Active Recall: How To Retain Information For The CFA Exam Like A Genius

Active Recall to study for the CFA examWhen I first looked at the material required for the CFA exam, I asked myself: “How will I ever remember all of this at the exam?” I am sure you have at some stage in your CFA exam preparation faced a similar question. It it tough to remember all the important concepts for the exam, but it can be done as the growing number of CFA charter holders each year proves. Passing the CFA exam is by no means rocket science, and you must not be a genius to master the curriculum. Using simple techniques and a little self discipline, you will be able to remember information you read much better.

Life-long learning is actually a hobby of mine. The technique I am using in my own learning is called Active Recall.

What is active recall?


From Wikipedia:

Active recall is a principle of efficient learning, which claims the need to actively stimulate memory during the learning process. It contrasts with passive review, in which the learning material is processed passively (e.g. by reading, watching, etc.). For example, reading a text about George Washington, with no further action, is a passive review. Answering the question “Who was the first US President?”, is active recall. Active recall is very efficient in consolidating long-term memory.


For active recall to work properly, it is important that you convert the study material into questions. Some studies call this method of learning “retrieval-heavy”, meaning your brain has to search for answers while reading. It has been shown that test subjects have done up to 50% better using active recall learning methods than control groups who learned with the conventional method of rote learning (Karpicke, Roediger, 2008 and Karpicke, Blunt, 2011). The authors concluded that more rigorous testing leads to better retrieval in the future.

We have all been told to take notes while reading, so how is active recall different from note taking? Since active recall will create questions for you to answer, it’s very different from notes that you re-read passively later. Conventional notes are just short summaries, but they will do little to stimulate your memory. Active recall study techniques will really challenge your memory to come up with a summary yourself rather than just re-reading it, so I think it’s far superior.

Again from Wikipedia:

[…] there is much support that active recall is better than rereading text for enhancing learning. In fact, Karpicke, et. al. (2009) believe that students get “illusions of competence” from rereading their notes and textbook. One reason for this illusion is that the text contains all the information, so it is easy to glance over it and feel as if it is known well, when that is not the case at all. Better put: in the text, the cue and corresponding target are both present, which is not the case during testing. The results of their study showed that retrieval as a study strategy is rare among students. They prefer to reread instead.


Active recall is a relatively new study method, and it has not transpired to the mainstream yet. There are many obvious benefits though, and I am sure active recall will be more widely used in study material and by authors of scientific text in the future.

How can you use active recall to learn for the CFA exam?


Ideally, you should use each learning objective of the CFA curriculum as a question that you can answer in your review before the exam, but unfortunately, most study material is not written in Q and A form as it should be for optimal learning. I created special CFA study notes that support active recall, feel free to check them out if you like. I think you will benefit immensely from using active recall learning techniques for the CFA exam and any other exam. All the best in your exam preparation!