Welcome to the start of your CFA journey! You are embarking on an adventure that can lead to immense benefits, both in terms of professional designation and recognition, and also personal investment acumen and edification which can help you and your loved ones manage your financial affairs with deftness and command. Do not overlook the latter benefits, as improving your economic understanding of the world just may end up yielding a higher ROI than hanging the coveted charter on the wall. So, now that we are sufficiently motivated, where to begin?
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: Start with Official CFA Prep Materials from the CFA Institute
Begin with the CFA curriculum. It is free…(well it is included with the price of exam admission for every level). Upon signing up for the first level at https://www.cfainstitute.org/en/programs/cfa/exam, you will pay the registration fee of $700 for early, or $1,000 for standard registration. This will give you access to the ebook curriculum, at bookshelf.com. You will also be able to access the candidate resources section of the CFAI webpage, which contains everything from flashcards, to online games, forums, and two complete mock CFA exams. Yes, mock CFA exams are an imperative last step in the prep process!
The reading that comes straight from the curriculum is the heaviest of all. If you think you are up for the challenge, it will sharpen your finance skills like the thin, deadly edge of a samurai sword, crafted over generations in the hottest flames with the utmost care and passion.
The curriculum is not for everyone, it is known to be the most complex, the wordiest, and the most thorough of all learning sources and many candidates will not be up for weeding through it all. If you find you look at the material and your eye’s glaze over and you get the dreaded thousand-yard stare, fear not, you can still use the curriculum to your advantage with a few adjustments, covered here shortly.
Explore Self-Paced Online CFA Prep Courses from Third Parties
Most CFA candidates go beyond the CFA institute materials and invest in some sort of third party support. Third-party online CFA course providers perform the enormous task of reading through the curriculum and understanding it well enough to distill the concepts contained therein in a simpler, more user-friendly style, as compared to the curriculum. They leverage video lessons, written CFA study notes, practice CFA questions, recommended various CFA study plans. Some even offer chat or email-based answering to your questions, generally within 24 hours. A few use artificial intelligence algorithms to customize your CFA practice. There are many well-known third-party prep providers to choose from including:
- Salt Solutions
- Bloomberg Exam CFA Prep
- Fitch Learning
- Analyst Prep
- Wiley Efficient Learning
Third-party prep providers will go easy on the heavy detail, instead of providing candidates with higher-level views of the body of knowledge. Their great value add is to distill the key concepts down and help candidates focus on the most important topics only in direct, clear language. This can be a great starting point and is often enough by itself for many candidates to pass a particular level.
If you have a deep background in finance, are not finding any of the topics particularly difficult, and tend to be highly motivated, you can certainly use one of these online CFA prep options and have an excellent chance of passing the CFA exam for which you are studying. Many of these courses cost somewhere around $500, making them a relatively inexpensive, highly useful supplement to official CFA prep materials.
A note on used materials. Searching through Amazon or used booksellers' websites can be a great way to save money. Keep in mind the curriculum does change over the years, but it does so slowly enough that even sources as old as 5 years prior can still be highly relevant. If you go with a used set of CFA prep books, make sure you create a list of what has changed since your versions were published, and make sure you cover that material at least from the curriculum readings so that you don’t miss any major topics. This should be sufficient to get you fully prepared.
Private CFA Tutoring Online
Unfortunately, CFA has a stigma attached. Some view using a private CFA tutor as a sign of weakness, meaning that you are dumb or unable to handle the material yourself, and so need a coach to explain it to you slowly, over and over. You need to get over this. Tutoring is a leg-up on the competition, and the competition is stiff. You are getting ready for the hardest set of exams in finance, arguably the hardest set of exams in existence.
Students at all levels of ability, preparedness, and motivation find immense benefits from tutoring. An experienced CFA tutor can tell you which parts of the curriculum to focus on, and which parts to know tangentially, thus saving you a lot of time.
Think of a tutor as someone who will inject a vile of efficiency into your study process. They will help you concentrate on the areas of the curriculum which are most foundational and important. They will help you figure out what you can skim over based on your background and knowledge, thus honing in on only the highest reward to effort material. Not only this, but they will also quickly help you surmount learning plateaus or sticking points, which will come up for us all. This speeds up your process, condensing many hours of study into a one or two-hour session with a tutor, and get your wheels spinning again like a high-performing finely-tuned formula one racing machine, shaving precious time off of your race to the ribbon.
Our Recommendation? Combine all Three forms of CFA Prep
The height of preparedness and exam-day confidence comes from the synergy of using all the above tools in your belt. If you use just the CFA notes, you are likely to get lost in the sea of material and spend far more time studying than you need to. If you only work with a private tutor, your experience may be far more efficient, but it will be very expensive. CFA notes + an online CFA prep course + private CFA tutoring = a winning formula for passing the CFA exams.