CFA Curriculum Study Materials by CFA Institute

The definitive syllabus which the CFA exams are based from. But is it an efficient study source? Are there better alternatives?

About CFA Institute and the CFA curriculum

CFA Institute’s materials are the definitive source for the CFA exams. The exams are tested exclusively on the Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) that are outlined in their materials. If it’s not on the LOS, it can’t be tested.

So, this should obviously make the CFA curriculum the best available tools for your CFA exam preparation, right?

Not necessarily.

When the CFA program first started, the CFA Institute did not issue their own materials. Instead, they published a list of readings that candidates were supposed to use to guide their studies, using an assortment of reference books. As the CFA program grew in popularity, specialized third-party providers began offering a suite of notes specifically tailored to CFA candidates, and eventually CFA Institute began writing and publishing their own definitive curriculum.

The CFA curriculum was notoriously challenging to read and digest, especially in earlier days. To a certain extent, that makes sense – the CFA Institute’s curriculum is primarily meant to define what could be tested, rather than act as a streamlined study tool. As a source, the CFA curriculum is unbeatable, but third-party materials are usually easier to read and are ‘slimmer’, i.e. third-party providers have cut out parts that they’ve deemed less crucial in order to create a shorter set of books that candidates can better complete on time for the exam.

75% of candidates use additional material from third-party CFA providers

The CFA Institute has made great improvements on the readability and accessibility of their materials in recent years, but the material’s reputation for being difficult to read (deserved or not) remains.

Our research surveys show that about 75% of candidates used third-party providers as their main studying method. Here are some of our recommended providers:

Salt Solutions CFA: Detailed Reviews, Products & Discounts 1
Bloomberg CFA Prep: Detailed Reviews, Products & Discounts 2
Kaplan Schweser CFA: Detailed Reviews, Study Packages & Discounts 3
Uworld
CFA Curriculum: Detailed Reviews and Ratings 11

CFA Institute Curriculum: What You Get

CFA Institute materials are included with every CFA exam registration

CFA Institute study materials (electronic version) are available to all registered candidates, so it’s included in the exam registration fee.

Print versions of the CFA curriculum are available for registered candidates to purchase for US$299 plus customs/shipping fee.

However, there are also ways to save on the registration fee. CFA Institute gives out scholarships that most candidates can apply for. Read our guide on how to successfully apply for CFA Institute scholarships here.

Offers and deals by third-party CFA providers

Another way to save is to make sure you get the best deals if you’re using any third-party provider. We keep tabs on the latest offers by CFA providers such as the ones below:

Kaplan Schweser Logo Free Material
Free CFA Program Fundamentals eBook
Kaplan Schweser
Want to get a sneak peek at CFA Curriculum? This free eBook shows you how a past textbook covered the fundamentals of the CFA Curriculum so you get an idea of what the current book is like.
Free CFA Level 1 Video Demo Free Demo
Free CFA Level 1 Video Demo
Bionic Turtle
Acquire expert financial knowledge with Bionic Turtle - now including a new CFA prep program for the Level I CFA® Exam. Focus on question practice and review. Eliminate knowledge gaps. Be test ready!
Free Level 1 Beta Free Trial
Free Level 1 Beta
Salt Solutions
Intuitive scheduler keeps you focused on the most important topics. Solutions content, including high-quality video, provides in-depth insight. Sign up for our free, all-access Beta now.
CFA Curriculum: Detailed Reviews and Ratings 12

CFA Institute Curriculum: Review

Official CFA Curriculum by CFA Institute

CFA Institute Study Materials
  • The CFA curriculum is available online or in paper form:
  • As the curriculum, it goes through every LOS in definitive detail, and nothing is left out. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage – the thoroughness means you’ll cover everything, but many candidates find it too long and have difficulty understanding which topics and areas should be prioritized.
  • At the end most chapters the CFA Institute includes a set of ‘practice problems’ to test your knowledge. These questions, together with the CFA Institute topic tests and mock exams, are the closest you’ll get to the actual CFA exam questions and are insanely useful for your prep. Make sure you cover these, even if you decide to give the actual curriculum a pass.

