Which CPA Review Course is Best? I’m done, and a bunch of unsolicited advice (LONG)

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  • #2260668
    Jimmy Dugan

    tl;dr: I give my parting shot, thanks, and a bunch of unsolicited opinions that should all be taken with a grain of salt.

    After getting my last passing score back with the 3/8 release date, I AM FINALLY DONE WITH THIS THING! I can’t thank everyone on the forum enough. Reading about everyone’s struggles with the exam and how people find ways to overcome the challenge gave me faith that I could do it myself. I don’t know how much I’ll be around now that I’m finished, and I wanted to make one final post about my thoughts and experience on the exam and other issues I see posted about often. These are my opinions only, and they are probably wrong.

    Which CPA Review course is best?

    I used Roger for one section (FAR 89, March 2017, ultimately expired because I got lazy, took a promotion at work and [other excuse] and didn’t take any other sections for a while) and Becker for all others (scores in my signature). I hated Roger. Not personally, but I got to a point where I couldn’t listen to him talk anymore. The frustration was likely caused more by the overwhelming amount of information in FAR and the fact that it was my first exam than it was actual annoyance at his voice. I was only getting 60% of the questions correct after watching the lectures and automatically assumed his lectures sucked. I would learn later that the questions are just hard as hell and it takes some real brainpower to answer them even if you have a passing knowledge of the subject from watching a video. I got to NFP and Governmental in Roger’s videos and thought they were absolute garbage. Exam prep was the first time I had encountered NFP and Governmental and I was enraged by how quickly he went through it in his customary chicken scratch on that white board. I remember not having a grasp of either subject going into the exam and I assume I just guessed correctly on the questions I had in those areas. I passed by a decent margin, so he couldn’t have done too bad a job overall.

    By the time I got serious about passing the exams (July or so of 2018), I still couldn’t stomach the thought of going back with Roger. I plunked down the money for the Becker “Live” online course. I started with REG and thought Becker had me very well-prepared. I attended most of the live lectures and thought they were high quality with an exception here and there. I did well on REG and moved onto BEC, which I also thought Becker did a good job with. I attended less than half the online lectures, but the national lectures were fine for BEC. I did more reading in the book this time as opposed to looking at every single lecture and found that the book *to me* is the main strength of Becker. I passed BEC and moved onto AUD. AUD is the point that I started to see some cracks in the armor with Becker. The national lectures consisted of “Hello scholars” followed by 20 minutes of reading straight from the book. I couldn’t stomach many lectures of that kind, so I mostly read the book and did a bunch of MCQ and still ended up with a good score despite the lectures not being the best. After taking AUD, I only left myself with a month to study for FAR. I had already passed it one time so figured what the hell, just review the material and finish this thing off. I turned out that I barely remembered anything from the first time I took it, so I still had to give most of the book my full attention for a couple of weeks, which only left me with 2 weeks to review before the exam. The book did an okay job on most topics, and was terrible on a few, including, once again, governmental. The lectures in FAR were basically worthless, more reading straight from the textbook than even AUD. I plowed through with the help of outside resources (Bob Monet for Governmental and Farhat’s accounting lectures on YouTube for ASC 842 Leases were HUGE) and made an 84. That was my lowest score but not terrible considering I only studied for a month.

    I suppose the moral of this story is that every course has its weaknesses. For every person that likes Becker, there is another person that thinks Roger is great. I encourage anyone investing in a course to use the free trials that most come with and decide if the book contents and lectures resonate with you. Realize that none of them are perfect, just choose one you think you’ll like, and get after it.

    This brings me to another point on exam prep courses. I see folks posting questions all the time that go something like, “which course has questions that are most like the actual exam” or “which courses has the best TBS’s?” This may surprise many here, but most of the courses have the exact same questions. I have heard and read that Gleim has more questions than anyone else, but I’ve used the following resources and all the questions are basically identical: Wiley (test bank only), Ninja, Roger, Becker, Surgent (free trial). They all use the same retired exam questions, recycled to stay updated with current GAAP/IRC. Pretty much none of them write any original questions that only come with their specific course, and that includes Sims. If you have any one of the major players in the prep industry, you have most of the questions present in all the other courses. If you want to switch courses, don’t let this be a reason you are doing it, or you will be disappointed.
    How I studied

