Do You Really Need To Buy That $3,000 CPA Review Course?

It feels like forever since we've had to point a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed CPA exam candidate toward the light but oh lookie, we got an email! If you have a question about the CPA exam, you can always email me, and if you have a question about anything else except everything we've ever written about for the last (nearly) four years, email our advice box. I promise we won't bite (well, Caleb might but that's none of my business).

Hi Adrienne,

I am planning to take FAR in late July & BEC in late August. The nine month window for FAR & BEC expires Oct 17, 2013. I will be taking REG & AUD in October & November 2013 so that I don't need to worry about the new education requirements coming into effect in 2014.

The problem is I just started studying for FAR using Wiley book. It has been two years since my last course in Accounting & I have become a bit rusty. However, I am independent & smart to self study which is how I got As in all my online Accounting courses. In addition, I am an empty nester so no kids to take care of. Just my husband & myself. I work part time for 3 hours a day, five days a week as an accountant. So I have lots of time to spare & complete all four sections by Nov 2013. But I have not taken a course in Audit so totally new to that area and I have an international trip in September (no exam month) which I cannot avoid.

1. With all that said, I would like your opinion on whether it is a good idea to prepare for the exams using just Wiley books & test CD or go with a CPA review course.

2. Also, please let me know which review course is suitable given my strengths & situation in addition to other available resources to achieve my goal.

3. Any other suggestions to help me prepare for the exam are also welcome.

Looking forward for your response.

Alright, let's start at the top. Since you mentioned a 9 month NTS and new education requirements coming into effect in 2014, I'm going to go ahead and assume you are sitting in California, correct? Thankfully scores are released earlier and more frequently than ever but you're still cutting it really close here with your plan. Which brings me to my next point…

Is there any room in your plan for unplanned events such as an illness or — worse — a failed exam? Be prepared to adjust your plan along the way; I've seen far too many candidates give up because their perfect exam plan fell apart. Shit happens, as they say, so while you can't and shouldn't schedule shit into your plan, don't be surprised if you step in a big ole flaming pile of it while on your path to licensure. In your case, you have no room to avoid the 2014 changes if something doesn't go according to plan, which is all the more reason you really need to throw everything into studying and just get it over with.

And, oh btw, you say the 9 month window for FAR & BEC expires in October but that you just started studying for FAR. What have you been doing since January?

Anyway, back to your questions.

I can't tell you if it's a good idea to prepare for the exams with just the Wiley book and CD. Only you know if that will work for you. Our CPA Review Course Survey we did last summer can help you with feedback from other CPA exam candidates who took that route but ultimately, only you know if big blocks of text and lots and lots and lots of practice questions are enough for you. With that in mind, since you have the luxury of extra free-time, you could always try a single part from a CPA review provider and see if you thrive with the extra support offered by a review course.

For obvious reasons — namely because I got my start as a shill for one of the major CPA review courses — I cannot recommend a particular provider. Again, the CPA Review Course Survey can help with that and there are plenty of opinions from your fellow candidates on sites like CPA Exam Club and Another71 so go check those out. But hurry up and make a decision. If you're planning to sit for FAR in July the clock is ticking, my friend; don't get sucked into the vortex of CPA exam chatter on the Internet when you've got some serious studying to do.

What you'll find on the sites I pointed to above is a common theme: the Wiley questions and the CD are great. For practice questions, that is. The review course I worked for provided them with our course for a reason. That said, our students also had an instructor to guide them through the concepts first before he sent them off to do homework. For some candidates, sitting there with a book doing it all on your own is just too daunting a task, especially if it's an area you are unfamiliar with like you are with Audit. Again, only you know if you're that kind of candidate. Based on your email, it sounds like you could hack it.

As for #3, the one suggestion I am going to give you based on your plan and 2014 deadline is this: put everything you have into passing the first time. Hopefully your husband is the kind of guy who can figure out how to make his own dinner and won't get upset if he hardly sees you at all in the next few months. Forget the television, forget brunch, forget spending your day posting pictures of your cats to Facebook (oops, that's my problem) and focus on this one thing all the way through.

Reward yourself along the way as you pass each part — no one is saying you have to live in your bathrobe and forego showers until November — but throw every little bit you have into this. As a person who barely works and does so from home, I can assure you all that copious free-time can easily turn into a day of playing Sims FreePlay on my iPad when I should be cleaning my house and writing articles. That's fine for me — my annoyed editor aside — but you don't have that luxury, you absolutely have to focus. Be accountable to yourself and don't get sucked into watching Sex and the City on the DVR all day when you should be writing… oops, made it all about me again. You get the point.

It's totally cliche but I'm going to say it anyway: just do it. As my former employer always says, "the CPA exam is not an IQ test, it's a test of discipline." A disciplined candidate with a minimum of basic accounting knowledge can pass with just a couple informative PDFs and a few hundred practice questions if they put everything they have into passing. An undisciplined candidate will fail over and over even with $10,000 worth of materials to study from. Decide which candidate you want to be. It really is that simple.

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