Flash Cards- buy or build

With just a little over two months left to the exam, you need to focus on study methods that are going to hone in on the learning outcome statements and the topics in which you are struggling. Of the products available, flash cards were one of the most useful to me during the last months of study.
Let’s compare the ways to study:

  • Videos- Great for visual and kinesthetic learners, and a relatively quick way to get through the curriculum in a different medium but is inefficient passive learning
  • Study Groups- Good use of active learning and can provide a good support system, but can be slow and misinformation is possibility
  • Reading curriculum- Straight from the horse’s mouth, EVERYTHING on the exams will be here but the books may be better for building muscles than building exam scores
  • Reading 3rd party condensed study notes– My core mode of study. I went through condensed notes at least three times at each level but these are also passive learning so you need to supplement with active learning
  • Practice problems & mock exams– Second most useful method of studying for me. You need to read through curriculum/study notes to get a feel for the material but only practice problems and question banks will work it into your head and convert to long-term memory
  • Flash cards- These are really an extension of practice problems but are more portable and more easily focused

I used each of these, except study groups, for each level of the CFA exams (at least try a study group if you can find one in your area). Each method has its strengths and weaknesses and is most appropriate for the ‘stage’ within which you are studying. By stage, I mean either just getting into the material, reviewing, practicing, or wrapping up for test day. By now, you should be thinking about how you are going to wrap up your studying and carry it through to the exam date.
Flash cards are the most appropriate for focusing in on those last remaining areas in which you are having trouble or keeping those important formulas and processes fresh in your mind.
You can easily buy or borrow cards off the internet. Most providers sell sets for around $125-$175 or someone in your social network probably has some you could copy. The best way, though, is to make your own cards. It may take a little longer, but they will be customized for your learning and will provide the opportunity to write out the material.
When I made flash cards, I didn’t write out every LOS. You could, but I think it’s a waste of time for the easy and general stuff that you already know. Around this time every year, I skimmed through my curriculum notes again. Skimmed doesn’t mean read but it should take around a day for each study session. That way you get through the material in a month. While I worked through the material, I wrote out flash cards for:

  • Intense formulas or calculations that I wouldn’t easily remember
  • Important lists or procedures
  • Anything else that was just not sticking in my brain!

Your cards should have detailed practice problems for the formulas and calculation questions. Write out a short story problem on one side with necessary data or copy one of the harder problems directly from the curriculum. Don’t just write out a list of the data needed like: N= 30, i= .1, pv=100, find Fv
I’ll qualify this by saying that by this time in the year, I had been through the material at least four times (once through videos, once through the curriculum, and twice through study notes) so I had a good idea of where I needed to focus and what sections were giving me problems. If you have not yet been through the material at least twice, it may still be tough to skim through it and pick out the parts on which you need to focus.
After putting together your cards, try to get through them every two days. I usually had enough cards that it took from 1.5-3 hours to work through all of them. Don’t neglect your other forms of studying. Depending on how long it takes to get through your cards, spend some time reviewing your study notes, practice tests, and other methods as well. After you work through the cards a few times, you will be able to pass over some that have become easier and may want to add a few other cards in difficult topics.
It really comes down to practice and how many different ways you can hit the curriculum. Reading through the curriculum two or three times will not yield the results as working through it the same number of times but through different media (reading, practice problems, videos, etc.).
All for today. Looking forward to your comments. Don’t forget to let me know if there are topics that you would like to see covered in the blog. ‘Til next time, happy studying!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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