    I went through the lectures/book as quickly as I could, oftentimes taking a couple of weeks. I didn’t take any notes on the last 3, instead highlighting the book and reviewing my highlights every day. I know this is contrary to most conventional advice, but I felt like it was a big waste of time after making a bunch of notes for the first couple of sections, only to not look at them again after writing them out. If you love notes, then make notes. After finishing each section, I’d complete 5-10 practice problems to reinforce the material. Once I got to the end of the course, I took quizzes of 30 random questions from the entire body of knowledge. After building up around 200 questions, I used the analysis tools (both Ninja and Wiley can do this) to find out which areas I was weakest in and focused the remainder of my time almost exclusively on those weaknesses.
    I did very few sims and if I had it to do over, then I would have completed most of them in each course. I don’t think you can prepare yourself for the sims that you’ll see on the exam. That’s an absolute crap shoot. I do think sims help you understand the material at a higher level than the MCQ’s, so doing sims pays dividends for both the MCQ and Sims at exam time because you know the information better.

    Mainly, just don’t spend a ton of time going through the book and lectures, and don’t skimp on the number of practice questions, including MCQ. Supplement the course content with other materials if that’s what it takes to help you understand. Spend a lot of time reviewing your wrong answers and why you were wrong. If you have Becker, look at as many of the Skillmaster videos as you can. They are solid gold. Do not spend a lot of time or energy being mad because you don’t know a particular area as well as you want to. I can confirm through personal experience that this strategy does not work to help you learn said area. Be honest about your weak areas and hit those hardest of all. It is cool to know how to price a bond to make it yield the market rate of interest, but it’s not getting you any additional points if you already know how to do it and keep seeing practice questions on bonds. Find out what you don’t know. Study that. Keep taking random MCQ; feel good about it if you are trending 75% or more.

    And take your advice from people who are doing better on the exams than you are. I don’t mean that as a slight to anyone that has seen more than their fair share of failing scores and keeps coming back and passes the thing. You are an absolute beast and I can’t say enough how much I admire anyone that shows that level of dedication. I am talking about people throwing around advice on how to study that have been at it for a while and have only passed 1 or maybe not any. I see a lot of advice on the forum that absolutely shouldn’t be followed, even though the authors have nothing but the best of intentions. This sounds worse than it is, but you may not be at a point where you need to be giving people advice on how to pass an exam if you haven’t had much success with it yourself yet. If I need some help with my golf swing (and I need a LOT of help with my golf swing), I’m not going to get it from a 15 handicap and you are the golf equivalent of a 15 handicap right now. That’s not to say that you always will be, and I hope you make it. I would just encourage anyone looking for study tips to grade the advice being given based on how successful the advice-giver has been on exam day. I soaked up every drop of knowledge I could get from people with all 90’s and above and would recommend the same to everyone. There is a reason these people had such success on the exam. Maybe some of it is intelligence, but a great deal of that success came from a set of study habits/techniques that worked for them.

    Exam experience

    They were all nerve-racking. I didn’t feel like I’d absolutely passed on any of them. When I left my last FAR exam, I called my wife and told her I wasn’t going back if I failed. It is a miserable spot to be waiting on an exam score while being fairly certain that you failed. The thing is, you can’t be fairly certain that you failed. If you are thinking about posting any version of “Did you think you failed X exam only to find out that you passed? What are my chances?”, just know that (A.) A substantial number of people feel like they failed only to find out they passed, and (B.) Nobody knows if you have a chance to pass except the computer and he isn’t telling you until two or three weeks. The best thing to do is start on your next section and take for granted you passed. This helps with post-exam anxiety more than anything else. One of the reasons I had the hardest time coping with waiting out my last score was that I didn’t have another exam to go home and plow into.

    “But what if I get my score back and failed?” Who cares. You aren’t wasting that time by studying a different section because you are going to have to study that material at some point anyway. Even if you failed, you need a change of scenery and can get it by studying new material for a little while. In the very likely event that you passed, you haven’t wasted those 2-3 weeks by continuing to study for an exam you passed.

