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CMA Online Coaching vs Live Class: Which is Better?

cma online coachingAre you thinking about taking a CMA prep course in live classes or as online self-study? There are so many different ways to study for these accounting exams and it can seem a bit overwhelming if you are researching. This is why I hope to give you the information in this post so that you can make an informed decision about online coaching or a live class for the CMA.

Here are the pros and cons, as well as my personal opinion. First, let’s take a look at the benefits to live classes.

Pros on Live CMA Classes

Some people just learn better in a classroom setting. We all learn differently and have varying learning styles. While one person may be good at self-study and keeping themselves motivated and on task, another might need a more structured environment in order to achieve the same goals. If a structured classroom environment works for you, then you may consider live CMA classes to help you prepare for the exam vs. a self-study program.

There are benefits of taking a CMA prep course in a classroom setting. Let’s take a look at them now.

First, you get to meet other candidates who can potentially be great study buddies. Next, It is easier to interact with your peers and lecturers and is especially helpful if your lecturer is able to go through the concepts with you in person.

Third, for some people, it is easier to focus and pay attention when in a live classroom setting. You can take notes, and many people absorb the information better in this type of setting.  Now, let’s take a look at some limitations to this type of CMA study prep.


1. Quality of Lecturer Not Guaranteed

In reality, these live classes may not be as ideal as one might imagine. First of all, it is not easy to actually form study groups with fellow students, because of various commitments. In addition, people just don’t know (and trust) each other in the first place.

This comes from the first-hand experience when I attended a live class for my CPA exam, as well as from numerous readers asking for help in getting study buddies when they are already taking a local class. It’s the type of thing you spend more time trying to organize than you do actually benefitting from it.

More importantly, the quality of the lecturer is not guaranteed. Most of these live classes use CMA prep course materials from major providers (mostly Wiley, but also Hock and Gleim) and hire people as lecturers. You don’t know that the people giving the lectures are experts in the content they are teaching. They are mostly junior accountants who want to earn extra income from part-time jobs in the evening and weekend.

There are obviously some great lecturers out there, but the majority of them are – to put it bluntly – no better than you, other than the fact that they may have obtained the CMA certification a couple of years earlier.

This is a typical email I got from a reader:

Dear Stephanie, thanks for your mail. My story is very sad. I had joined CMA in Jan 2013 and till today I have failed 2 times and little bit demotivated as to how to proceed further.
Please let me know shall I proceed with X only and should not buy any other review course, or I should take coaching again from any institute and then I should sit in the exam. I had taken coaching but unfortunately I didn’t find that good and everything I had to prepare my self which I did but unfortunately failed so by changing review course I can pass?”
(X refers to an Indian coaching institute whose name is hidden for protection of its reputation)

Sometimes, instructors may even lack integrity as shown in this sharing from a reader:

Dear Stephanie

I started to study indeed because I’m planning to enter the exam in May. I was surprised that CMA topics are the same that I studied in the faculty of commerce.
Yesterday I compared the material written by our instructor (in CMA preparation course) with The Accounting Principles Book written by Weygandt Kieso Kimmel (which I took in commerce classes) . It was identical in text. It is obvious that my instructor copied and pasted that in…

Actually I regret that I didn’t study by myself. Anyway I would be pleased to be on your CMA newsletter. It makes me feel better.”

Fellow reader Yasin also left a comment asking for help, because he didn’t understand Part 1 concepts even after taking a local private coaching class. Yasin is not alone. This is so common and it’s one reason why I put so much time and energy into this site and creating these helpful pages for you.

I got emails and comments like this on a weekly basis. The list goes on and on. I know how hard some candidates have struggled to get properly prepared for the CMA exam and I know from firsthand experience what kind of help is out there (and what doesn’t work.

2. International Candidates: The Issue of Learning the Materials in Local Language

Now let’s look at another issue that international candidates face. One of the major reasons for students taking a live class is that the course is taught in their local language. Although I agree that it is most efficient to learn in a language you are most comfortable with, bear in mind that the US CMA exam is available in English only (except in China, where the exam is available in Mandarin). Therefore, you will have to take the exam in English.

By mixing the learning experience in two languages, you are not as familiar with the technical terms as you could be. In my opinion, by not hearing and using enough of the terms in English, you increase your disadvantage of being a non-native English speaker. This is why many international candidates cannot complete the test on time because they take too long to comprehend the questions in English. They didn’t realize this issue until the exam day. It was clearly too late.

