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Choosing the Right CPA Review Course for You

Gleim and Surgent CPA Review go head to head in our series breaking down the marketing hype around CPA Exam review courses. We put over 100 hours into researching and verifying the facts. You can use the Gleim vs Surgent CPA scorecard to perform your own analysis, too!

Gleim vs Surgent CPA Review: Background and Highlights

If you’re researching CPA Exam study materials, you’ve probably noticed that Gleim and Surgent CPA are popular options. But how do you determine which is the best CPA Review course when they all seem to have pros and cons?

You’ve probably wondered how much you can rely on opinions you read online, too. Product reviews often contradict each other, and clearly many are motivated by profit.

Armed with the right data, you CAN cut through the noise. Keep in mind four questions as you compare these two very different courses:

  1. How do you learn best?
  2. Which course has the strongest foundational features?
  3. What additional features do you need, if any?
  4. What’s the value for the price?

Let’s look at Gleim vs Surgent CPA, beginning with the highlights.

Gleim vs Surgent Scorecard

Course Features

Why it’s Important

     Gleim Exam Prep logoPremium Pro | $3,499

Ultimate | $3,799

1,100+ Task-Based Simulations Accounts for 50% of your score; the most difficult to prepare for
10,000+ Multiple-Choice Questions Can help you learn topics thoroughly
100+ Hours of Lectures Reinforces material, especially helpful for visual learners
Truly Adaptive Technology Course continuously evolves based on your progress
Live Webinars Lead by Accounting Professors Accounting webinars hosted by industry leaders and professional educators
Interchangeable Disciplines at any Time Access any discipline and switch between them as often as you like
           Free CPE Included Once you’re a CPA, you’ll have to earn CPE to maintain your certification, and we’ll make it easy
Diagnostics and Assessment Gauges progress and pinpoints weak areas
Audio Review Reinforces core concepts, accommodates busy schedules
Flashcards Helps with memorizing facts
Practice Exams Prepares you for the exam environment
Final Review Adds points to your score by fine tuning last-minute study
Access Until You Pass No expiration dates or additional fees
Mobile Course For studying on the go
Access to Personal Counsellors Your Personal Counselor is committed to your success. From start to finish, they’ll guide you, help you, and ensure you pass your CPA Exam the first time
Financing Lets you spread the cost over multiple payments
Private Study Groups A community of professionally-minded people who are also studying for the CPA Exam to aid in your studies

You can also see our detailed analysis comparing major CPA course providers in this comparison chart.

You can also see our detailed analysis comparing major CPA course providers in this comparison chart.

Different approaches

Gleim and Surgent approach CPA Exam preparation very differently.

The goal of the Surgent CPA review is to reduce your study time. This could be fine if you are already well-prepared for all parts of the exam. And it certainly sounds attractive! However, as a newer CPA Exam prep provider, Surgent simply lacks the experience to know what most people need.

The Gleim CPA Review is focused on helping you pass the first time. A lot of effort goes into ensuring you’ll have no surprises on exam day.

Dr. Gleim created the first self-study CPA Exam review 50 years ago, and today Gleim remains focused on what time has shown will prepare you to pass the CPA Exam best:

  1. A superior test bank of practice questions with the best answer explanations in the industry
  2. Strong course content
  3. A personalized approach to learning
  4. Great coaching and support

Different organization

Both Gleim and Surgent use the AICPA Blueprint to structure their outline material. However, they group topics quite differently.

Surgent organizes the material into small sections that aren’t necessarily closely related. The Surgent CPA review outline is organized for easy reference while using their practice questions, but it does not offer as much context.

Gleim breaks the material into distinct study units by topic. This organization is designed to help you understand a topic from multiple angles with explanations of the concepts, examples, background information, and tips to help you deal with the topic on the CPA Exam.

Let’s walk through the comparison of Gleim and Surgent CPA Review and take a deeper look.

How we evaluated Gleim vs Surgent CPA: our methodology

Our research team has used various components of major providers’ products before, including Surgent CPA materials. While the core essence of each provider’s product has not significantly changed since we’ve used them, most providers have since updated their look and feel, Surgent CPA included.

