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Buying guide for Best CPA prep books

Certified public accountants (CPA) are always in demand, and the field is slated to grow quickly over the next decade. These professionals usually have good job stability and comfortable salaries, plus they never have to pay to have their taxes done. But in order to become a CPA, you have to pass a comprehensive four-part exam. It requires a lot of study, but with the help of a good CPA prep book, you can set yourself on the path to success.

Every book claims to be the best study resource, so it can be difficult to know which to believe. A good CPA prep book covers each section of the exam in detail and offers sample questions and test-taking strategies to help you improve your odds of success.

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The CPA exam is a computer-based test and requires basic spreadsheet and word processing skills.

What is the CPA exam?

The CPA exam is a thorough examination of all the key concepts and laws that you must know in order to succeed as a CPA. All 50 states require aspiring CPAs to pass this nationally standardized exam in order to begin practicing. You must also usually meet education and work experience requirements in order to earn your license.

Unlike most professional certification exams, you don’t take the CPA exam all at once. Instead, you take each of the four sections individually, so you can study for them one at a time. You must pass all sections within 18 months in order to earn your license.

What does the CPA exam cover?

The CPA exam includes four sections:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

  • Regulation (REG)

  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

Each section is broken down into five “testlets.” Two of these always have multiple-choice questions.

  • AUD, FAR, and REG: These sections also have three task-based simulation (TBS) testlets. These sections require you to demonstrate your understanding of the important concepts in real-world scenarios you might encounter on the job.

  • BEC: This section includes two TBS testlets and a final written communication testlet that measures your knowledge and business writing skills.

How is the CPA exam scored?

Pass/fail: Each section of the CPA exam is scored individually on a pass/fail basis. You must pass all sections in order to pass the exam. If you fail a single section, you are only required to retake that section, provided that you pass all four sections within 18 months.

Scaled scores: For each section, you’re given a scaled score from 0 to 99. The passing score is 75. These numbers do not indicate the number of questions that you got right. Rather, they are scaled scores calculated based on the difficulty of each question. This means that you get more points for answering a difficult question correctly than you do for an easy question. This strategy is designed to ensure that the passing grade represents an equal level of knowledge across all versions of the exam, even if one version is slightly easier or harder than the next.

CPA prep book features to consider

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to studying, so they will all need something slightly different from their CPA prep book. Here are a few things that all good study guides should have.

Diagnostic exam

It’s always a good idea to begin with a diagnostic exam. This will help to show you what you already know and which areas you may need to review a little further. A good CPA prep book will have you begin with a diagnostic exam or offer several practice tests so you can use one as a diagnostic test.

Knowledge review

Your CPA prep book should cover each section of the exam in detail. There’s so much material to go through that it’s common for prep books to come in sets of four – one for each section of the exam. The best books will also incorporate visuals and real-world examples to help you see how the important concepts play out in practice.

Test-taking strategies

Many authors of CPA prep books have developed their own techniques for how to approach certain types of questions and eliminate incorrect answers. They teach you these strategies in addition to the core knowledge to help you feel more prepared. Not everyone finds these strategies useful, but they can be especially helpful if you find yourself struggling with one particular type of question.

Sample questions

As you proceed through your CPA prep book, you may come across sample questions at the end of each topic. These can be a great way to test your comprehension and familiarize yourself with the types of questions you can expect to see on the real exam.

It’s important that these sample questions adequately reflect the difficulty of the real exam, or you could be in for a surprise when you sit down for the test. The best way to know if the questions are of similar difficulty is to read reviews of the book written by people who have already taken the exam.

You also want to make sure that the book provides detailed explanations for each sample question rather than simply telling you the correct answer. It’s important that you understand why a certain answer is right or wrong if you want to improve your knowledge.

Full-length practice tests

While some CPA prep books include short quizzes at the end of a section, this is not an adequate substitute for a full-length practice test. Full-length tests give you a chance to test not only your knowledge but also your time-management skills, which are just as crucial to success.

The multiple-choice sections of the CPA exam are computer adaptive, meaning that the question difficulty adjusts as you go based on your previous answers. The best practice tests will also be delivered in this format, so you can get a sense of how it works. The book may include a link to a web portal or a DVD where you can take these exams.

Supplemental study materials

Some CPA prep books include supplemental materials like flashcards or a link to an online web portal with videos to help you reinforce the important concepts in other ways besides just reading a textbook. Not everyone will need or use these materials, so you’ll have to decide for yourself how important they are.

CPA prep book prices

CPA prep books range in price from under $20 to over $400, depending on several factors, including the book format and the materials included.


Most CPA prep books are available in a print or ebook format. Ebooks are the way to go if you’re on a budget or don’t enjoy carrying heavy books around. They’re more affordable than print versions, and most of them cost less than $50.

One volume

Some CPA prep books only contain sample questions and tests while others provide a more comprehensive overview of the exam. As a general rule, the more information the book contains, the more you’ll end up paying.

Four volume

Some CPA prep books come in a four-volume set with one volume for each section of the exam. These offer you some flexibility because if you’re only struggling on a single section, you don’t need to pay for the other three volumes you don’t need. Due to the comprehensiveness of these books, they often cost close to $100 per volume.


  • Take a diagnostic test first. Before you begin studying, it’s a good idea to take a diagnostic test for each of the four sections so you can figure out which is your strongest and which is your weakest.

  • Study the hardest topic first. Consider studying for your most difficult exam section first to get it out of the way.

  • Create a study schedule. If you draw up a study schedule and try to fit in a little bit of study time every day, it will keep you accountable and on track for your test date.

  • Spend plenty of time on the task-based simulations. These are often more challenging than the multiple-choice questions because they require you to understand and use several concepts at once.
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You can take the four test sections in any order you want. Some people choose to start with the hardest section, while others go with the easiest one first.


Q. Is a CPA prep book a good alternative to a CPA prep course?

A. That depends on what type of learner you are. Independent learners who are good at staying on task will do just fine with a CPA prep book. But if you find yourself struggling with the material or you need help staying on task, you might have better luck with a prep course.

Q. How often should I take a practice test?

A. It’s a good idea to build practice tests into your study schedule. Look at the number of practice tests the book offers. Set one aside for a diagnostic exam and another for the final exam. Spread out the remaining exams at equal intervals throughout your study program.

Q. Can I use an older version of a CPA prep book?

A. This generally isn’t recommended because the exam format and the regulations governing CPAs change periodically. If you’re using an older book, you could be studying outdated information that won’t help you very much on test day.

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