    “I know I failed, and I’m mad they made it so hard!” I have done this. Nobody should be mad that it’s hard. There is no need in getting upset with the exam writers. They can’t hear you cry and doing so will only psych you out and provoke even more anxiety on the retake.
    “They gave me one that was harder than everyone else’s. It was 99% governmental!” No, they didn’t and no it wasn’t. Hopefully you passed, but if you didn’t, it’s an unfounded excuse that your exam was harder than anyone else’s. If you don’t know a major area well, the exam is going to feel extremely difficult because you don’t have a clue on 1 out of every 7 or 8 questions. Thinking this way is counterproductive because you may go back and sit for a retake thinking the next one won’t hit your weak areas as hard, only to find out that it was the exact same difficulty level as the first one. If you end up failing, it’s because you had one or more blind spots that can easily be fixed with focused study. It’s not because you just “drew” a tough one. They are all tough.

    Was it worth it?

    I’m going against the grain of this forum when I say on the no-ish side of kinda. I work in private industry and my answer would be much different if I were in public. My employer was already happy with the work I was doing and didn’t care if I got a CPA or not. It will help when I get another job with a different company, but looking back, I’m not sure if having a resume booster was worth the effort required to pass all 4 sections. If I’m honest, I finished the exams because I told everyone 3-4 years ago that I was getting my CPA and I didn’t want to go back to them and say that I’d decided it wasn’t worth it and quit. It was much more a sense of relief when I got that last score back than a feeling of pure joy.

    I didn’t fail one, but I can tell you with great certainty that I would have called it a day if I had failed a couple of times. I don’t think that makes me weak, I just have a different view of the exam than most. The CPA is a great thing to have and I am glad that I’ll have it (provided the state board says so), but it’s not the be-all end-all of accounting. Plenty of people become controllers, directors of finance, CFO’s, etc. without it. I don’t think everyone should take the same stance as me, and I have the utmost admiration for my folks that take each section 3-4 times before they pass. However, I also believe it’s okay for someone struggling with the exams to hear that it’s not worth ruining your mental health and family life for a piece of paper. “Just keep trying, no matter what” is well-meaning advice and I agree, except for the part about no matter what. Only you can decide whether it is worth it to you, but don’t feel like a failure if you decide that it’s not.

    And finally, he shut up

    I’m thankful to have had the forum and its users throughout this storm. The CPA Exam process is nuts, but it helped to have a place where everyone knows exactly what you’re going through. To everyone that gave me advice either directly or indirectly through the many thoughtful posts and replies here, thanks so much.

    Above all, thanks to Jeff. This is a cool place for candidates for so many reasons and it wouldn’t be here if not for you. I benefited from the forum and your products, which I highly recommend to anyone that’s stayed awake long enough to make it to this sentence.

    Good luck to everyone. I wish you nothing but the absolute best on the exam and elsewhere in life.

    AUD - 95
    BEC - 87
    FAR - 84
    REG - 90
    You're killing me Smalls


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  • #2260722

    Great write-up Jimmy! It was great having you around the dojo. Congrats on being DONE!

    AUD - 79
    BEC - 80
    FAR - 76
    REG - 92
    Jeff Elliott, CPA (KS)

    Congrats on finishing! Hope you stick around – I only pop in here and there myself after finishing last year but I can't quit this place 🙂

    AUD: 87

    BEC: 90

    FAR: 93

    REG: 84

    CPA license issued September 2018


    Congrats and very nicely written! I really enjoyed the part you wrote about whether or not the journey was worth it. For the most part I agree with you and I don't think it's voiced often enough. The amount of effort required to study for the exams is daunting and that means it isn't worth it for every accountant. Studying 3-4 hours a day takes a lot out of you and I can't even imagine doing it now that my wife and I have a six month old to take care of. (Hats off to those who can or have done that)

    That being said, having the CPA is better than not having it, but I don't think it should be pushed onto every accountant as a requirement to be “successful”.

    AUD - 86 6/8/18
    BEC - 86 12/6/17
    FAR - 89 10/6/17
    REG - 85 3/9/18

    Kill it


    I agree, well written post. My cousin and his wife both work in private and are not CPA but still got promoted and making good money. It's amazing how some people keep climbing the corporate ladder and don't have to go thru this brutal journey. You are so right about the CPA review programs don't have one size fit all structure. I liked rogers BEC and Regulation section but hated the way FAR material was written. In contrast, Wiley FAR section was interesting. Next time when i start my CPA journey, I'm not going to waste lot of time reading materials. Watching lectures, reading and taking notes take too much time. The thought of remembering so much for FAR is nerve wrecking.

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