Studying for the CPA Exam is no easy task. In addition to substantial educational requirements, obtaining the certified public accounting credential requires many hours of independent study for each of the four parts of the challenging CPA Exam for a potential CPA candidate. Since all four parts must be successfully completed within an 18-month window–and each exam covers a vast amount of content–success often hinges on the student’s ability to study efficiently using a CPA exam review course, while maintaining a work-life balance that is sustainable over many months. Unfortunately, with the CPA Exam national average pass rates sitting right around 50%, it’s clear that many students have not found the right recipe for study success that matches their learning style.

Since prospective CPA Exam candidates, accounting firms, and many other organizations want to know how to improve their CPA study materials resulting in increased CPA Exam success rates, we sat down with Surgent’s Chief Executive Officer, Evan Kramer, to get some inside information on the coming trends he sees on the horizon for CPA Exam Review courses that should bend the pass rate curve in a more positive direction.

1. Awareness of adaptive learning will grow

Approximately two years ago, Surgent became the first CPA Review course to incorporate adaptive learning technology into their software. Subsequently, the phrase “adaptive technology” quickly appeared on nearly all major course providers’ websites, though most courses provided very little in-depth information on how their adaptive technology worked. This lack of transparency among many large CPA exam prep providers made it challenging for students to distinguish among the various claims of adaptivity.

Now that so many students have experienced these “adaptive” prep courses and shared their results (or lack thereof, unfortunately) in testimonials, on third-party review sites, with colleagues at their firms, and on discussion boards, consumers have far more information. This year, students will be far better equipped to distinguish marketing hype from truly adaptive technology offered by the best CPA review courses. In turn, CPA prep course providers that don’t already do so will need to enhance their adaptive technologies to focus on improving the user experience and, ultimately, pass rates of students using their courses.

2. Broader exposure to modern instructional design will shift expectations

For many dozens of years, the exam prep landscape was filled with the same top CPA review course providers, whose courses – from MCQs, to test banks, to self-study and customer support capabilities – have largely remained the same (despite some marketing claims that suggest otherwise). In large part because the industry has remained relatively unchanged, national average pass rates, as reported by the AICPA, have stayed consistently around the 50% level.

But students coming out of college now are far more likely to have been exposed to adaptive learning models within their study materials and non-linear, competency-based instructional design. This, coupled with preferences leaning toward more bite-sized, digestible CPA exam study content to help reduce study time, will drive students to seek newer alternatives beyond the current study materials on the market, more in line with their academic experiences and preferences as consumers.

3. Number of supplementary CPA Exam prep products will grow

Older generations of CPA Review courses consisted primarily of textbooks, video and audio lectures, simulation samples, and MCQs. Though providers have moved these primary course elements online and often expanded the number of questions in their CPA exam test banks and types of questions in line with the CPA Exam changes, most haven’t expanded course options too much beyond these items.

The new generation of students expects more–and, in fact, the exam has changed to demand higher levels of analysis–making these change in the course materials more critical than ever. Such changes would include features that make the learning experience more interactive, more gamified, and easier to fit into what often incredibly busy, and on-the-go lives.

We expect to see study options emerge including more diagnostics that will help students gauge their progress far more easily and more often during their studies, both in terms of their individual achievement and also in comparison to the performance of successful peers. This type of performance comparison of an individual to other students–including at the individual multiple choice question level–will help keep students focused on learning goals and success metrics, rather than getting too comfortable with routines or succumbing to rote memorization.

In addition, expect more mobile-friendly study options to emerge so students can more easily study on-the-go, including study tips and study planners. This trend will go hand-in-hand with the creation of more nano or bite-sized content, such as video lectures, audio lectures, and the creation of mobile apps complimentary to respective CPA course reviews, so students can utilize these study materials to effectively turn 20-30 minutes of downtime into a study session.



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Carolyn Rivera is Surgent’s Social Media Associate, overseeing the growth of the company’s social media presence for all brands, as well as creating content for an upcoming informational and community forum website. She is a master’s student of media studies and production at Temple University.