The Do’s and Don’ts of a CFA Study Group

Study groups seem to be the hot topic on the candidates’ forum these days. Frustrated by the long hours and difficult curriculum, many are turning to peers for a little help and support.
I was always frustrated trying to find a study group while studying for the CFA exams. Des Moines is a relatively small city, a little under 500k in the MSA, and there just aren’t that many candidates. It may be a little easier in the larger markets, but for those in smaller cities or overseas the internet presents a great opportunity.
Whether you choose an in-person or virtual format, there are some things to watch for when developing and conducting a study group. Below is a list I have compiled through my own experience in groups and with the help of others that have used groups to study for the CFA exams.
Do’s of a CFA Study Group

  • Set a formal work schedule and a time limit within the group to avoid small talk. Groups can be a great medium for support and help but they can go off track quickly. Develop a general agenda with recurring tasks and new items each meeting.
  • The best advice I can provide across any study plan is to use active learning techniques. You can remember around 90% of the material using active learning while passive techniques will help you remember only about 30% of what you study. Divide up the schedule for each group meeting between the candidates, each one taking a topic area or reading. Then each candidate “teaches” the material to the others covering important concepts and formulas. Getting deep into the details might take too much time, but covering concepts can give everyone a great base from which to study on their own.
  • Possibly the biggest benefit of a group is the support system. Grinding through 2000+ pages of curriculum can be a grueling and sometimes demoralizing process. Having others there to keep you positive and focused is a huge help.
  • Set goals and expectations ahead of time: Will work be delegated out to different members? Will each person be expected to speak each time the group meets? How will time be managed? Someone usually needs to step up as an informal leader to guide the group and limit digressions and social conversation.
  • Use all your resources available. A combination of live, web and phone meetings may be the most practical for everyone. Check out Google Docs for an easy way to share notes and ideas.

Don’ts of a CFA Study Group

  • Do not digress during group time. If you want to talk off topic, be considerate and contact individually afterwards. The exams can be a great way of meeting life-long friends and connections but you all have a goal right now and need to stay focused during group time.
  • Don’t join a group if you are not able to make the commitment. Showing up late or not doing your assignments wastes everyone’s time.
  • Don’t be afraid to question someone on what they have said. The curriculum can be pretty complex at times and there will be mistakes in interpretation. Not asking questions and letting misinformation spread through the whole group loses everyone points.
  • Don’t take it personally if someone questions your interpretation of the material. No one will get a perfect score on the exam and you are not expected to know everything. You’ll make mistakes. You are there as part of a team, to help each other out on the tough spots.
  • Don’t feel like you have to include everyone in the group. Less is usually better and more than 6 people makes it hard to give everyone their due time. Members should be close enough geographically that no one is asked to meet during very early or late hours.

We’ll continue our 21-week study plan across the curriculum in the three exams with study session seven next week. Let me know if you have any questions or comments about what we’ve covered so far.
Anyone in a study group, online or otherwise, now? What would you recommend to other candidates when starting groups?
‘til next week, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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