As you start your CPA journey, you’re probably wondering the best course of action when it comes to exam prep. Is it enough to have a massive test bank of exam questions, or is it better to have a full-on review course? Below, we’ll review the pros and cons of a test bank and a CPA Review course to help you decide the best option to help you pass the CPA Exam

What is a test bank?

Test banks have evolved significantly since the early days of CPA test prep courses. They used to be giant banks of multiple choice test questions; but are now more sophisticated, with the ability to create custom sample sets tailored to individual subject areas of each CPA Exam section

Test banks generally have thousands of sample questions and can include both multiple choice and task-based simulations. You can purchase single exam parts or all four parts, and the answers have detailed explanation of right and wrong answers. 

What is a CPA review course?

A CPA Review course is a comprehensive course that includes study materials as well as practice questions. It’s more like a class you would have in college; you watch lectures, read materials, take practice quizzes, and take entire practice exams to prepare you for the real CPA Exam

Similar to a test bank, you can purchase an entire course with all four parts, or you can purchase individual parts of the Exam. CPA Review courses tend to have a more in-depth experience since you’re spending a fair amount of time reviewing materials as opposed to looking at the right and wrong answers to questions. 

Deciding which is best for your CPA Exam test prep

Choosing between a test bank or a full-on CPA Review course depends on the features you’re looking for in a course, and how prepared you think you can be with each one. We’ve compiled a list of important factors to consider when preparing for the CPA Exam, and how both a CPA test bank and a CPA Review course stack up. 

Multiple-choice questions 

Both the test bank and the CPA Review course are great options when it comes to getting familiar with multiple choice test questions. Both offer plenty of practice to get you prepared for exam day – they’re just presented in different formats. 

The test bank is generally going to have a huge listing of sample sets, and you can narrow the sets down by subset within each exam. You can usually filter questions even more to specific subject areas. And in terms of number of questions, the test bank often has the advantage. 

However, the CPA Review Course structures the MCQs within the context of learning course materials. As you go through course materials in a methodical way, you’re also taking multiple choice questions related to the material you just learned. This can help solidify information as opposed to memorizing questions and answers, which may happen if you only study with a test bank, even if the questions are randomized. 

Another advantage of a CPA Review Course unique to Surgent CPA Review is A.S.A.P.® Technology, an adaptive learning algorithm that judges your strengths and weaknesses based on how you’re progressing through the course material. Instead of going through countless multiple choice questions like you would in a test bank, the algorithm helps you focus on your weaknesses, saving you time and making your studying as efficient as possible. 

Task-based simulations 

Similar to multiple choice questions, both a test bank and a CPA exam review course are going to offer plenty of task based simulation practice. Both are going to be broken out by the exams that offer task based simulations (REG, AUD, and FAR). 

A test bank may have the advantage of quantity, but a CPA exam review course is going to challenge you with sims within the context of learning. While the test bank may have detailed answers for simulation problems, a CPA Exam Review course will help you develop the ability to answer any questions within the subject area by relating the correct answers back to what was just learned. 

Written communication tasks

Not all test banks include written communication tasks and, in fact, they’re often the hardest areas to practice because there are no cut and dry answers. Answers to the written communication tasks on the BEC exam are mostly graded by a computer program monitored by human scorers, so there is plenty of room for variety within a WC task answer while still providing all the necessary information. This makes them especially difficult to grade. Both a test bank and a CPA Review course will give you a suggested, detailed answer for a particular written communication question to compare to your answer. 

Familiarity with exam format

It’s easy to believe that the format of the exam has nothing to do with your score, but walking into the exam and not knowing where your resources are and how to toggle through questions can be the difference between passing and failing. Both modern test banks and CPA Review Courses will have exam-like conditions. The test bank will simulate the exam format as you go through any number of sample sets, while the CPA Review Course will simulate the format in your practice exams. Some review courses will also have exam formatting in all instances of the practice questions. 

Final review

One of the best ways to use a test bank is during your final review. You can create sample set after sample set to help you prep for the exam and ensure you’re ready for any subject included in the particular exam section you’re taking. It’s a great way to kick your final review up a notch. Many test banks also come with sample practice exams. 

The advantage to doing your final review with a CPA exam prep course is that you have all the reference materials you need at your fingertips. As you go through practice questions and take the final exam, you can review detailed explanations of correct and incorrect answers that reference the actual course material, whether written or in video lectures. This definitely boosts your learning during your final review; not only can you see the right answer, but you can review the material surrounding the right answer immediately. 

Surgent CPA Review’s adaptive learning technology also takes into account your stronger and weaker areas as your progress through the course, and uses the final review as a way to make sure you have a solid foundation in every area. It also features ReadySCORE™, which uses the algorithm to show you your relative exam score if you took the CPA Exam at any given time. This means you have a really good understanding of how you’re doing during your final review, and you know exactly when you’re ready to sit and pass the exam. 

Individualization of exam prep

While you can use a test bank to create certain sample tests and randomize questions, it isn’t an individualized experience. Everyone gets the same questions to review for the exam. Some newer test banks allow the user to see how they’re doing in each particular exam area, but it doesn’t adapt the questions to make sure the user is focusing on their weaknesses while maintaining their knowledge in their stronger areas. 

An exam prep course is a much more individualized experience, if you get a course with adaptive learning technology. From start to finish, the course creates a CPA Exam study plan and helps you learn via written materials, video lectures, and practice questions. And, like we mentioned above, if you use one of Surgent’s CPA Exam prep courses, you get a completely personalized exam prep experience tailored to your learning style that helps you develop a strong familiarity with all of the concepts you’ll see on the CPA Exam. 

Overall best CPA Exam option

To give yourself the best chance of passing, a CPA Review Course is going to be the best option. Ultimately CPA test banks are great for a final review, but they aren’t a comprehensive learning experience and they leave it to you to decide what to focus on – potentially missing core test components. Most test takers aren’t going to be completely prepared for the exam right out of college and ideally should look for a full on review course that can customize itself and the materials on offer based on your knowledge, with adaptive technology. Plus, with tools like Surgent’s ReadySCORE, you’ll know when you’re ready to take the test instead of guessing with a test bank. 

Review courses are meant to help you pass the exam, and, because of that, some even offer pass guarantees and unlimited use. Surgent CPA Review offers unlimited access until you pass; by using the course, you have a much higher chance of passing compared to using a test bank.


Interested in exploring a review course to help you pass the CPA Exam?

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