We wanted to make sure our analysis was as accurate and up-to-date as possible. So we set up a three-level deep investigation, doing our best to create a true comparison:

The latest version of each CPA review course

Generally, providers update their CPA Exam prep materials every year. We made sure our researchers were looking at the latest versions of both Gleim and Surgent CPA Review courses.

Comparable products

Most CPA review providers offer products at different price points. For example, you can find CPA review packages that exclude certain components at a lower cost. To keep it fair, we compared the premium systems—the ones you are most likely to consider when you’re serious about passing the CPA Exam. We compared Premium Gleim CPA Exam Review materials to the Surgent Ultimate package.

Validation by separate teams

We included three levels of review to validate our findings:

  1. First, we carefully read through Surgent CPA marketing materials to understand and document claims.
  2. Then, we had a second party go through the Surgent CPA course as a user. We updated our research to reflect any facts that came to light.
  3. Next, we handed our research off to a separate quality control team to verify it all.

All told, we put over 100 hours into comparing the best CPA review course providers, including Gleim and Surgent CPA Review.

Finally, we pulled it all together in a balanced analysis to help you weigh the options yourself.

The scorecard

We identified 14 categories of features you’ll find in many CPA review courses. These categories formed the basis for our analysis.

  1. Quantity of task-based simulations
  2. Quantity of multiple-choice questions
  3. Hours of lectures
  4. Truly adaptive technology
  5. Continuous adaptation
  6. Diagnostics and assessment
  7. Audio review
  8. Flashcards
  9. Practice exams
  10. Final review
  11. Access until you pass
  12. Mobile access
  13. Candidate support
  14. Financing

Keep in mind that some features are more important than others. We’ll explain this a little more next.

Which features are important in a CPA course?

Some features are more important than others when it comes to passing the CPA Exam. This is important to know as you compare course providers. On top of that, some features that matter to you may be different from those that matter to the next person.

For over 50 years, we have studied which elements in a course are the most critical to passing the CPA Exam. We have found that, without a doubt, high-caliber practice questions and answer explanations are the most critical variable in successful preparation for the CPA Exam. Add to that strong course content and truly adaptive technology—together with great coaching and support—and you have the optimal foundation for passing.

Below we dig a little more into the review features and why each is important. We also include notes explaining how these particular features played out in our analysis of Gleim vs Surgent CPA Review.

Task-based simulations
Gleim: 1,100+ vs Surgent CPA Review: 450+

Task-based simulations (TBSs) test your ability to apply knowledge and judgment in practical situations. They are one of the most difficult parts of the CPA Exam to prepare for.

And simulations are becoming more and more important.

In recent years, the CPA Exam has moved toward including more task-based simulations, which now make up 50% of your score on all sections except BEC. The more TBS practice you can get, the better!

Gleim leads the industry with more than 1,100 task-based simulations, including over 380 sims with exhibits and more than 75 document-review simulation questions. Overall, the Gleim CPA Review includes more than double the TBSs of Surgent CPA Review.

The Surgent task-based simulations also do not follow the CPA Exam format. This greatly lessens the value of practicing with Surgent simulations.

  • There are few simulations with exhibits and exhibits are presented differently than they will be on the actual exam.
  • The authoritative literature from Surgent does not mirror the AICPA.
  • The Surgent CPA review answer cells and workspace have not been updated for the new AICPA format.

While each of these factors may seem minor, every minute you spend adjusting to the AICPA format is one less minute you have to answer the simulations. And when it comes to passing the CPA Exam—every minute counts.

Make sure you study up on the value of a provider’s TBSs, because this is one area you can’t afford to skimp on. The Gleim CPA Review course puts a lot of effort into preparing you for simulation questions. You practice in a realistic environment that’s as close as you can get to the exact setup you’ll experience on test day.

Some CPA review courses provide a sample of their TBSs that you can check out before you purchase. You can sample TBSs in the Gleim CPA Review free demo.

The Gleim Review System is very easy to navigate, and the Task-Based Simulations are very close to the real exam in terms of content.

