Best Places to Study for the CFA Exam

Find the perfect spot for studying the CFA curriculum to remember more on test day

Hopefully you’ve already found your perfect CFA study location but just in case you still need to find a place for that crucial last-month studying, I thought we would look at the best places to study. Put your mind to it and you could study just about anywhere but a great study location will help you master the material and get every point possible.
Even if you’ve already got a study spot for your CFA journey, read through the points to a great study location and ask yourself if your study place is all it could be. You might be able to improve your hideaway or might even decide to look for another.
What Makes a Great Study Location?
Most study locations have one of two problems, too many distractions…or not enough distractions. Sounds confusing but consider the phenomenon of state-dependent learning. This is the idea that are brains can be trained to recall things depending on an environment, whether you like it or not. Study exclusively in a super-quiet space and you might find it maddening trying to recall things on the test in the exam room. This means your ideal study location is going to be some place public but where people are generally quiet.
A great study location should be comfortable but not too much so. You should have access to a chair that won’t annoy you after a few hours on your backside but not one so comfortable that you fall asleep. Find somewhere with upright chairs (no beanbags!) and tables or desks.
You don’t have to keep just one study location for the exam. Using a few different places might help you deal with different distractions and recall the curriculum no matter where you study. Evaluate your study performance each day on the way home, deciding if you need a different location or what you can do at your current spot.
Besides finding the perfect study location, don’t overlook finding the perfect time to study as well. If you aren’t comfortable getting up early Saturday morning to study…you might want to start practicing. I used Saturday mornings for the month before the CFA exam to take practice exams and see where I needed more work in the curriculum. By the time I went to the real exam, it was like I sat for it several times already.
Comparing the Best Study Locations for CFA Candidates
Library – This one is always first on the list of best study locations. The public but quiet spot mimics a testing environment perfectly. Many libraries even have different options like cubicles, study rooms, tables and couches. If you don’t have a library nearby, a bookstore can work just as well.
Coffee Shops – these will test your ability to ignore distractions and the availability of caffeine is a big plus in my book. Every once in a while, someone will walk in that wants to be the center of attention and will throw you off your concentration. It’s not a great study location but nice for a change of pace.
Classrooms – can make for good study locations if the school will give you access during off-hours. You might not get as many distractions as you will during the CFA exam but the environment will be very similar otherwise.
Public park – Studying outside can be peaceful if you live in the suburbs but it’s tough to lay out everything and you’ll probably have to sit on the ground. Staying awake can be a problem, especially after studying a couple of hours, and the weather can interrupt your whole day.
Maybe it’s not strictly a study location but have you considered a study-vacation? This is my favorite CFA study strategy and usually reserved for the last week before the exam. Go somewhere for a few days or more, whether 100 miles away or thousands of miles. Turn off the cell phone and don’t check your email. Set an aggressive 10-hour daily study schedule and relax the other six hours enjoying the sites. Your hotel room is an ok study location but try out a few parks and the nearest library as well. It’s the perfect combination of hardcore studying and relaxation before the exam.
Now for the worst study location, your own home! Ok, so maybe it’s better than trying to study in the middle of a rock concert but the home can be a crappy place to study. I understand it’s easy and there’s no travel time but there are just too many distractions at home. From talking to family or friends to grabbing a ‘quick’ bite to eat, you’ll lose half of your study time to little breaks. If you can get to one of these other study locations in 20 minutes or less, go for it.
‘til next time, happy studying wherever you are!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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