Do You Need Expensive Study Material For the CFA Exam?

CFA books

We all received a big box with the CFA curriculum from CFA Institute with our registration for the exam for each level. The books in itself are intimidating, partly because they look like a pile of phone books, and because they seem very densely packed with information that needs to be mastered for the exam. When I saw these books for the first time in level 1, I asked myself: “How am I ever going to get through all these in time?” That’s exactly where providers of third-party study material come to our attention when we start google searching for an easier way to acquire the required knowledge.

There are many providers of learning material out there. Their prices fluctuate anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the package provided. Some offer comprehensive video lectures, question banks, and their own condensed version of the curriculum.

Do you need this to succeed? The short answer is: “No.”

Stick with the original study material


In my opinion, there are no shortcuts to the CFA designation. Like they say only half-jokingly: The MBA you buy, the CFA you earn. You have to know the concepts in order to pass, there is no faking it. Also, each level will be founded on the previous level, so you have to commit this knowledge to long-term memory. The original curriculum is excellently written. It covers everything you need to know in the language of CFA Institute, backed up with many questions and case studies that help you further understand the material.

Many learning providers simply re-write the original curriculum in their own language and claim it is easier to understand. I believe that finance and investment has its own universal language, and the original material is written in this language. In order to pass the CFA exams you need to become fluent in it, otherwise you will stall in level 2 or latest in level 3, when it becomes really tricky.

Another argument that’s often used is that you don’t have enough time to cover the original material, that’s why you should go with third-party study courses. Again, I disagree. For level one, really take your time. You should be able to get through the material in six months minimum next to a day job, but better would be a whole year. The CFA is not a quick thing, so it’s no shame if you take your time to understand the material. Taking a shortcut when reading the material will not work.

Where do shortcuts work?


There is one stage where you can accelerate the learning process: The review stage. While reading through the curriculum you should take notes and make your own summaries to help you remember what you have read. But how exactly can you drill the material for the exam? Definitely take advantage of a study solution when reviewing the material, as these are inexpensive and worth it. I recommend you take a look at the Financial Analyst CFA Study Notes. They cost the price of half a dinner, and take a very unique approach at reviewing the curriculum. The Schweser QBank is also recommended for level 1, as this simulates questions you will find in the exam. For level 2 and 3 I personally found the QBank unnecessary. In level 3 I actually never even looked at it. What a waste of $300!

Another useful thing is to get together with other CFA candidates once you have read the original material and have reviewed it. But don’t do this too early, as you can’t learn together, only review. Once you’re at the point where you solve practice exams is ideal to access a study group. This can also be just one other student. How can you connect with other CFA candidates? Try the free study group finder on this page.

Conclusion: Start early in your CFA preparation with the original material.


You will benefit from thoroughly studying for each level, both for subsequent levels and your professional career. I wish you all the best for the CFA exam!