Denis Neves de Paula

Multiple-choice questions
Gleim: 10,000+ vs Surgent CPA Review: 6,000+

The sheer number of questions in a test bank is important—as long as the questions are high quality. The CPA Exam can test on 229 topics that break down into roughly 600 representative tasks. No one knows what the actual questions will be, so you have to know them all.

With a smaller test bank and fewer practice questions, you miss opportunities to learn material as thoroughly and are more likely to run into repeated questions. With large test banks, you can run into duplicate questions—look out for questions repeated with only the numbers changed.

Another fact related to test banks: Did you know that several CPA review providers share the same basic collection of practice questions? That’s right, many popular CPA Exam self-study courses draw from the same source. Aside from concerns over outdated questions, this can really reduce the value of one course over another.

The best MCQ test bank will contain a lot of questions, and each question should teach you something new. Answer explanations can be a very powerful learning tool. (Hint: this is the principle behind the success of the test bank in the Gleim CPA Review.)

Gleim’s MCQ test bank is widely recognized as a major factor in helping candidates pass the CPA Exam. It includes over 10,000 original and adapted questions complete with detailed answer explanations. Thousands of those are questions released by AICPA.

The Surgent CPA Review includes approximately 6,000 MCQs. In fact, Gleim includes more AICPA-released questions than Sugent has total questions.

All the [Gleim] questions come with detailed explanations for the right answers and why wrong answers are wrong, which truthfully is what helped the most.

Jonathan Morera

Video lectures
Gleim: 400+ 5-30 min. videos vs Surgent CPA Review: 700+ 5-15 min. videos

Video lectures give you one more way to absorb and reinforce key study material. If you’re a visual learner or if you’ve been out of school for a while, this may be especially important to you.

Gleim includes over 400 in-depth video lectures by several leading professors. Professors combine the lectures with anecdotes and onscreen examples for an experience similar to a university accounting class. The Surgent CPA review offers a large number of PowerPoint presentation style videos, simultaneously showing the presenter and presentation slides.

Realistic practice exams
Gleim: YES vs Surgent CPA Review: NO

Taking practice exams gives you confidence that you know the material. They can also help you get familiar with the test format and functionality.

Almost every CPA review course includes practice exams. However, not all look and function the same as those you’ll have on test day.  Gleim offers two types of practice exams: Full-length, realistic mock CPA Exams and unlimited, customizable practice exams.

While Surgent offers unlimited practice tests, the simulations do not accurately reflect the AICPA exhibits, workspace, or authoritative literature.

Gleim makes sure every facet of its practice test interface looks and works just like the one you’ll see at Prometric when you sit for the real CPA Exam. We’ve heard from many CPA candidates that they appreciated getting used to the calculator in Gleim’s practice exams, for example, because it was just like the one they used on test day.

Make sure the provider you select helps you experience the Prometric CPA Exam interface as closely as possible, so you’re not thrown off by these details on test day.

The [Gleim] practice test questions were just like the exam questions, training me on how to weed out unnecessary information and to focus on what information I needed to quickly find the answer.

Tracy Caisse

Access Until You Pass
Gleim: YES vs Surgent CPA Review: YES

No one goes into the CPA Exam expecting to fail, but the low pass rates show that many still do.

When comparing providers, be careful to read the fine print. Some CPA review course providers may only give you limited-time access to their products. If this time expires, you need to pay more to continue to use it.

With Access Until You Pass® from Gleim, you can continue to use the materials as long as you need to. Surgent CPA also offers its own version of this guarantee. Both providers include free updates to the study materials as they are released during the time you are using the review course.

Gleim: YES vs Surgent CPA: Limited

Self-study can be isolating. The best CPA review systems include support to help you get to the finish line. This can include phone, live chat, and email support to help keep you motivated, answer subject matter questions, and assist with any tech support questions when using study materials.

Gleim CPA Review includes three types of support:

  1. Personal Counselors help you set a study plan, encourage you to stay on track, and guide you through your exam process—from registration to score reports.
  2. Accounting experts help you with questions regarding the material and continually update material to ensure it is always clear, concise, and accurate.
  3. Technical support staff offer assistance with course set up and troubleshoot any errors you encounter during your CPA Exam study time.

Surgent CPA does include support, but it is limited to three 30-minute sessions with a Success Coach and four hours of virtual tutoring.

