This post is going to offer the most important advice on HOW to study for the Chartered Financial Analyst exams, or really any exam.
Unfortunately, it is the one of the hardest things to get through to candidates. Too bad since candidates that simply read through the curriculum or watch videos will remember about half of the material. Is it a wonder then that half of the students fail each level of the exam in any given year?
The most important advice I can offer is understanding the difference between active and passive learning. Passive learning is where the student does not participate but simply absorbs the material through sensory perception- examples include attending a lecture, listening, reading and watching a video.
Active learning is when the student takes a participatory method through discussion, presentation, simulation or practice. Active learning promotes problem solving, critical thinking analysis and synthesis of the information.
The importance of active learning is displayed in the graphic below, based off a study by Edgar Dale on teaching.
With the limited time you have left to study, and the intensity of the material in the CFA exams, is there any question which methods you need to use while studying? Granted, you will still need to read through the material to start, but you shouldn’t spend your entire study time (or even a large portion of it!!) simply reading. This is why a condensed notes program is so important. You can go through the FinQuiz curriculum notes in a fraction of the time it takes to get through other provider notes or the curriculum itself.
This will leave time for the real money-making study activities, the studying that is going to get you points on the exam!
So what are the active learning strategies for the CFA exams?
1) Form a study group
This will make it necessary to talk the material out loud. A great way to run the group is by dividing the topics between members, each member ‘teaches’ the group a topic each week. Make sure each member ends up ‘teaching’ each topic so you cover all the topics multiple times.
2) Practice Problems, Practice Problems, Practice Problems
The FinQuiz test bank includes almost 5,000 questions created directly from the curriculum and more than 100 item sets. ** I know it is a pain focusing your study time on practice problems. Don’t forget, I was a candidate just last year. You can plan on doing problems all you want, but it won’t make a difference until you actually sit down and do them.
– Level 3 candidates, this means working the old exam essay questions released by the Institute. The last three years of the morning session are available on the Institute’s website. We will be working through some of the old essay questions on this blog and cover the important topics you need to know.
3) The end of chapter questions and blue-box examples within the curriculum are an invaluable source of practice problems and scenarios. Use these in conjunction with a test bank of questions to make sure you get all the active learning you need.
4) If you can’t find a study group, write the topics out or use this blog as your active learning venue. Let me know if you want to write a blog post on a particular topic or study session. We are always looking for guest posts and any way that will help our candidates pass the exams.
So active learning is probably not the easy solution you were looking for to pass the exams. Sitting down to a heaping bowl of exam questions is probably not your favorite dish, but it will get you closer to that charter. I am looking at mine right now as I sit in my office. Stick with it a little while longer, find that motivation to study a little more, and you’ll be looking at your charter soon!
Joe Hogue, CFA
P.s. Surely there’s got to be more examples of active learning methods than the four above. What other ways have you used to actively participate in the material?