Our top recommended providers for CFA exam materials →

Practice Questions and Mock Exams

CFA Institute Question Bank and Mock Exams

End of Chapter Practice Questions

  • Also included in the CFA Institute material are what candidates commonly refer to as ‘end-of-chapter’ (EOC) practice questions – officially referred to by CFA Institute as ‘end-of-reading practice problems’.
  • These are questions at the end of most CFA Institute curriculum readings, under a section labelled ‘Practice Problems’.
  • You should definitely not skip these questions, but making them a priority to supplement your prep. Not only are they high-quality and similar to actual exam questions, but there are a ton of them for you to practice on:
    • Level 1: 1,600+ end-of-reading practice questions
    • Level 2: 1,100+ end-of-reading practice questions
    • Level 3: 600+ end-of-reading practice questions

Question Banks

  • Your CFA Institute material also includes a question bank in addition to the end-of-reading practice problems:
    • More than 1,100 practice questions for Level 1
    • More than 400 practice questions for Level 2
    • More than 400 practice questions for Level 3

Mock exams

  • CFA Institute also includes mock exams in their material, which should be at the top of your priority list of mock exams to complete before your actual CFA exam.
  • CFA Institute currently includes with their materials:
    • three mock exams for Level 1
    • two mock exams for Level 2
    • one mock exam for Level 3

You can easily get more practice material, but choose a good provider

CFA Institute questions are definitely the ones to complete, but often more practice is needed. There are lots of study providers that offer practice questions, but quality varies so it’s important to choose a provider with a stellar reputation for good practice questions.

300Hours has thousands of ratings on all top CFA exam providers, which includes ratings specifically by practice questions, so you can compare and decide which provider to choose:

Uworld
Salt Solutions CFA: Detailed Reviews, Products & Discounts 4
Bloomberg CFA Prep: Detailed Reviews, Products & Discounts 5
Kaplan Schweser CFA: Detailed Reviews, Study Packages & Discounts 6

The CFA Learning Ecosystem (LES)

CFA Curriculum: Detailed Reviews and Ratings 13

CFA Institute’s online learning platform for the CFA exams is called the Learning Ecosystem, or LES. The latest version of this online platform is well-featured, although complaints of reliability and downtime during the weekends persist.

The CFA LES is divided into the sections below:

Study Plan

The Study Plan section lays out a recommended approach to studying for your upcoming CFA exams. There are two kinds of study plans that you can choose:

  • Structured Plan: Go through the curriculum, reading-by-reading, as laid out by CFA Institute.
  • Adaptive Plan: Offers a personalized path through the curriculum. This is determined by factors including practice question performance and the importance of each reading. After taking an ‘adaptive assessment’, your recommended plan will be prioritized specifically to your strngthes and weaknesses.

Lessons

The Lessons tab is the core curriculum – all the reading material that defines your CFA exam curriculum. As you read through the material, several features are available:

  • Confidence Levels: You can mark your confidence levels as you go through each page to help later revision. This will also be highlighted in the Lessons table of contents.
  • Notes: You can take your own study notes as you go along, summarizing what you’ve learnt in your own words. Every note you take will contain a quick link to the original source material for easy reference.
  • Bookmarks: Adding a bookmark simply flags that section, in case you would want to be able to easily recall it later.
  • Highlights: A good old fashioned highlighting tool.

Flashcards

CFA Institute Learning Ecosystem Flashcards

The Learning Ecosystem also comes with premade flashcards that you can test yourself on. You can also print out all the flashcard material in a listed format for offline reading.

