How to Decide Between CFAI and CFA Third Party Materials

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By Sophie

Once you’ve evaluated the merits of the CFA qualification, and finally got down to registering for the exams, a bigger decision looms – should you use CFA Institute or third party provider’s (such as Kaplan, Fitch or Elan) study material?

Confused and stuck in doing an endless pros and cons list? Although there is no definitive, one-size-fits-all solution (just like crafting your own study plan), here are some factors to consider in deciding which setup works best for you.

Just to be clear, we are talking about the main study materials here. It is necessary to supplement your studies with more practice exam papers to train for time and accuracy.

The following is intended to be a guide, read chronologically, which I hope should form a quick and accurate guidance for your decision, most of the time (80/20 rule!).

#1. Cost
First of all, what is your budget for additional study materials? If it is $0, or basically insufficient to get both study materials and additional practice papers, then the decision is straightforward: stick with CFA Institute materials and invest your remaining funds in getting additional third party practice papers for the best chance of passing. 

However, most of the time, your answer is probably “I have some budget”, or “I’m willing to master the art of convincing my company to sponsor my CFA materials, if it is worthwhile.” In this case, move to the next section.

#2. Time
An easily forgotten consideration during such analysis paralysis is time. How much time you have left to study before the exams? Here’s a handy guide for you to assess the feasibility of your study plan

While there are extraordinary feats of passing the CFA exams in just 2 weeks, those are rare to pull off. I’d say that if you work full time and have less than 4 months to the exams, time will be quite tight and it may be better to go for third party provider’s materials, just because you have less pages to study and have a chance to cover all of the topics adequately. 

If you’re super organised and have more than 4 months before, well done (yay), please read the following section.

#3. Format / Quality
Final question: what study formats work better for you? 

a) Do you absorb concepts better with videos or attending classes, coupled with concise notes? Then aim to get parts of or a whole study package from a recommended high quality third party provider. There’s loads of discounts for 300H readers at the Offers section.

b) Do you prefer reading only and self studying? Then you have 2 choices: if you prefer more concise notes, go for third party materials. Note that using third party materials exclusively doesn’t diminish your chances of passing the exams, I’m for one an example of this. However, if you are detail-orientated and prefer lengthier notes, stick to CFAI curriculum. 

P.S – That said, if you’re a Level III candidate, given the essay based structure of the exam, some found CFAI materials better in comparison to third party providers’ as they had more detail about the concepts and case studies. 

As for which third party provider to go for? That’s a whole different story (that never ends), I’ll leave it for next time!

I hope this is a helpful guide for your decision process – it can be tough I know! Did other factors affect your choice of CFAI curriculum vs. third party study materials? I’d love to hear your views in the comments below.

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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