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A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license is a highly sought after credential in the accounting industry, but only about 50% of the 1.3 million U.S. accountants have one. Why? Because the biggest hurdle in obtaining a CPA license is taking the CPA Exam. In fact, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), the cumulative pass rate in 2020 for each of the four sections of the CPA exam ranged from 46% to about 62%.
What's so hard about it? Each section of the CPA exam focuses on a specific area of accounting and requires candidates to display a deep understanding of that subject area. The sections are Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Candidates are given only an 18-month window to pass all four sections.
With such a time crunch and an overwhelming amount of content to digest, it's worth signing up for a CPA Exam prep course. These prep courses make studying less daunting by helping candidates map out an exam schedule with target dates and break the material down into bite-sized pieces. They also offer a variety of modalities to accommodate various learning styles (online tutoring, chat, in-person lectures, etc.).
Since there are so many considerations to take into account when searching for a CPA course (cost, delivery of content, the number of multiple-choice questions provided, available graded practice exams, etc.), we evaluated each one for you. Read on to see our picks for the best CPA prep courses to help you pass on your first try.
The 5 Best CPA Prep Courses of 2021
Best Overall: Becker CPA Review
More than 90% of the Watt Sells Award winners used Becker
Simulated practice exams that mimic the actual exam
Smartphone app and video game
Live class option
Lectures can be long and boring
No audio classes
Becker CPA Review was founded in 1957 and was one of the first CPA review courses. All Big Four accounting firms use Becker and it has a reputation for being the leader in the CPA Exam prep world. It offers three tiers of courses: Advantage ($2,399), Premium ($2,999), and Pro ($3,499). However, deals and discounts are frequently offered on their website and the company offers financing options as well.
Courses are self-paced. Students can watch either recorded video or live online lectures; no audio-only lectures are available. There are more than 8,000 multiple-choice questions, 500 task-based simulations, and 275 hours of video lectures. There are also 400-plus SkillMaster videos that walk students through practice problem solutions. If you're stuck on a problem, real-person support is available through online tutoring, in person, and through its online chat. Additionally, the smartphone app (4.6 stars on Google Play and 4.7 stars on iTunes) and video game, Becker Accounting for Empires, make learning fun and available anywhere.
Becker CPA Review offers a 14-day free trial with unlimited access to course materials. The company offers a money-back guarantee.
While Becker doesn't advertise a pass rate, it boasts that more than 90% of all Watts Sells Award winners from the Accounting Institute for Success are Becker students. This is a national award that recognizes the highest performing students who pass the exam.
Why We Chose It: Historically, Becker has been the most popular and trusted CPA exam prep course on the market. Becker provides students with peace of mind knowing that the largest CPA firms in the world trust Becker to prepare their employees for the CPA exam.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: UWorld Roger CPA Review
Engaging and funny lectures
More affordable than the competition
SmartPath technology predicts learning needs
UWorld app used for data-driven learning is not user friendly
Multiple choice question test bank is smaller than others
Lectures cover high-level topics and are less-detailed
Roger Philipp created Roger CPA Review in 2001 with the goal of making studying for the CPA exam more enjoyable. It offers two four-part CPA review courses: Premier ($1,899) and Elite ($2,999). However, deals and discounts are frequently offered on its website. It also offers an Individual Review ($649 each) for students who want to purchase courses one exam at a time. Financing options are available.
The courses are self-paced with recorded video and audio lectures available to suit learning styles. Roger CPA Review offers no live courses. There are more than 6,000 multiple-choice questions along with more than 100 hours of video lectures. Real-person support is available through its chat software.
Roger CPA Review has a 91% CPA exam pass rate thanks to SmartPath technology that uses artificial intelligence to predict learning needs. While the SmartPath technology is a plus, using UWorld Roger app (3.9 stars on Google Play and 3 stars on iTunes) is cumbersome and takes some getting used to. Access to course materials is unlimited and they offer a money-back guarantee.