Practice

This is CFA Institute’s question bank. You get:

  • More than 1,100 practice questions for Level 1
  • More than 400 practice questions for Level 2
  • More than 400 practice questions for Level 3

Mock Exams

In the Mock Exams tab, you’ll get access to:

  • three mock exams for Level 1
  • two mock exams for Level 2
  • one mock exam for Level 3

You should prioritize these mocks as these will be the closest experience to the CFA exam as you’ll get.

Game Center

An interesting curiosity, the Game Center offers several simple games that involve quizzing you with the flashcard materials. These involve variations on pick-the-right-card or match-the-cards themes – not Game-of-the-Year material, but there is a live scoreboard so if you fancy having some niche bragging rights, go right ahead.

Discussions

Discussions in the Learning Ecosystem are really a comment system for the curriculum. Throughout the curriculum, you can add comments that can be read and replied to by all candidates. These comments can be seen at the end of each curriculum page – you can ask or answer questions or discuss a particular point in the reading.

CFA Learning Ecosystem on mobile

There’s no app, but the entire Learning Ecosystem is accessible on mobile. The mobile implementation is pretty useable, so as long as you have a stable internet connection, you’ll be good to study on the go.

CFA Curriculum: Detailed Reviews and Ratings 14

CFA Institute Curriculum: Candidate Ratings

Overall rating (360)4.0 ★
Level 14.2 ★
Level 23.8 ★
Level 33.4 ★
Study materials ▾3.1 ★
Classes, courses and videos ▾N/A
Practice questions and mocks ▾3.6 ★
Online platform and apps ▾3.3 ★

Review Filters

★★★☆☆ Good
Camille Khairallah • Level 1

I have really relied on the main curriculum content as the terms and definitions are word-to-word similar to what can be tested on. I also relied a little on Kaplan Schweser for a few parts that I felt I knew, but wanted to get a quick recap on. I feel that overall a student should really invest proper time in exam preparation as it certainly helps in achieving higher grades. 300H does an amazing job summarizing all the tips and pointing the students in the right directions but nonetheless, it is up to each student to invest time and money into their preparation materials. Overall I believe a combination of all what I mentioned above helped me pass as it boosted my confidence.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Rori Cooney • Level 1

I feel that the CFA Institute materials provided the best practice questions to use when preparing for the exam. The readings went more in depth than necessary but I think that is a benefit which allows for a deeper understanding of the material for those willing to put in the time to read the entire curriculum. I will be using the CFA Institute materials for Level 2 as well.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Meredith Wickes • Level 1

The official curriculum obviously contains everything required in the exam, however it contains TOO much information. It was quite challenging coming from someone who does not hold a degree in the finance-related field trying to learn all of it by myself.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Ngoc Minh Anh Bui • Level 1

CFA Institute curriculum provided me with the full context and understanding of the subjects which help with solving abstract information and questions required linked knowledge and many calculation steps.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Fremont Blastock • Level 1

I’ve studied CFA official curriculum and when in doubt, referred L1 free videos of IFT. Solving questions and mocks (CFA site) helped me a lot in passing this exam.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Tan ruiming, Charles • Level 1

The materials were lengthy but covered every aspect that could be tested. The hefty online test bank was also vital in checking my understanding of the material.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Nichole Stoney • Level 1

Curriculum in itself was self sufficient for all the topics. It has been drafted with just the right amount of practice questions.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Giovanna Guitel • Level 1

Very good and comprehensive materials, with lots of examples and Q&A. There is a need for some review notes for the weeks leading up to the exam which would greatly ease your work. Also, the study notes should be more easily accessible from other devices. I read a lot on my Kindle but there is no possibility to access the VitalSource Bookshelf from Kindle.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Geff • Level 3

The CFA Institute includes way too much verbage/information. They need to do a better job of being more concise and only providing information that is relevant to the test. They have a habit of trying to include material that is not useful in the studying process.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Faunie Kells • Level 1

CFA Institute material is quite detailed and would take time to read the entire LOS. It does help with the question sets at the end of each chapter. Also helpful is the mock question paper made available to all the registered students.
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★★☆☆☆ Fair
Rc • Level 3

Topic based tests and mock exams are very helpful. An interactive app would be great for on the go reading, highlighting and notes taking. Suggest including video courses and audio learning to supplement the study notes.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Pablo • Level 1

CFA providers ensure you to have all the materials to succeed in the pursuit of the title.