The Gleim materials and counselors were wonderful! I was especially pleased with the customer service. I primarily dealt with my Personal Counselor who was very friendly and offered good advice throughout the process. His guidance, especially during the final prep week, had a significant impact on my ability to pass the exams.

Melanie Geschwind

I was thoroughly impressed with the content of the study materials and how well it prepared me for the actual CPA examinations! I chose to utilize the Gleim study materials because the cost was so affordable in comparison to other review packages in the market.

Larvizo Wright

Adaptive technology
Gleim: YES vs Surgent CPA: YES

A truly adaptive system is like a personal tutor. It tailors course material to your specific study needs. When a CPA review system is adaptive, no two study experiences will be the same. It serves you the content you need to improve your score automatically.

Both Gleim and Surgent CPA review courses are adaptive. The biggest difference is in how the systems deal with material once you’ve mastered it.

Gleim SmartAdapt™ understands when you’ve mastered a topic and will go lightly on those topics during future study sessions. But it also circles back to previously covered material occasionally to make sure you maintain that knowledge.

Surgent’s adaptation system removes content from your course of study once you achieve a good score on that topic. It may well skip subtopics entirely and allow you to omit entire sections of the course. This results in reduced time studying. But what if you forget material? As you continually study new topics, your mastery of previous material is likely to degrade. The Surgent adaptive learning system will not account for this.

CPA Exam Adaptive Study
Gleim vs Surgent CPA Scorecard

Adaptive Features

Gleim Exam Prep logo

Surgent CPA

Guides your study You will be expertly guided by our artificial intelligence system through all the learning and testing modules. The guidance via suggested content each time you log in and section scores.
Provides reinforcing check-up questions Throughout your studies, the Gleim course will supply you with questions on topics from earlier Study Units to help you maintain your understanding of previous topics. System does not help you to reinforce what you’ve learned in previous lessons, nor take into account that you might forget material over time.
Offers an adaptive study planner The course offers a personalized study planner; however, it is not adaptive. The study planner is adaptive and corresponds at a basic level to the work completed in your course.
Identifies weak areas down to the subtopic level v. general overview The course will drill down to granular topic levels and highlight all areas on which you are weak. The course provides feedback at the granular level.
Includes practice exams Full-length, exam-emulating mocks exams are available. You will be provided with a general practice exam.
Supplies a point-boosting final review A final review is provided that will reinforce your understanding of already mastered topics. The course serves practice exams as the final review.

See adaptive learning technology compared across all the top CPA Review course providers.

Do you really need adaptive technology?

Taking the CPA Exam is a big investment. You want to choose the study course that gives you the greatest advantage.

But do you really need adaptive technology? Think of it this way: You’ll have one less thing to worry about if your CPA Exam Review picks out your study topics each session automatically. That’s actually a pretty big deal.

We all like to think we can pinpoint our weaknesses and strengths. But humans by nature like to focus on things we know and avoid those we don’t. Adaptive technology directs you where you need to study—you don’t even have to think about it.

If you have the chance to use a system that automatically tells you what you need to work on, it’s a no-brainer. Just go ahead and remove the uncertainty.

Adaptive technology in the Gleim CPA Review guides you to the material you need to study to improve your weak areas. It takes out the guesswork and efficiently drills down to the topics you need to practice, resulting in a course that’s uniquely personalized to your needs.

Sure, it’s harder to focus on the things you don’t know. But it’s also more effective.

See adaptive learning technology compared across all the top CPA Review course providers.

Final score: Gleim 14 vs Surgent 10

In the final breakdown of CPA course features on our scorecard, Gleim scores 14 to Surgent’s 10.

As you consider which CPA Exam prep course is the best fit for you, first identify the features that will set you up for success. Only you know your study style and needs.

Then you can use the list above to compare features across providers and consider any additional must-haves. Finally, look at the value—are you getting what you expect for the price?

Want more help choosing the best CPA review course provider for you? Talk to us today! (Yes, you can talk to a real person!)


And that number is rising quickly thanks to Gleim CPA's significant advantages over the competition. Now it's your turn to pass using the only CPA review course with everything you need for success.