4 Avoidable Mistakes When Buying CFA Exam Study Materials

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By Mike and Zee

Choosing your CFA exam materials provider can be a big part of whether you pass or fail. Deciding who your CFA exam ‘teacher’ will be can be as influential to your chances of passing as the amount of effort you put in,  having a killer study plan, or knowing what practice exam scores you should be targeting.

We’ve been helping thousands of CFA exam candidates pass their exams for nearly 10 years, and we’ve been able to personally follow their journey, share their frustrations, celebrate their achievements… and learn from their mistakes. When choosing and CFA exam materials, there are several common mistakes that CFA exam candidates make – mistakes that you can easily correct.

In this article we’ll cover these mistakes, how they affect your pass chances, and how you can avoid them. Onward!

Mistake #1: Buying outdated, second-hand materials

The CFA exam curriculum is updated every year, so if you’re working with past years’ materials, you’re not getting 100% coverage of your exam’s curriculum. The differences from year to year aren’t large, but in our opinion, working with curriculum differences while you prepare for the CFA exam is not worth the cost savings. Given how many people fail the exam each year, chances are the extra advantage will be important to most candidates in passing the exam.

Some providers (like Wiley) publish a summary of curriculum changes, but speaking from experience, it is quite a hassle to keep track of the relevant and outdated topics as you study for the CFA exam. I did it once for my Level II exam and failed. I threw up my hands, got the latest material for my retake, and passed. I’m not saying that’s the only reason why I passed, but having the latest materials definitely helped.

Mistake #2: Not spending the right amount on materials

Similarly to buying outdated materials, not spending enough on materials can also be a fatal mistake to CFA exam candidates. This is especially true if candidates try and save on practice exams or question banks. Saving money at this point is false economy as you will end up spending even more if you fail (along with wasting another year studying for the same level).

There is now a wide variety of learning formats on offer, books, apps, question banks, adaptive quizzes and so on. We’re not saying that you should go crazy and get all of them. Don’t spend on bells and whistles you don’t need. But definitely get what you do need and don’t shy away from paying for it.

The cost of each CFA level of course depends on how much you spend, but it is also strongly influenced by your pass chances as well. Failing is a sure-fire way to drive your costs up, so be sure to get the materials you need and don’t risk your pass chances for the sake of saving a bit of money.

Mistake #3: Not suiting your materials to your study style

If you’ve registered for the CFA exams, chances are you’re no stranger to studying for tough exams and have an idea of how your study style is like – whether you prefer to study from books, electronically, apps, video lectures, audiobooks, etc. The CFA exam is not the best time to try new formats. Suit your own study style.

For my Level II exam I was lucky enough to get all my materials sponsored by my company, so I decided to splurge on the latest, greatest, premiumest packages, which included hours of video lectures. Video lectures are something I’ve never really used, but I did remember that I suck at paying attention at real lectures. Nevertheless, the video lectures cost a lot, so they should help me a lot, right? It took me about halfway through the syllabus to finally admit that I also suck at learning from video lectures and stuck with books, practice exams and question banks. And it wasn’t just money I spent – I wasted a lot of time having to catch up after giving up on video lectures.

That’s not to say that video lectures won’t work for you – it’s just different for each candidate. Choose materials that suit your study preferences the best.

Mistake #4: Not checking for early-bird discounts, offers, trials, or pass guarantees

CFA exam materials can be pricey. So it makes sense to be sure that you’re getting the best price when you’re buying it.

If you can, always try and buy your materials early. Many providers offer ‘early-bird’ discounts, usually about 10-30% off usual prices if you commit to buy earlier in the exam cycle. Typically early-bird discounts are offered by providers between the first and second CFA exam registration deadlines.

Even when it’s not early-bird-discount season, there’s usually some providers running discounts or free trials – it definitely pays to shop around. And if you’re concerned about ‘wasting’ your money if you fail, many providers these days offer a ‘pass-guarantee’ – which usually means that you can get a refund or free materials for the next exam cycle if you genuinely studied for the exam and did not pass.

You can also get the latest discounts, trials and offers from reputable CFA exam material providers in our Offers section – always make sure to check there before you buy.

Got questions, or mistakes to add? Let us know in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “4 Avoidable Mistakes When Buying CFA Exam Study Materials”

  1. Totally agree with all of these. Doing the proper research is very important. You also have to assess at what level you are starting. Are you totally new to finance and economics? Do you work in a financial role already? For most people in financial roles and/or with strong finance education backgrounds, third-party summaries will probably be the optimal choice. Going with one of the “tried and tested” brands is a good way. If you have a limited finance background and/or generally struggle with accounting and financial concepts, then you may want to get extra help in the form of webinars and private tutoring (on top of summaries).

  2. Getting the wrong provider is also a big mistake. Once you realize your provider is shit, do you then get more books from another provider, or do you stick with your shitty one?


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