Conclusion: Is Online Coaching or Live Classes Right for You?

There are obvious benefits to taking a live CMA class. However, you must do extensive research on the quality of the lecturer you will be getting. Do they have a passion in teaching? Do they know the materials? Do they care about their students? Or are they mediocre part-timers who try to earn a living on the side?

If you are not sure, I would stick with CMA online coaching or self-study courses, because all lecturers in the major online courses have extensive experience in both accounting and teaching, especially in professional exams.

They help people pass the CMA exam on a global basis, not just in your local community. If they don’t deliver excellent products, people (like me on this site, other bloggers, and forum members) write about it so they always work hard to maintain the good standard. There are links on these providers at the bottom of this page.

Choosing a Live Class as a Non-Native English Speaker

If you are a non-native English speaker, I understand the frustration of going through the tedious studying, and it is very tempting just to sign up for a course that would go through all materials and multiple choices in your local language.

For most candidates, this would be a mistake.

I would do the opposite and take the opportunity to immerse myself in English as much as possible. If you don’t understand the accounting terms, learn them. In addition, if it takes too long to read an English paragraph, start reading the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to improve your reading and comprehension. If writing is an issue, start writing your journal in English today.

It takes time, courage and commitment. But it’s worth it.

Improving your English ability makes sense for your short term goal (passing the CMA exam) and long-term aspiration of becoming a respected accounting professional in your country and beyond. Ultimately, the purpose of getting a US qualification such as the CMA is to improve your international profile, your mobility and chance to work anywhere in the world.

Allow me to share a story from a blogger to help you see this more clearly.

Yen Wiley CMA Review customerMy Blogger’s Experience

Find out what my blogger decided and how things worked out. Did Yen choose live coaching class or self-study at the end?

Yen is from Vietnam and joins our blogger community after completing her CMA exam in Sep 2015. Yen reflects on her 2-year journey with her posts every Thursday.

As mentioned in my last post, my goal is to write down the important decisions and milestones of my CMA journey. I hope my experience can help other candidates currently studying for the exam.

Should You Enroll in a Class or Self-Study for CMA?

Have you ever considered enrolling in a CMA class or go for self-study?

At first, I registered for the CMA course. We have to study 3 hours per day and three days per week after working hours.

Teachers maybe give students a lecture note, some tips and I can get knowledge from them faster. But please take note IF YOU GET SOMETHING EASY YOU LOSE IT EASY TOO.

From day 1, I was passionate about learning. However, my diligence did not remain long. Sometimes I couldn’t go to class because of many paperwork; I can’t leave my office on time. In fact, there are many reasons that prevent you come to the evening class.

Sometimes I present in class but not concentrate. I don’t know what the teacher was talking about. I lost my motivation, and I know that I cannot study when my brain and my body get tired. CMA became something to suffer me a lot, and I gave up after three months of studying like this.

Three months (again) get out of CMA, get out of boring evening class, and I know I must restart. This time, I decided to read Willey book by myself. In the beginning, the huge and thick book suffer me with many new words. However, this time I got over. Reading a book takes me so much time but I enjoy whenever I found out useful knowledge by myself.

That is only my experience. In fact, many students pass the CMA exam by studying for an evening class. Human is different, and we are not in the same condition. If your workload is not heavy, you don’t have the habit of reading, entering class should be the best choice for you.

Thanks for your reading,


Note from Stephanie

Hello, Yen! Your blog post is unique because you have passed the exam and your sharing is a reflection of a completed journey. It is interesting because it gives us readers a different perspective.

I especially like what you said, “IF YOU GET SOMETHING EASY YOU LOSE IT EASY TOO.” Self-study (either reading a textbook or taking an online course) is the way to go in the US. However, I believe “coaching classes” are still popular in other countries.

In these classes, the instructors often teach in the local language and give you lecture notes that suit the style of local candidates. They are trying hard to help, but what candidates didn’t realize until too late is that this is a US Exam: you cannot pass unless you read, learn, write and breathe in English for a few months.

As Yen said, there are people who pass taking evening live classes, of course, but I’ve seen too many failures among my readers. So I feel the need to speak up.

If interested, I have a more elaborate discussion here.

Do you have more questions about the CMA exam, about review courses and programs, or online coaching that I have not answered here? Please leave a comment and let me know so that I can answer it for you. My goal is to make this site as comprehensive as possible to help CMA candidates in every aspect of their CMA certification.

Further Reading: 

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.

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