First, thanks to everyone who stepped up and not only provided me great answers but a laugh or two within their surveys. It's awesome to know you guys do, in fact, have a sense of humor.
A few things: I included the average rankings with each course, after asking each respondent to rank their course from 1 - 10; 1 being "Worst shit I've ever experienced in my life" and 10 being "ecstasy-level awesomeness."
It's worth noting that only a crazy person would find any CPA exam studying to be "ecstasy-level awesomeness" so even a great course might get only a 7 or 8. I would say I got an average number of responses from every course except Yaeger so the Yaeger results may be a tad skewed (given that only one Yaeger student did the survey).
Average student rating: 7.9 (note only one respondent gave Becker a low rating. If I threw that one 5 out, Becker would get more like a 9)
Pros: Well-organized; covers a lot of information; well-established course; practice questions are very similar if not nearly identical to what you will see on the exam; Tim Gearty and Peter Olinto are excellent teachers.
Cons: Cost (most expensive course); no free updates to books and software; some lectures consist of following an onscreen version of book where you follow their highlighting & annotating; expires.
I was surprised to see how many candidates paid out of pocket or split the cost of Becker with their firm. Even though many of these respondents said that price was a con, most of them said they would take Becker again and would recommend it to a friend studying for the CPA exam.
Average student rating: 6.25
Pros: All respondents agreed that the small, bite-sized lessons are convenient and well-organized. The course allows unlimited use and there are many good multiple-choice questions for practice. Most candidates said they felt prepared going into and coming out of their first exam and would purchase the course again.
Cons: Some information is skipped over in the videos and slides, the video interface leaves a little to be desired (bugs and functionality). A few students remarked the flip cards are bad. Some professors are not that engaging ("some video professors make me want to shoot myself because they are so boring," said one candidate) and the textbook is not that reader friendly.
One CPAExcel candidate remarked that their advertised 87% pass rate is "utter BS," writing:
I’ve used it and talked to other people who have used it and there is no way that number is accurate. CPAExcel takes surveys on test results and claim that is where the numbers came from but I don’t buy it – there is very little motivation to fill out that survey (why would you let them know you passed, they might restrict your access). My guess is that number came from a very limited sample data and is artificially inflated.
I'll be shunned from the CPA review industry forever for revealing this but every review course's pass rate is "utter BS." As pointed out, the results are self-reported and there is generally no motivation for candidates to fill out the surveys. That is not just a CPAExcel thing, it goes for everyone. When doing your research, take pass rates with a grain of salt and focus mostly on real feedback from real students - even if a course has a high pass rate, it will not work for you if the course is not a good fit.
Average student rating: 8
Pros: Entertaining; useful mnemonics; Wiley book supplement is helpful and the course covers the important stuff without overwhelming you. All respondents agreed that his personality helps get you through hours upon hours of lectures, great if you have trouble paying attention.
Cons: Message board leaves something to be desired (canned responses were the major complaint, along with "condescending" moderators); course expires; skips over some sections in lectures; Roger sometimes goes on tangents that aren't at all related to the exam itself.
I found it interesting that even though they didn't need an extension yet, some respondents complained about the course expiration date. When I worked in CPA review, this was the biggest complaint I would hear, even from people who hadn't even begun their course. Keep this in mind when you're shopping around for a review course.
Average student rating: 7.5
Pros: Low price; no expiration date; will adequately prepare you for the exam; self-paced; Test Bank CD is really helpful.
Cons: Book pages feel like newspaper (fun fact: they do this on purpose so you can't resell the book when you're done with it as it'll have fallen apart by then); requires A LOT of discipline since you are not guided by lectures/instructors; you have to set your own study plan (one respondent called this both a pro and a con).
Average student rating: 8
Pros: Can call instructors directly if you need help; course offers good tips about what to watch out for on the exam; cheap; unlimited use materials; mid-year updates are cheap.
Cons: "Each instructor has their own quirks that will annoy people. For example, Phil’s voice is raspy and is like fingernails on a chalkboard, Gary is monotone, and Cindy talks way too fast sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, all three are very knowledgeable and awesome at teaching you what you need to know, but when you are miserable from giving up your life for a few months to study, these little things will slowly eat at you until you snap and throw your laptop out the window." Wiley books (provided with course) have some typos which instructors point out during lectures.
As for resources used during the shopping process, candidates said they used I Pass the CPA Exam, Another71, the CPAnet forums and - yay - Going Concern. Almost all respondents said they found feedback left by actual students to be the most helpful (including input from their colleagues who were also studying for the exam) and suggested candidates include the above resources in their research.
Also worth noting, when asked what advice they would give to future CPA exam candidates picking a review course, many respondents remarked that it is important to do a little soul-searching and figure out what works best for you. Self-paced courses are great for people who are motivated to put in the work while more structured options work better for people who have trouble setting their own schedule. Almost all respondents agreed that you only get as much out of the course as you put in.
If you'd like to add to our body of knowledge but missed it the first time around, it isn't too late to fill out a survey, just get in touch.