5 Tips to Create Your Perfect CFA Study Oasis

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By Greg Campion

In order to achieve success in the CFA Program, you need to make some smart choices about where you are going to study and what your set-up will look like. 

So, where are you going to study?  The short answer is everywhere.  You’ll be spending so much time mastering the material that, in reality, you’ll need to study at home, at work, on the train or plane, or really anywhere you can squeeze in a few extra minutes. 

There’s research showing that studying in various places can even be beneficial to your ability to understand and remember what you’re reading.  But if you’re like most people, while you are studying every chance you get, you still have that one place where you put in most of your study hours—that one place that you get to know all too well over that exhaustive six-month study period.  This is the place that I like to refer to as your “study oasis,” and in my opinion, to bolster your chances of success, you need to spend some time thinking about how to set up your study oasis most effectively. 

While I cover this topic extensively in my book, CFA Confidential, below I’ve distilled it down to my Top 5 Tips for the Perfect Study Oasis.

1.  Stay local
Probably the most important factor is that your study oasis needs to be convenient, preferably at home or within five minutes of home.  Hey, maybe you’ve got the most beautiful library 20 minutes away that is perfect for an all-day weekend study marathon, but when you’ve got an hour or two on a Tuesday, you need somewhere you can get to within 5 minutes—max.  If it’s hard to get to, you’ve won’t go.  It’s as simple as that.  

2. Get a room!
Or more precisely, a room with an actual door. If your study oasis is at home and you live with roommates or family members, you need to be able to get away.  You need to shut the door and disappear for hours at a time.  Being interrupted—especially while in the intense learning phases covering some seriously complicated material—just doesn’t work.  

3. Rock the Mozart
Somewhat related to #2, a great way to “disappear” into your CFA books and avoid distractions, is to use music.  Anything with lyrics is way too distracting and will work against you, but lyric-free tunes—in particular, classical music—can be a great way to provide background noise, drown out distractions, and maybe even help the material to sink in better.  I mean, hey, what’s cooler than rocking some Mozart or Bach in a sweet pair of Dre Beats headphones?

4. Log off
Multi-tasking is a fallacy.  While studying for the CFA exams, you should be focused on studying and studying alone.  If you’re stopping to check Facebook, Twitter, email, whatever… you will make the task infinitely harder for yourself.  Turn off your phone, tablet, and laptop (unless you’re using online study tools) and get in the habit of keeping them in a separate room so you won’t be tempted to “update your status” when pension accounting starts to become too much to handle. 

5. Listen to your body
In a previous article, I discussed paying attention to your health while studying for the CFA exams.  It took me a few exam attempts to realize just how important having the right physical set-up for studying really is.  Who knew that CFA studying can result in injury?  OK, so it’s not exactly a contact sport, but do yourself a favor and put some thought into your ergonomics.  Standing-desks, exercise balls, and other tools are available to help take the stress off your body—you’ve got plenty of that already!

So what’s your secret to the perfect study-oasis?  Any foolproof tips that have worked for you?  Share your ideas with me in the comments below!

Greg Campion, CFA is a Wall Street veteran, financial writer, and author of the book: CFA Confidential: What It Really Takes to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst®. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his family.

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