CFA 101: The Standard CFA Study Strategy

CFA Study strategy
CFA Study strategy

Black and white CFA Exam study strategy

What is the standard, rule-of-thumb,  study strategy for the CFA Exams? When I began the CFA Program several years ago, I asked colleagues and acquaintances how they studied for the CFA. Searching on the internet about how to study for the CFA as a complete novice is confusing and can be overwhelming at first, which led me to survey my real-life network. The general strategy I learned of, for better or worse, is what I followed. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it might be a helpful starting point. This is what I detailed it below.

The Standard CFA Study Strategy

1. Register for the Exam

Register early to save money, whether its yours or the firm’s. Early registration also means you’ll start feeling guilty for not studying earlier on, which is ultimately a good thing ;).

2. Focus on Studying  3rd Party CFA Study Notes (from Kaplan Schweser)
Kaplan Schweser happens to be known as the gold standard. If you choose Schweser materials, you’re hitting it down the center of the fairway. With any background in finance (a finance Degree, work experience, self study, etc.), the basic Schweser Notes should be enough to prepare with, especially for CFA Level 1. I only have experience with Kaplan’s Schweser, but any ‘full study note’ type CFA product (Elan, Allen, etc) would probably be sufficient. See my Ultimate list of CFA Study Materials for links to other CFA study guide products on the market.

Why rely on a 3rd party vendor for CFA Study prep? Well, the CFA Institute provided materials aren’t the easiest reads. 3rd Party products use friendlier language and are more succinct. CFA’s materials are great reference materials, but it’s generally a lot more efficient to work through third party materials like Schweser to speed up your CFA study process.

3. Study the CFAI Ethics & CFAI Practice Questions, time permitting

The one exception to #2, is if you have time, read the CFA provided materials for the Ethics section. If I would recommend any section from the CFA Institute materials to read in full, it would be the Ethics sections. Next, time permitting, reference and complete the practice questions the CFA Institute provides in its materials. Practice questions directly from the CFA Institute use language closest to the real Exam questions. 3rd Party CFA Study note providers like Kaplan Schweser are known to have simpler, more straight forward question wordings, so it’s helpful to get some direct exposure to CFA Institute questions and terminology.

4. Month of CFA Mock Exams

Taking mock exams and completing practice exams is more important than the above #3. In the last month of studying, you should be completely focused on mock exams, practice tests, practice problems, and reviewing past CFA concepts you studied early on. You do not want to be studying new material in the last month of your studying.

The CFA Institute provides candidates with a mock exam or two each year. Try to find the mock exams they provided in past years. These may be floating on the internet, or you can ask others you pursuing the CFA. Prioritize CFA mocks over Schweser (or 3rd party) practice exams since, again, they are closer to the real, final exam.

I used to work my way through Schweser tests gradually during the week, and saved CFA Institute provided Mock Exams for full-mocks, where I abided by time limits and testing rules on a given Saturday morning.

5. Optional: Purchase the extra volume of Schweser CFA Practice Tests.

I always purchased the extra volume of Schweser practice tests. I rarely got through it all given time constraints, but I find the 4th and 5th practice test questions helpful. I never had a lack of questions at my disposal.

6. Optional: Purchase and Utilize a Question Bank (Qbank)

I used Schweser’s Qbank once. It didn’t fit well into my study groove but many other CFA Candidates swear by it. I personally preferred extra practice tests, but that was me and my study routine. Question Banks offer more flexibility when it comes to shorter CFA Exam study sessions. Also, they typically have an online tracker component to track your progress. Again, different folks different strokes. Didn’t fit my routine.

7. The CFA Study Week 

Absolutely cram the last week and focus on practice questions and practice tests to review. I highly recommend taking off the week of work before the CFA. Or, if need be, work half or partial days. Give up your social life and any alcohol consumption. Feel guilty for not studying during every waking moment. It will only help you, and remember, it’ll be over sooner rather than later. Don’t worry about your study caffeine consumption in the last month or last couple weeks.

That’s my standard study routine. I don’t feel like it deviates much from the average folks’ study plans. So if you’re lost just getting started with the CFA, hopefully this helped.