CPA Exam Self-Study vs Online vs Live Class: Which Is Better?

You have sent in your CPA application and are getting ready, but how exactly will you start your CPA Exam preparation?

The CPA exam can be overwhelming, with 4 parts covering a wide variety of topics. You have 3 choices:

  1. Self-study
  2. Online courses
  3. Live classes

Which is the best way — or should we say, the best way for your unique background and learning style?

Which CPA Exam Preparation Course is Best for Your Learning Style?

1. Self-Study

If you are knowledgeable in financial accounting and audit procedures, and you are a very, very disciplined person, you can try the self-study route.

However, the CPA Exam is not just a test of accounting knowledge — you’ll need to know how to tackle multiple-choice questions and be familiar with the simulation questions, too.

If you aren’t sure whether you are good at both knowledge and tactics, you can test yourself by doing sample CPA questions on “free sites” such as CPA Review For Free.

If you can consistently score 70+, congratulations — you are all set. All you need to do is to get a test bank (known for very comprehensive questions) and complete the practice tests to make sure you are well covered. Gleim is also a great choice for trickier, out-of-the-blue questions.

2. Online Courses

Most people fall into this category — they need a guided CPA exam preparation course to walk through the topics for the CPA examination. If you are busy and can’t commit to CPA exam study on a full-time basis, I’ll recommend you go for this route.

Why? Because the guided course can make sure you finish studying all the exam materials in a specific time, even if you are at times distracted by your full-time job or your family. For instance, a Gleim course helps you develop a study plan based on your anticipated exam date. And then, it breaks down the content into individual Gleim Study Units to make sure you cover all of the content.

Also, statistics have shown that those taking the review courses have a much higher passing rate (generally 85%+ vs. <50% for overall candidates).

You can look at my comparison of the CPA exam review courses here or go straight to my recommended home study CPA Review.

3. Live Classes

Some CPA Exam candidates prefer to learn in a classroom setting. Although this type of instruction used to be more popular, it is becoming less and less common with the proliferation and success of online courses. However, Becker CPA Review still runs live classes in selected cities. Each class covers a different topic, so you can choose to only go to the ones you need.

Plus, Becker has live virtual classes, too. Through these courses, you get all the benefits of classroom-style instruction, like interacting with the instructor and your fellow classmates. But you can join the live online classes anywhere you have an internet connection, so you don’t have to fight with traffic to get to class on time!

For Your Further Reading

Are You Walking Alone in Your CPA Journey?

Come on in and join our expanding community of aspiring CPAs with this free e-course. I have two versions designed for candidates with different backgrounds:

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For US candidates
(Those with US degrees, or
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For Intl Candidates
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graduate/live/work outside of the US)

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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