How to Study for the CPA Exam

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So you've decided you want to become a CPA, but that exam is waiting out there on your horizon to trip you up potentially. You have three basic options when you plan to take the CPA exam. You can prep for it in a traditional classroom structure, in an online or recorded class, or you can self-study. Here's what you should know about your choices. 

Classroom Reviews

Classroom reviews are extremely popular, but they're also the most expensive. For example, the Northern Illinois University review course is very highly regarded, and it has an excellent track record of passing exam scores. But this comes at a price—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 as long as you do your research first to make sure the course has a good reputation. Many people find studying easier when they have an instructor to guide them through the subject matter.

Online or Recorded Reviews 

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. These reviews have elements of both traditional classroom instruction and self-study. The courses have structure and format similar to that of a classroom, but motivation and the time you spend studying lie directly on your shoulders, like self-study. It is a good option for someone who desires a classroom setting but may not have the funds to attend a class or a candidate who can't commit to regular classroom hours due to work or other responsibilities.



Lastly, self-study is basically what it sounds like—the candidate does all his studying on his own. There's nothing inferior about this method. The secret is to have the proper study materials, such as the Wiley series of CPA exam review books. They're very highly regarded, and they update every year so you can be sure that the content matches what will be on the exam.

If you decide to study on your own, you can always take a course later if you're not successful on your first try. You'll also want to get your family or housemates on board with your study plan so you'll be able to devote the time and energy necessary to be fully prepared.

The Bottom Line 

Different review courses are available depending on where you live. A quick internet search will surely give you a lot of choices. You might also contact your state’s CPA society for recommendations, as well as college accounting program faculty to see who or what they suggest. It's a big commitment and expense, so do as much research as possible. 

Regardless of what method you choose, one other resource should be added to your study plan: the CPA Review, available online. It's free, and it offers free practice questions with ​a full explanation of answers. There's some paid content here as well, but the free content alone should be an integral part of your exam prep.

And one final note—whichever option you choose, make sure you only use up-to-date materials to study. Don't rely on your college textbooks. Exam content changes every year. Studying dated materials from your textbooks, even something as basic as intermediate accounting, can give you inaccurate information and cost you points.