Why We Chose It: Even though Roger CPA review doesn't have as large of a question bank as some of the other courses on this list, the engaging lectures will give you fun ways to remember challenging topics. Roger CPA Review is great for students who typically have trouble focusing during lectures and are also looking for a more affordable option.
Best Artificial Intelligence Tools: Surgent CPA Review
Focuses on short lectures for efficient studying
Adaptive learning technology predicts weak testing areas
ReadySCORE technology provides exam score predictions
Audio course available to listen on the go with the Ultimate Pass
CPA exam success coach sessions
Recorded lectures only – no live classes
Requires a lengthy initial diagnostic quiz
Trial period is only five days
While Surgent Professional Education has been around since 1985, Surgent CPA review is a relatively new program, which was founded in 2013. It offers three four-part CPA review courses: Essentials ($1,599), Premier ($2,399), and Ultimate ($2,999). Financing options are available for all plans.
The courses are self-paced. Recorded video lectures are offered, but there are no live courses. There are more than 7,700 multiple-choice questions and more than 360 video lectures in the library. Surgent offers a $1,100 discount for any student who failed a CPA exam using another provider’s program. Support is available via live chat, email, and phone.
Surgent CPA Review has an 88% CPA exam pass rate. Much of this is credited to its proprietary technology, ReadySCORE – an artificial intelligence tool that targets weak study areas so students effectively focus their study time. Access to course materials is unlimited and they offer a money-back guarantee.
Why We Chose It: Surgent CPA Review provides students with AI software to determine exactly what topics need to be covered. This ensures the shortest study time. Their advanced online technological tools set them apart from the others.
Best Value: Gleim CPA Review
Support from a personal counselor for tailored learning
Biggest library of questions and task-based simulations
Optional test question bank add-on purchase
No offline lecture option
Video lectures could be more engaging
Overly detailed studying tools can be overwhelming
Dr. Gleim published his first CPA Review book in 1974. His goal was to offer an inclusive self-study option for those who couldn’t afford a live review course. Gleim offers two four-part CPA review courses: Traditional ($1,599) and Premium ($1,999). It also offers a Mega Test Bank ($999) for students who only want to purchase practice questions and simulations. Financing options are available for its programs.
The courses are self-paced. Recorded video and audio lectures are offered, but there are no live courses. It has more than 10,000 multiple-choice questions, 1,300 task-based simulations, and 350 simulations with exhibits. Real-person support is available through personal coaching as well as accounting expert support. Access to course materials is unlimited and it offers a money-back guarantee.
Why We Chose It: Gleim wins for best value because it offers over 3,000 more test questions for the same price compared to the next most affordable option ($1,599).
Best Price: Ninja CPA Review
Blueprint study notes are bite-sized
Affordable monthly subscription
Comprehensive Ninja Blitz Cram Course for practice exam prep
Access to private study forums and social network
No video lecture options
Less support and resources than the competition
Not as well established as the competition
Requires more self-discipline than others
Ninja CPA Review was created by Jeff Elliott, who first started a CPA Exam blog in 2008 called Another 71, and then launched his CPA exam prep review program in 2012. He added a library of multiple-choice questions in 2014. The program is a $67 per month subscription with no time commitment or upfront costs. Cancel anytime with no obligation for another payment.
The monthly subscription includes a test question bank, Ninja Notes (with space to add your own notes), a flashcard app (available through Brainscape), audio lectures, a review book, and a cram course called Ninja Blitz. This program includes more than 6,000 multiple-choice questions and 200-plus task-based simulations. It has an 85% to 90% pass rate. Online support is available through the company's private study forums. Support is also available by phone or email.
Why We Chose It: Ninja CPA Review works nicely as an inexpensive supplement to an online course. This is an efficient studying tool that can be used as your main course but serves best as an auxiliary study aid with an excellent online support community.
How Is the CPA Exam Structured?
There are four sections to the exam, each taken at a different time with exam sections broken up into five parts. There are two multiple-choice question sections and three task-based simulation sections that must be completed within four hours (that includes extensive research, writing, formulas, and calculations – all while the clock is ticking). The exam can be taken in any order and candidates are given an 18-month window after passing their first exam to pass all four sections.
