Choosing a CFA Exam Prep Provider? Here’s Why Two Could Be Better than One

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By Rachel Bryant, author of Direct Path to the CFA Charter

CFA candidates have forever been asking this question: What CFA study provider should I choose? Aside from the books provided by the CFA Institute, there are quite a few third-party offerings that can help you prepare for the exam. But, choosing among the many options can be overwhelming. Never mind that these programs are expensive. You want to pass, and you want to pass without wasting money.  Basically, you want to pick the best one.

Unfortunately, there is no “best” exam prep provider. Really. However, I believe that you can create a “best” study program by using two providers instead of one.  And, it costs roughly the same if you choose wisely.

Why Pick Two Exam Prep Providers?

Generally all providers offer the same basic components: study notes, practice questions, and mock exams. Personally, I passed all three CFA Levels on my first try with only these basic tools, plus flashcards that I made on my own. However, it was not easy to choose which company to supply those tools.

Every study program has its shortcomings. Some summarize the curriculum too much, others do not summarize enough. Some hit a good balance with study notes, but fall short on providing tough, realistic mock exams. All vary in how they ask practice questions. Personally, I worried that any provider I picked would have shortcomings that I would have no way of knowing existed until test day, which would be too late.

So, at every Level, I used two test prep providers (shameless hook: check out my book Direct Path to the CFA Charter to see which providers I used, or check out the Reviews section to see our recommended providers). By using two providers, it was a relief to know that I was not pinning all of my hopes on one company that may or may not be the “best” one.  I quickly learned that none of them were perfect, and I was glad to have learned this earlier rather than later. Though not perfect, using two providers was also critical to my success because I was able to leverage the different strengths of each one. Using this approach, you can piece together a great study program.

Two Providers Does Not Mean 2x the Cost

First, some providers are more expensive than others. Price does not equate to a passing score. So, there is no need to pair two expensive study programs together simply because they are expensive and therefore must be superior. They are not.

Price matters in the sense that you probably aren’t made of money. Begin your assessment by dividing providers into two categories: expensive and non-expensive. 

First, take a look at the expensive list. These companies will likely provide samples of mock exams or study notes on their websites. Does one of these companies appeal to you? If not, move on to the non-expensive list. However, if you lean towards using one of the costly providers, start considering their individual offerings more closely. Perhaps you’ve heard not so great things about the company’s study notes, but good things about that same provider’s mock exams and practice questions. Great, buy the mock exams and practice questions. This will be cheaper than buying a big package full of pricey extras.

Remember to also check the Offers page to see if there are currently any good bargains that you can take advantage of!

Then, go to the non-expensive list of providers and see which of these appeal to you. Since these are less expensive, you could buy one provider’s entire package (including study notes, practice exams, etc.) or pick which components you most need.

Blend Your Two Providers, Create a Powerful Hybrid

When you begin studying, intermingle both of the providers. Take practice questions from both. Complete a mock exam from one company, then next time switch and do an exam from the other. Or, if you have two sets of study notes, try using both sets when you are struggling with tough sections of the curriculum; one might provide insights that the other did not.

In the end, you will have a complete study program with two perspectives on the CFA exam. And, you didn’t spend a fortune because you avoided buying one very large study package from a very expensive provider. 

When it comes to CFA prep providers, two is truly better than one. I believe this approach was one of the main reasons that I passed, and I hope it helps you pass too. This is the easiest way to ensure that you buy the best study program; create it yourself!

Got more questions or something to add? Leave a comment below and keep the conversation going! Thanks for reading. Good luck.

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

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