Kaplan Schweser (and others) are suitable for those who don’t have time to study by their own regularly, but for those who have plenty of time, CFA Institute materials should be more than enough.


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★★★★☆ Very Good
charlie • Level 1

I only used the CFA Institute provided material which was very long and wordy, but still got me through the first exam. It would have been nice to have more practice exams though.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Saurabh • Level 1

Too much material to study. Quick-learn summaries would have helped a lot more, but I understand that CFA Institute would optimize for learning thoroughness, not learning efficiency. So maybe I should have used a 3rd party provider…
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★★★☆☆ Detailed. May need condensing by others
Emerson Larkworthy • Level 1

CFA Institute really provides candidates with an extremely detailed overview of the material; however, if you started studying late, it’s a great idea to get another provider who can help condense the material for you!
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★★★☆☆ Close to actual exam
Bri • Level 1

Practice and mock exam questions were closely related to the actual questions asked in the final CFA exam. The answer explanations were informative and easy to comprehend. Study notes were a great read.
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★★☆☆☆ Very little assistance given apart from the standard material
SFESmith • Level 1

It is long-distance learning, so I understand that you need to take this in your own stride and personal capacity. But there is VERY little in the form of assistance or support.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Dweinstein • Level 1

The CFA material gives the bare minimum on answers to practice tests and often explains things in confusing way. Boo.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Adhiraj • Level 1

The lack of summaries, poor navigation in the mock tests, as well as the practice questions application didn’t help.
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★★★★★ Did everything, and passed!
Brad Greeson • Level 1

I diligently read ALL of the chapters in every book. I also completed all of the practice questions and then examined the ones that I got incorrect. I thought that this gave a very good knowledge base. Combining this with the Secret Sauce and a Kaplan Live Test is what helped me pass Level 1.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Neha • Level 1

For Level 1, I used CFA Institute as my sole prep provider. Thankfully, the CFA Institute books and repetition of practice questions help me pass the exam 🙂
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★★★★☆ Thorough content
Ashia Gleave • Level 2

Prepared me well for CFA Level 2. The contents were very exhaustive, some level of summarization for lengthy topics could have been very helpful.
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★★★★☆ needs to be more summarized
estelle • Level 1

Not summarized enough.
Must have a bit of knowledge before reading the material, otherwise too complicated, not very didactic.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
dimon84 • Level 1

I think the official CFA Institute curriculum is totally sufficient for CFA Level 1.
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★★★★★ Needs more summaries
JohnnyFinance • Level 1

CFA Institute materials are comprehensive but somewhat overwhelming. A more brief summary and equation sheet would be welcome.
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★★★☆☆ Good
JohnnyFinance • Level 2

CFA Institute materials are comprehensive but somewhat overwhelming. A more brief summary and equation sheet would be welcome.
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★★★★☆ Helpful for those new to Finance
AvatarAng • Level 1

Good material, and in-depth explanations for every topic starting with the basics, which helps people who are new to finance.
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★★★★★ Best available stuff
Tiphani Voyce • Level 1

CFA Institute’s review material is the best available. Practice questions on every topic, and plenty of review material.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Adhiraj • Level 2

I wish the content was more concise. Also, the lack of summaries didn’t help.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Jared Gammade • Level 2

CFA Institute’s material is the best available. Practice questions on every topic and plenty of review material.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Shreya Mittal • Level 1

The study material provided by CFA Institute is really good – provided you have enough time to go through them.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Barbara Dimitrijevic • Level 1

It was good. I thought the CFA textbooks were enough to prepare for the exam.
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★★★☆☆ Good
DigitalFinWizard • Level 1

The Chartered Financial Analyst Institute offers the definitive CFA exam study material. It is their curriculum they are testing during the real exam, so you cannot get more official or original than their own material.

