Most exam prep providers offer a guarantee with their materials, but not all guarantees are created equal and not all guarantees are designed with you, the candidate, in mind. Let’s take a look at one specific guarantee that is currently offered by a major CPA materials provider (with identifying information removed):

To qualify for [the pass guarantee] and get a tuition refund, a student must meet ALL of the following requirements:

  1. The student must register and pay full tuition (less applicable scholarships and discounts) for the entire four-part course. Students enrolled in individual course sections may not participate in the money-back guarantee program.
  2. The student must achieve a [score] of at least 75 in each section of the course.
  3. The student must complete a full practice exam in each section of the course and achieve at least a 75 on each exam.
  4. The student must start and test for each CPA Exam section within four months and must take all four sections of the CPA Exam within 18 months.
  5. If a student fails all four parts of the CPA Exam and would like to claim a refund of tuition, the student must send all four score reports to [company address] within ten days of the final score release. Students who pass one or more parts of the exam are not eligible for a refund.

Let’s take a look at this guarantee in a little more detail.

  1. You have to purchase the entire 4-Part course and the guarantee is not available with the purchase of a single Part. In other words, you have to give the provider a lot of money up front to buy the entire course.
  2. Achieving a 75% score in each Section is a reasonable requirement, but it is not clear what exactly is included. Is it only MCQs? Does it include essays and TBSs (and if so, who grades them)?
  3. Achieving a 75% score on the practice exam is also a reasonable requirement. However, how many practice exams are there? How many attempts do you get to pass the practice exam(s)?
  4. These are pretty significant time constraints, without any room for delays. While there is also an 18 month time limit for passing all of the CPA exams set by the AICPA, this time limit starts from when you pass your first part. Therefore, the AICPA gives you 18 months to pass the remaining three exams, but the guarantee only gives you 18 months to pass all four exams.
  5. Here is the real “gotcha.” In order to be eligible for the guarantee, you have to fail all four Parts. If you pass even a single Part, you are not eligible for a refund. Furthermore, you have to physically mail the results to their office within 10 days, which could be complicated and/or expensive for students outside of the US. Additionally, the guarantee only gives you back your money that you paid for the materials. This means that you still need to pay for new materials and pay to take the exams again.

The way that this Guarantee is structured, if you take the first three Parts and fail, it is in your best interest to deliberately fail the fourth exam rather than risk passing it and not being eligible for the guarantee. In fact, it might even make financial sense if you fail the first two exams to just fail the other two. This doesn’t make any sense; a guarantee should never provide a financial incentive to fail. It is also not clear if you get to keep the course if you fail all four Parts, but why would you want to?

A review provider’s guarantees are an important consideration when purchasing materials, so be sure to read the guarantees closely and decide if the guarantee is designed with you, a candidate who wants to pass and is looking for a provider to help them in that process, in mind. The more requirements that there are, the more you would be right to be concerned about the quality of the materials. A restrictive Pass Guarantee is just a marketing gimmick that does not add any value to your studies or help you pass the exams.

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