates. I only watched his first lecture but what he says makes so much sense.
- The iPod Courses Is Quite Popular. The ipod format is helpful if you are busy and want to utilize all your “dead time” during commute and between meetings and children’s naps. The screen is too small to view the practice questions though, so you can take this mostly as an audio review.
- Good But Not Great. I really like the AUD lecturer and one of the lecturers in FAR, but others remind me of the very average accounting professors.
- Salespeople Are Quite Aggressive. I bet the salesperson has never taken the exam or even seen the study materials before, so stand firm and make the decision based on your own preference.
- Few People Talk About Lambers. Similar to the issues faced by Kaplan.
- Get AUD module if you don’t like your existing provider.
- Check out my evaluation on Lambers CPA Review
MDS CPA Review Courses
Formerly known as Martin, Dalton, Spettle CPA Review, MDS is now headed by Steve Martin and is based in Ohio. Steve has been teaching CPA review courses for the last 28 years (since 1985). He is a former law update instructor and editor for the Becker course.
- If you live in Ohio and are looking for live classes, the MDS CPA Review looks like a great option.
- I personally like Steve’s style — a down-to-earth type of guy who has the experience in teaching CPA review courses and writes his own lecture notes.
- I haven’t got access to the product so I won’t be able to comment on the features and specific product offering, but at $1,895 I can’t say it is very attractive in price and product offering when compared to other major CPA review providers.
- Go to this MDS CPA page for my preliminary evaluation.
Yaeger CPA Review Courses
- Champion of the Old-School Approach. If you like someone who writes on the board and explains concept to you in the old-fashioned way, you’d appreciate Yaeger. I personally like the way they “hold your hand” and explain the multiple choice questions and possible tricks.
- Live Phone Support. This is quite unique, and you can often reach and talk to the owner (Phil Yaeger) himself.
- Good Value For Money. One of the most affordable guided review courses out there.
- Old School. Obviously this can be a turn-off for some people.
- Somewhat Unorganized. There are times when you would expect the team to retape the video (e.g. a typo on the white board, or the guy accidentally talked to his wife…) but Yaeger just let it go live. The ones I spotted did not affect the quality of the course but it could be a nuisance.
My General Recommendations
I try to keep this list as objective as I can, but since many of you are asking which provider I generally prefer (and I have a hard time keeping it up with the emails), here you go…
Go for Gleim to:
- Cut out the lectures and self-study effectively
- Get personalized support from real people — the personal counselor
- Keep your CPA review affordable with full version below $1,200
- Benefit from the free trail and money-back guarantee
Go for Wiley to:
- Watch short, bite-sized videos and keep you from dozing off
- State-of-the-art performance tracking platform
- Learn from someone with an impressive record (9 out of 10 passed)
- Benefit from the free trial
Go for Surgent to:
- Study efficiently with 10-20 minute videos and the intelligent adaptive learning technology
- Track how much you study and how well you study using Surgent’s robust analytical system
- Worry-free with free trial and money-back guarantee
Thanks for going through this long post with me. Drop me a note below if you need specific recommendation.