Why You Should Use The Original CFA Books For Your Exam Preparation

original-CFA-booksAll the time in forums and Facebook groups about CFA exam preparation the question about third party learning material arises: Which is the best? Is it worth to spend X on this or that product? Has anybody used QBank? Who can share Secret Sauce with me?

My answer to all these posts is always the same: Don’t use any of these products, really master the original CFA books and the questions in them that you received for free with your registration. This will save you a lot of time and money. I will explain exactly, why.

When I prepared for CFA level 1, I went ahead and got the full set of S******* learning materials, all the books, QBank, and the videos (I changed the name of the learning material provider, but you can guess, which one I mean). This CFA exam was really important, so I should prepare for it in the best way possible, right? The arrival of the original CFA books had been a shock, and they just seemed too much to digest at the time. I was secretly hoping for a shortcut, which that expensive third-party learning material implied to deliver (also read: There are no shortcuts to the CFA exam).

The second shock happened when the S******* material appeared in the mail: The books were about the same size as the CFA books, and the videos would have taken days to watch. The formula Quicksheet missed half the formulas… So where exactly was the shortcut I had hoped for? I had paid an arm and a leg for this study material and was now in a dilemma: Should I read both (doubling my study time), or just choose one? I opted for the latter, and read and summarized the original CFA material only. Boy was I glad, I did! Sometimes, I would take a cursory glance at the S******* books and few of the videos, which confirmed my choice. There was really not much different in S******* , other than that they had reformulated every sentence of the original readings in heir own words (sometimes adding confusion and even mistakes). Who needs that? The exam will be written in “CFA language”, so why not also study and practice in this language? The videos also seemed weird: In one of them a somewhat disheveled lady with a bandaged hand (I’m serious!) eagerly explained the efficient frontier in what appeared to me as kindergarten language. All candidates to the CFA have at least a bachelor’s degree, so I doubt we need anyone to explain the material in baby language to us.

My advice to CFA candidates is simple:

  • Start early enough with your exam preparation so you build enough confidence you can do it (also read: The Three Things I Wish I Had Done Differently In My CFA Exam Preparation).
  • Be original: Stick with the original reading material and practice questions.
  • Solve and re-solve each of the practice questions in the original reading material until you completely understand them. They will prepare you for the exam in the best way possible.
  • Take notes while you read the CFA books that you can review later. Ideally, in question-answer format.
  • Make your own formula sheet to memorize in the review process.


However, I really doubt that many candidates do that. Most will just read the CFA books once, and then go on to solve S******* practice exams or QBank. I think this is exactly the wrong approach. Better master the original readings and practice the original CFA questions. It’s not quick, and it’s not easy, but this is the most effective and least expensive exam preparation you can get.

“But what about the S******* Practice Exam? I need to prepare for the exam somehow!” True, you need to prepare for the exam, but don’t use those practice exams for that. As you will see, the real CFA exam questions are completely different. The only thing that the S******* practice exam can teach you is exam strategy (not spending too much time on one question). If you really want to practice realistic exam questions, then solve the questions in the original readings until you completely understand each and every one of them. To solve a S******* practice exam in order to review the material can be fatal. Better do a real review with your own notes that you took when reading the material. CFA Institute has mock exams available on their site, which can be used to familiarize yourself with exam timing. Also read: Exam Strategy: Go for Speed.

The question that then comes up is: “You sell your study notes on your site, but diss other learning material! Isn’t that contradictory?” I don’t think so. My study notes are the notes I took when I studied for the exams. They are my personal review tool that summarizes all the CFA learning objectives (LOs) in question-answer format (also read: Active Recall: How to retain information for the CFA exam). If you have your own notes in question-answer format, then you don’t need mine. But you definitely need to practice what you have read and take notes when studying for the CFA, and if you’re not yet familiar with active recall, then my notes can complement yours. It’s an entirely different approach from traditional learning material that seeks to replace the original CFA books. You don’t need a regurgitation of the original readings which you already have in your possession. Just get over the intimidation the CFA books exude at the beginning, and most third-party learning material will be redundant.

I hope this article helped you make the right choice when preparing for the CFA exam! I wish you all the best for your exam preparation.