How To Read Faster In Your CFA Exam Preparation

There is never enough time to study for the CFA exam (or for any other exam, for that matter). When a little less than on month is left until the big day of the exam, we all wish we had started earlier. I for one greatly underestimated the commitment to become a Chartered Financial Analyst a great deal. When I took CFA exam level 1, I should have started at least two months earlier to be able to study at a somewhat comfortable pace. Luckily, I was able to make up for lost time with a speed reading technique that I am sure you can benefit from as well. Let’s dive right into it!

For scientific material I use a well-known reading technique called SQ3R. It is a five-step strategy, and the letters are an abbreviation of: Survey (or Skim), Question, Read, Recite (or Recall) and Review. It helps you transform the reading material into questions that your brain tries to answer while reading. A similar approach is the foundation of the Financial Analyst Study Notes, which are written in Q&A format, but you can do this yourself for any test with this technique. I think Q&A format is widely underused, as it is just so much better to get the hang of written material, especially if it’s wordy and complex.

Let’s go through the steps of SQ3R in a little more detail and see how you can use this technique to speed up youe preparation for the CFA exam:

  1. Survey (2 minutes): Before you begin to read, look through the entire chapter beforehand. See what the headings are – the major ones and the subheadings; hierarchical structures seem to be particularly easy for our brains to latch onto – check for introductory and summary paragraphs, references, etc. Resist reading the whole paragraph at this point, but see if you can pin down about four major ideas in the entire chapter.
  2. Question (usually less than 30 seconds): Ask yourself what this chapter or paper is all about: What question do I have that this chapter might help answer? Repeat this with each subsection of the chapter, turning each heading into a question. As a small variation, you can also write down the important question.
  3. Read (at your own pace): Read one section at a time looking for the answer to the question you found in the previous step. You can also skim the text to save time. This is active reading and requires concentration, so it is important that you find yourself a place and time where you can concentrate. Reading in a train noisy place in the cafeteria does not work well for me.
  4. Recite/write (about a minute): Write down a key phrase that sums up the major point of the section and answers the question. Use your own words, don’t copy a phrase or paragraph from the book.
  5. Review (less than 5 minutes): After repeating steps 2–4 for each section you will have a list of key phrases that provide an outline for the chapter. Test yourself by covering up the key phrases and seeing if you can recall them. Active recall again! Do this right after you finish reading the chapter. Try hard, but if you can’t find an answer, re-read the chapter.

In your preparation, you should treat the review part as a process with flash cards or notes that you made. Use these cards every few days until the CFA exam to really drill the concepts into your memory.

I hope this helps you speed up the reading process a bit, and I wish you all the best for your CFA exam preparations!