That said, there are few if any pointers for answering questions, repetition in practice problems, interpreting academic statements, measuring your progress, giving encouragement, etc. So you are a little bit “left on your own” in comparison to other additional study material and course options from 3rd party companies.

Despite the gloomy outlook on spending months in a chair trying to read through the large stack of books, I think the CFAI book chapter/section questions and online practice quizzes are among the highest value for candidates to use. They are available with your CFAI test registration so they are a sunk cost already, you might as well use the already paid for free official practice material.

If you think you will only use CFAI material, I caution you to also buy a question bank to hammer through to at least get more practice answering questions, as opposed to just reading. The real exam is not a big reading test; it is a test of solving questions. Don’t make the mistake of trading practice problems for more reading. It is often better to trade extra reading off and opt to fill your available time with more practice questions.

If you are really stuck and always get your practice problems wrong in a particular area, then look up in the book for official answers, or use some forums to find someone who had the same trouble and they know where in the book to look for official interpretations. The official material is the best at lengthily expounding testable concepts. If that is what you need, then CFAI books will be more help. I confess I only did this a handful of times as I had access to other material that is easier to use and got my question answered faster so I could move on to another concept.

Don’t forget to use their mock exams and practice quizzes early, like completed a month before the test so you know what to work on during the last month. You should look at using CFAI material as a requirement, but the extent you rely on the books can be traded with other explanatory or enlightening concept teaching options. Definitely answer all their “in-book” and online practice questions and quizzes.


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★★★★★ Excellent
Paz A. • Level 1

300hours is easy to handle, clear and great for beginners of CFA exams. The best guide I’ve found so far.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Vish • Level 1

Minimal documentation for beginners, should add more practice papers.
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★★★★☆ Easy to use
SPS • Level 2

Well written notes that are easy to read, with more than enough questions and practice problems.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Jonhwang • Level 1

Mock exam from CFA was helpful, though materials were hard to read through due to sheer volume.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Gabbi Sultan • Level 3

Very standard coverage, but some level of summarization for lengthy topics can be very helpful.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Jcda21 • Level 1

Slow to reply to emails. Customer services may not email back.
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★★☆☆☆ Fair
Jordan • Level 2

There is room for improvement. Not first-time student friendly.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Ashlin Dikes • Level 1

The CFA textbooks are sufficient for Level 1 candidates for practice and understanding.
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★★★★★ Excellent
nmohanaraman • Level 1

I am self learner using CFA Institute, However i did also tried some you tube classes.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Tedie Burnie • Level 1

Great service, excellent communication of ideas and effective learning tools.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Ford De Ambrosis • Level 3

It is great. It helped with summarizing the concepts and practice problems.
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★★★★★ Excellent
Lizzie Shalloe • Level 1

I primarily used the CFA Institute’s material and I found it very helpful.
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★★★☆☆ Good
kennedn9 • Level 3

The material was well presented. Easy to follow and of good quality.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Stearn Moriarty • Level 2

It OK. Long but very useful in covering the full CFA curriculum.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
estelle • Level 1

A bit dry if you don’t know anything about the subject before.
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★★★★☆ Very Good
Rohit • Level 2

Good material for preparation and revision.
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★★★☆☆ Good
Hope Gunton • Level 1

CFA Institute notes are comprehensive and it would help in noting down all the key points in the curriculum. It is extensive and one is likely to spend a lot of time going through each chapter. Examples shown in each chapter are dated and I feel some of them need to be updated as they are more than 5 years old. Also having access to mock exams and topic tests by CFA institute does help, although it would help to know when they are available.
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