How Is the CPA Prep Course Structured?
CPA prep courses typically provide candidates with a textbook for each section of the exam, flashcards, online recorded (or live) lectures, multiple-choice questions, longer simulation practice problems, and mock practice exams.
When you begin the course, you will start by creating your study timeline based on your exam date and take a pre-test to determine your strengths and weaknesses on the subject matter. From there, the majority of prep courses offer self-paced online recorded lectures that follow the chapters in the textbook.
After each chapter, there are practice problems with detailed answer explanations to help absorb the material. The multiple-choice questions and simulation practice questions tend to be the most crucial exam preparation resource because they give the course material more context for a deeper understanding.
What Happens After the Class?
During the week prior to exam day, approximately 20 hours need to be carved out to take the final mock exams and closely review the questions that were challenging. Practice problems typically take one to two hours to work on so be sure to allow for the appropriate study session duration.
Another factor to consider in test preparation is how work experience and college coursework affect your knowledge base for each of the CPA exams. For example, if you are scheduled to take an auditing class in college, then you will want to schedule the Auditing and Attestation CPA Exam to coincide with the completion of that class, if possible.
What Happens In the 18-Month Window?
The 18-month clock to pass all four sections starts after you pass your first exam, so if you pass one section of the CPA exam, the next step will be to move onto another section as soon as possible. If you aren’t able to pass all four sections in the 18-month window, you will have to start over and retake the exams that you previously passed.
Beginning July 1, 2020, candidates will be allowed to retake a section of the exam that they failed in the same quarter rather than waiting until the next quarter or “testing window.” This new “continuous testing” policy will help candidates reduce their risk of running out of time to pass all four exams.
Most CPA exam prep courses allow you to access the online course materials until you pass all four exams. Some companies also offer a money-back guarantee if you aren’t able to pass the exams using their program.
What Happens After the CPA Exam?
Once all four exams have been passed, candidates’ scores are automatically sent to their state’s Board of Accountancy. To officially apply for your CPA license, each state’s Board of Accountancy requires a specific number of documented work experience hours, college credit hours, and a passing ethics exam score (if applicable), to be submitted with your application.
"This Way to CPA" is a resource that was created by the AICPA to help candidates achieve their goal of becoming a CPA. On their website, you will find a breakdown of CPA license requirements by state.
Once you receive your CPA license, you will be required to earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits in specific areas of accounting to maintain an active CPA license. These requirements vary by state.
Some CPAs decide to specialize in a specific area of accounting and obtain additional credentials. Common specializations include Certified Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor, (CIA), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). Requirements for these additional licenses typically include sitting for an additional exam.
Is the CPA Exam State-Specific?
While some states vary in the education and work experience requirements to obtain a CPA license, the CPA exam is a national uniform exam that is the same in every state. However, some states require an additional state-specific ethics exam. To transfer a CPA license to another state, it may be necessary to take that state’s ethics exam, but the previously passed CPA exam will be accepted in every state.
How We Chose the CPA Prep Courses
We looked at 10 companies before choosing our top five recommendations. The main factors we considered were the ability to demo the product before purchasing, the price, the number of questions and scenarios in the test bank, the exam pass rate for students who have taken the course, and the credentials of the instructors teaching the course.
The ability to demo the product before purchasing is important because a CPA prep course can be a significant financial investment. Pass rates and quality of instructors were also of high importance because they provide candidates with a sense of security when making a decision that will impact their career.
Additionally, we considered real user reviews, many of which were provided via a forum called Another 71. This forum connects CPA exam candidates from all over the country and provides a platform for support, discussion, questions, and advice.
National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. How many CPAs are there? Updated Sept. 2, 2020.
AICPA. "CPA Exam Pass Rates." Accessed Oct. 30, 2020.
This Way to CPA. "State & Territory Requirements." Accessed Oct. 30, 2020.
NASBA Registry. "National Registry of CPE Sponsors." Accessed April 16, 2020.