Remembering more of what you study for the CFA Exams

One of our most popular posts, and probably in the top ten of most important, covered the difference between active- and passive-learning. Available by clicking here, the post separates different studying methods and shows candidates how to remember the majority of what they study. While no method is fool-proof, people typically remember up to 90% of what they study when using active-learning methods.
As a quick recap, though I urge you to read the original post, active learning is any method in which the student takes a participatory approach. This includes doing problems and discussing the material. Passive learning involves non-participatory studying like reading or watching a lecture. Studies show that students are more engaged and remember more when they learn by active methods.

Making passive-learning more active

The problem is that passive learning methods, reading especially, are the primary sources of learning for most candidates. Let’s face it, we would all rather sit down and casually read through the curriculum than grind through hours of practice problems. Preferences aside, you have to read through the material before you can do those practice problems anyway.
So how do you bridge the gap between passive and active learning? You still need to hit those practice problems but there are several ways that you can make passive-learning methods more active.

  • Making notes while reading is the most often used but underappreciated study method. Noting important ideas in the margins of the text not only highlights material for your subsequent reviews it also keeps you from falling into reader’s trance. Reader’s trance (also common in driving or other repetitive tasks) is where you perform the task without even thinking and end up pages ahead without remembering what you read. By stopping to take notes, you avoid zoning out.
  • After each section or chapter, take the time to explain the material in your own words. This works best if you can explain it to someone else but that isn’t always possible or time-efficient. If you cannot explain it to yourself then you will probably not be able to recall it on the exam.
  • While listening to a lecturer or to recorded material, take notes and do not be afraid to ask questions. If you do not understand what the lecturer is saying, there is a good chance that another in the class also needs clarification.
  • While watching videos, take notes and pause the video regularly to do a practice problem relevant to the section.

The more methods you can incorporate into your studying, the better you will learn. Seeing the material will most likely remain your primary mode but try to hear it and say it as well. Joining a study group can go a long way to making the learning experience more active. Just remember to keep the group organized and stay on task so you use your time efficiently.
Use the comment section below to share your favorite active- or passive-learning exercises and how you manage a balance between the two.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

For general inquiries, please write to us at For pre-sales inquiries, get in touch at

CFA Institute does not endorse, promote or warrant the accuracy or quality of FinQuiz. CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are registered trademarks owned by CFA Institute. BA II Plus is registered trademark owned by Texas Instruments.

Copyright © 2008-2020 FinQuiz:CFA Exam Prep. All rights reserved.
Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy | Blog | Contact Us | FAQs | Changes | IFRS vs GAAP