The Virtual Chalkboard

Study for the CPA exam without leaving your living room.
BY RICHARD J. KORETO

If tomorrow's CPAs involve themselves heavily in the Internet, it may be because they used the Net to become CPAs. Whether they want free tips and advice or a complete course, students are going online to prepare for the Uniform CPA Examination. The Internet can offer students an explanation of a new FASB technical pronouncement at 3:00 a.m. or give them access to an instructor who lives 1,000 miles away. A number of companies are offering online study aids, forums and virtual classrooms. A passing grade might just be a mouse click away.

A 1998 AccountingNet Online Survey of Students...
76% plan to take the CPA exam.
29% plan to work for a large firm.
62% are juniors or seniors.
54% spend at least one hour a week on the internet.

TAKE A FULL-FLEDGED CLASS
Bisk-Totaltape—a company that's betting the Internet is the way of the future for exam prep—has incorporated an online classroom into its Web site. Bisk forms virtual classes that, like traditional classes, consist of a group of students and an instructor. However, students never meet the teacher or each other face-to-face. Interaction in this online course takes place on several levels:

  • At specific dates and times, students can enter chat rooms to "converse" with instructors and other students. Faculty members have these online "office hours" for at least one hour a week at a time convenient for all students in the class. Even after the instructor has left the chat room, Bisk keeps it open as long as students are present for real-time conversations.

  • A forum-similar in structure to the AICPA Online forums and the Compuserve forums-is available at all times for posting messages for instructors and for other students: Someone can post a query at midnight, another student can respond the next morning and the first student can read the response at lunchtime. Therefore, no matter where they live, no matter what time they prefer to study, students are always part of a study group.

  • Instructors post weekly assignments on the Web site. Students complete them during the week at their convenience and e-mail them back.

The Bisk course also includes a lot of extras. It is organized as a mountain climb (see screen shot, page 99), with a passing grade at the pinnacle. Strategies posted for taking the exam include a "practice run" that helps students pinpoint their weaknesses. The "supply base" contains a variety of study and review materials as well as information on exam dates, how to contact the student's state board of accountancy and the exam's structure.

Bisk is marketing the online course program as the best of both worlds: As in a self-study course, students can study accounting at their own convenience and review the same material on the CD-ROM as many times as they need. And as in a traditional classroom course, students are given structured assignments with deadlines and can "chat" with an instructor and each other.

Students can sign up online or by phone. In addition to the online sessions, Bisk provides study guides, textbooks, video tapes and software (on floppy disks or CD-ROMs), delivered by both e-mail and postal mail. There is a six-week course for each of the four parts of the exam. The class limit is 25 students for each course, and students, most of whom take two courses at once, need to have at least a 486 multimedia computer with Windows 3.1 (or a comparable Macintosh). Bisk is so confident it is giving a money-back guarantee, with some restrictions, that students who take the course will pass the exam. For details on a series that guarantees you'll never have to get in your car to find all the information you need, go to Bisk's Web site.


OTHER OPTIONS: BIG AND SMALL
Other companies also use the Web for full or partial delivery of CPA exam information.

Resources
AccountingNet
www.accountingnet.com

AccountingStudents
www.accountingstudents.com

Bisk
www.bisk.com

Bisk Online Exam Course
www.cpaexam.com

CPAexcel
www.cpaexcel.com

Kaplan
www.kaplan.com

AccountingStudents. Run by AccountingNet, this is the first online spot students should go when preparing for the exam. Not only does it link to a variety of free and for-pay resources but it offers some original advice, too. For example, it posts a strategy checklist for answering the Uniform CPA Examination's multiple-choice questions. Most of the companies it links to offer books, guides and online courses for a price but generally have some free advice, too.

Kaplan. The folks at Kaplan, who have saved many a student prepping for the SATs, come to the rescue again. Students signed up for the standard CPA review course can, for a small sum, get "the Web option." This includes 24-hour online access to study materials, downloadable practice materials and online access to Kaplan's 28 video lessons. Kaplan also posts free online "flash cards" that test the student's accounting knowledge.

CPAexcel. This company uses the Internet to supplement computer- and text-based study materials. It offers a feature known as "tribalism": If a student is studying a specific area online, he or she can click on a button and link instantly to a CPAexcel discussion group for that area. The company also uses the Internet's ability to post information quickly to keep course content up-to-date.

Years ago, a student's television screen might have been a distraction while doing high school homework. But today the computer monitor may be the student's best chance for a CPA certificate.



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