Is the CFA Institute Survey Useful for Your CFA Exam Preparation?

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By Rachel Bryant | Author of Direct Path to the CFA Charter

The CFA Institute issues a survey each year, covering a wide range of topics such as the candidates’ perception of the CFA charter’s value to them, their opinion on the actual exam, employer support and employment outlook.

There is also an ‘exam preparation’ part, where the survey asks candidates if they think their study techniques helped them to prepare for the CFA exams. We find out if candidates think that study groups helped them to prepare for the exam, the percentage of candidates who believed in-person classroom instruction helped them to prepare, and so on.

It’s quite a lot of great insight on most topics: the results of the survey are published on the CFA Institute website each year, which you can find at this link.

But does the ‘exam preparation’ part of the results help you better prepare for the CFA exams?

The exam preparation part of the survey is a great idea, and I appreciate the CFA Institute’s efforts to provide some transparency into CFA preparation. It sounds like useful information, right? Just implement these techniques, put in the study hours and, boom, you’re a CFA charterholder!
​Except for one issue:

The survey before candidates know if they passed their exam

Many candidates are given the survey before they even sit for the exam. The survey is only issued to June candidates and occurs in May for half of the responders and June for the other half. None of these candidates will know if they passed until July or August. Thus, candidates take the survey opining on the success of their preparation methods, then find out if their preparation methods resulted in a passing score.

Isn’t this being done backwards? Shouldn’t the survey be issued after candidates have all the information they need to assess their own study techniques and preparation? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. So, be careful when interpreting the candidate survey responses for your own preparation. We have no way of knowing if the various techniques actually helped the candidates or not.

Survey says: every method works well. But pass rates show other-wise

For every preparation method (flashcards, taking a class, study groupspractice questions, etc), approximately 80% or more of candidates say the study technique helped them to prepare “well” or “very well.” However, only approximately 40% of candidates actually pass the exam. This is a big discrepancy. Being prepared should mean passing the exams, because that is what all of this effort is about: passing the exams. I imagine if the survey was issued after results are published, we would see very different responses on whether or not candidates felt they were “prepared.”

For example, it might seem like an expensive weekly class was a great idea, until results day provides a rude awakening that perhaps that particular class was too basic. Or, after receiving a failing score, some candidates might reflect back on their study group and wish they had spent more time studying and less time chatting. 

But this survey is still a great thing!

Overall, passing candidates often gravitate towards a few study techniques while shunning others, which is what I experienced in the CFA Program and discuss in my book, Direct Path to the CFA Charter. For most candidates, certain techniques are far more successful. We also have ongoing research at 300 Hours based on survey data that candidates complete after they’ve received their results. You can see the latest results in our CFA Exam Insights book.

Discovering which approaches are favored by passing candidates is powerful information which the candidate survey does not communicate yet. It might someday – I give big kudos to the CFA Institute for always stepping up the quality and rigor of the CFA Program and in turn, the quality and rigor of the candidates as well. Simply having a survey takes another step towards that goal, and the survey is improved every year.

For now, review the candidate survey in the context of your own strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, take advantage of the fact that there are winning strategies that are successful on a broad scale so that you can pass the exams and become a CFA charterholder!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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