CFA Provider Review: The CFA Institute

Want to pass your exams? Start preparing the right way.
My email is and I'm preparing for
Picture

By Christine

As all of our team have completed the CFA exams, we know how important choosing the right provider is to give you just enough advantage to pass. Our Review series covers the best names in the CFA provider business, combining our thoughts on providers’ latest products with independent candidate reviews.

Our detailed review for the CFA Institute includes:

  • Details on CFA Institute materials and what they include
  • Candidate reviews and ratings
  • Our final thoughts and recommendations, pros and cons on CFA Institute materials

About CFA Institute
Picture

As CFA Institute, their 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, and nothing can be tested that is not covered by the exams.

So, this should obviously make CFA Institute materials 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.

A common observation among candidates in the early days was that the CFA curriculum was notoriously challenging to read and digest. And 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.

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


An Overview of CFA Institute’s Materials
Picture

Curriculum – pay extra attention to the questions included at the end of readings

  • The CFA Institute curriculum is available online or in paper form, the online version is included with your registration fees, but a set of paperback books will cost you $150 extra plus any import taxes if you live outside the US. It is possible to print the online version, but this is limited to only one chapter at a time.
  • As the curriculum, it goes through every LOS in definitive detail, and nothing is left out. This can have mixed reactions from candidates – on one hand, 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.

Topic Tests

  • Topic tests are also included with your exam registration, and are taken online. These are short tests designed to evaluate your knowledge on a topic-by-topic basis, and designed to help you diagnose your strengths and weaknesses.
  • On the whole this is a very high-quality and free tool, which also should not be ignored or deprioritized.

Mock Exam – do not leave this one out

  • The CFA Institute currently includes one free mock exam for every registered candidate – they used to sell additional mock exams for a fee, but this seems to have been discontinued in the recent years.
  • The length, format and content of this mock exam is the closest candidates will get to the actual exam. You may be surprised to find that the ‘feel’ of the questions in the CFA Institute mock exam can be quite different from practice exams by third-party providers. In our opinion this is the most important bit of all the CFA Institute materials – do not skip this mock exam.
  • If you’re truly looking for a full exam experience, you can also take your mock exams with Proctor, which simulates the audio of a CFA exam hall.

CFA Institute Materials – Pros and Cons
Picture

Pros

  • Free: For the most part, everything is included with your exam registration.
  • Definitive: Anything not covered by the materials will not be included in your exam.
  • Closeness to the real thing: The practice problems, topic tests and mock exam will simulate the feel of the actual exam as accurately as any study tool can.

Cons

  • Can be challenging to complete: The length and dryness of the curriculum are both Some candidates’ pride or ego will make them see this as a ‘challenge’ to be overcome, leading them to stubbornly stick with the curriculum even though it’s clear that at their study speed they are unlikely to finish on time. Don’t fall into this trap. The true challenge is passing your exam – anything that jeopardizes that has to be evaluated carefully. If you do find the curriculum great to study with, by all means use it, but if you think third-party notes work better for you, then go right ahead and use them instead.
  • May not be enough practice: There’s a lot of practice included in the materials between the curriculum’s practice problems, topic tests and mock exam, but practice is key to passing the exams. We would recommend candidates to complete more practice exams – you can see our guide to additional practice exams here.

Conclusion

  • The CFA Institute materials are powerful tools that can make or break a candidate’s exam results. We definitely recommend using the materials for practice, especially the practice problems and mock exam. However, if you find the curriculum too difficult to read, switch to a third-party provider to ensure you finish your studies on time.

CFA Institute Materials – Ratings
(395 candidate ratings)
CFA Level
Level I
Level II
Level III
No. of Ratings
277
86
32
Overall Rating
3.8 / 5
Very Good
3.6 / 5
Very Good
3 / 5
Good
Study Notes
3.5
3.5
3.8
Practice or Mock Exams
3.7
3.6
3.6
Review Notes
Question Banks
3.6
3
3.3
Classroom Courses
Review Courses
Video Lessons
Quality of Online Platform
3.3
2.8
2.6
Readability of Notes and Tutorials
3.5
3.2
2.4
Quality of Instructor Support
Value-for-Money
3.6
2.9
2.2

CFA Institute Materials – Candidate Reviews
Picture

★★★☆☆ Good
By DigitalFinWizard (Level II)

The Chartered Financial Analyst Institute offers the most official 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 helpers for answering questions, repetition in practice problems, interpreting academic statements, measuring your progress, giving encouragement, etc. So you are 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.

Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By DigitalFinWizard (Level I)

The Chartered Financial Analyst Institute offers the most official 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 helpers for answering questions, repetition in practice problems, interpreting academic statements, measuring your progress, giving encouragement, etc. So you are 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.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Pablo (Level I)

CFA providers ensure you to have all the materials to suceed in the pursuit of the title. It is mandatory to study all the content and review it every now and then. Moreover, you have to practice with the question at the end of each topic and one month before the exam, practising all the time you have avaible to do so. Kaplan schweser and other products are suitable for those who don’t have time to study by their own regularlly, but for those who have plenty of time, CFA materials are more than enough.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By d***** (Level I)

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 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 one should know when to access them when available
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By t***** (Level I)

Very good and comprehensive materials with lots of examples and q&a. There is a need for some review notes for the period before exam which would greatly ease your work. Also the study notes should be more accessible to access from other devices. I read a lot on my Kindle but there is no possibility to access the VitalSource Bookshelf from my device.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Close to actual exam
By Bri (Level I)

Practice and Mock exam questions were closely related to the actual questions asked in the final exam.More to it, the suggested solutions were informative and easy to comprehend.

Furthermore, study notes were a great read as they provided in depth content on concepts questioned in mock exams.

Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Did everything, and passed!
By Brad Greeson (Level I)

I diligently read ALL of the chapters in every book. I also took 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.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Geff (Level III)

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.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By d***** (Level I)

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.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By Neha (Level I)

For Level I, I only used CFA Institute as the sole provider along with the local Edupristine classroom classes (which wasn’t that fruitful). Thankfully, the CFA Books and repetition of Questions help me see through the exam 🙂
Write your own review>>

★★☆☆☆ Fair
By Rc (Level III)

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.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Detailed. May need condensing by others
By n***** (Level I)

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!
Write your own review>>

★★☆☆☆ Very little assistance given apart from the standard material
By SFESmith (Level I)

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 that doesn’t cost you another R30K.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By charlie (Level I)

I only used the CFA provided material which was very long and wordy but still got me through the first exam – would have been nice to have more practice exams though
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Helpful for those new to Finance
By AvatarAng (Level I)

Good material, and in depth explanation for every topics starting with the basics which helps people who are new to Finance profession.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ needs to be more summarized
By estelle (Level I)

not enought summarized
must have a bit of knowledge before reading the material, otherwise to complicated, not very didactic
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Thorough content
By A***** (Level II)

Prepared well. The contents were very exhaustive and some level of summarization for lengthy topics could have been very helpful
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By JohnnyFinance (Level I)

CFA Institute materials are comprehensive but somewhat overwhelming. A more brief summary and equation sheet would be welcome.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By JohnnyFinance (Level II)

CFA Institute materials are comprehensive but somewhat overwhelming. A more brief summary and equation sheet would be welcome.
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Best available stuff
By k***** (Level I)

CFA Institute’s review material is the best available. Practice questions on every topic and plenty of review material.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By Adhiraj (Level I)

The lack of summaries and poor navigation in the mock tests as well as the practice questions application didn’t help.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Dweinstein (Level I)

The class material gives the bare minimum on answers to practice tests and often explains things in confusing way.
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By k***** (Level II)

CFA Institute’s material is the best available. Practice questions on every topic and plenty of review material.
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By Paz A. (Level I)

300hours is easy to handle, clear and great for beginners of CFA exams. The best guide I’ve found so far.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By Shreya Mittal (Level I)

CFA study Material is really good as provided by CFA Institute provided enough time is available.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By Adhiraj (Level II)

I wish the content was trimmed to better suit the study. Also, the lack of summaries didn’t help.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Easy to use
By SPS (Level II)

Well written notes that are easy to read, with more than enough questions and practise problems.
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By Jonhwang (Level I)

Mock exam from CFA was helpful though materials were hard to read through due to sheer volume
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By A***** (Level III)

Very standard coverage but some level of summarization for lengthy topics can be very helpful
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Simon Peters (Level II)

Nothing memorable to add beyond to much material that was included in the base curriculum
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By nmohanaraman (Level I)

I am self learner using CFA Institute, However i did also tried some you tube classes.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By dimon84 (Level I)

none, this is a official curriculum, which i think is totally sufficient for level 1
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By S***** (Level I)

CFA textbook is sufficient for level I candidates for practice and understanding.
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By p***** (Level I)

Great service, excellent communication of ideas and effective learning tools.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Vish (Level I)

Minimal documentation for beginners, should add more practice papers upfront.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By t***** (Level III)

It is great. It helped with summarizing the concepts and practice problems
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By G***** (Level I)

I primarily used the CFA Institute’s material and I found it very helpful
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By kennedn9 (Level III)

The material was well presented. Easy to follow and of good quality.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Saurabh (Level I)

Too much to study, should have provided a capsule for the review
Write your own review>>

★★★★★ Excellent
By j***** (Level I)

It was good. I thought the CFA textbooks were enough to prepare
Write your own review>>

★★☆☆☆ Fair
By Jordan (Level II)

There is room for Improvement. Not first time student friendly.
Write your own review>>

★★★☆☆ Good
By Jcda21 (Level I)

Slow to reply to emails. Customer services may not email back.
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By estelle (Level I)

a bit dry if you don’t know anything about the subject before
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By t***** (Level II)

It OK. Long but very useful in covering full concept of CFA .
Write your own review>>

★★★★☆ Very Good
By Rohit (Level II)

Good material for preparation and revision
Write your own review>>

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

 

1 thought on “CFA Provider Review: The CFA Institute”

Leave a Comment