With the start of the study season for the December Level 1 Exam comes a rush of calls for study groups in CFA groups on the internet and locally. Studying for the CFA exams can be an extremely solitary and uncertain pursuit so candidates look for help and confidence in groups.
But should you join a study group for the CFA exam? If you do join a group, how much time should you commit and what are the advantages or disadvantages?
We’ve posted a few articles on the Finquiz CFA blog about participating in groups but I thought I would reinforce some of the most important ideas. We’ll look at some study group options, benefits and risks to watch out for before tackling the question of whether you should join a study group for the CFA exams.
What are your options for CFA Study Groups?
I remember studying for the CFA exams, from 2009 through 2011, and joining study groups. Since then, technology has brought new options to CFA study groups but candidates are still using the old methods as well.
First, you’ve got the old school method of in-person study groups. Maybe I haven’t grown up with the technology that enables the other study groups but I still like in-person groups above all others. They take a little longer, through travel time, and a little more coordination to set up but these study groups can be an indispensable networking tool. Through your study time together, you’ve got a chance to develop a real friendship with some of the people that will lead the profession in your city or region.
There are live study groups that meet over Skype or Google Hangouts. This is the next best thing to the in-person groups. You lose a little of the interpersonal nature because you can’t really talk one-on-one with anyone but it’s still face-to-faces so you can build some good connections. Virtual groups can save a lot of travel time and are easier to put together than in-person groups.
Next you’ve got web-enabled study groups on Facebook and in other website forums. These can range in formality from an open forum that allows posting to a closed-group that controls the study plan and questions. You lose a lot of the networking benefit unless you interact with members outside the group. The benefit is that they allow everyone to post and reply on their own schedule.
Lastly, you’ve got the newest type of CFA study groups in messaging software like WhatsApp. These are so popular that they are continuously the most commented discussions in the CFA Candidates LinkedIn group. I’ve gotten mixed reviews from candidates about these groups. They can be helpful because you can multi-task while participating, checking in occasionally on new messages, but you lose all of the networking benefit to groups. I sat in on one of the groups a few times and the flow of messages can get overwhelming.
What are the risks you want to avoid in a CFA study group?
The biggest risk to any study group is going off-topic and letting the group go unorganized. It’s fine to trade a few off-topic comments here and there, that’s all part of being sociable, but it helps to set a schedule and bring the group back on topic quickly.
- Don’t make the same person act as schedule-keeper every meeting. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, constantly nagging the group to stay on topic. Rotate the role each time the group meets.
- Everyone in the group has to make the same commitment to the process and the schedule. You’re not accountable to anyone for grades like in school groups but the group breaks down if one or a few people are always missing or forget to read their assignment.
In-person groups and internet-live groups should probably be limited to about six people or less. This helps make sure that everyone has a chance to participate and that you don’t get too many people talking at once. Forum and chat groups can include more people but it still helps if there are a limited number of ‘virtual’ seats. Having hundreds of people participate makes it difficult to differentiate between the real contributors and those just hanging out.
Don’t be afraid to question someone’s answer or rationale behind an answer. You will either learn where you were wrong, improving your own score on the exam, or you will avoid everyone learning the wrong material which will improve everyone’s score. On the same note, don’t take it personally when someone questions one of your answers. You are all there to learn.
Should you join a CFA study group?
Now that you know your options, some of the benefits and the risks to joining a CFA study group, you can make a better decision whether to join one or not. Study groups can be an inefficient way of learning the material, eating up your time and possibly even giving you misinformation from wrong answers. They can also be great motivators through the group support system and an excellent way to network.
I participated in study groups and I would recommend everyone try them out at least once. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I still prefer the in-person groups to any other method. Try putting together a weekly or bi-weekly group in your area, close enough that no one has to travel more than 20 minutes for the group. Limit the group to under two hours and stay on schedule. Going out socially after the group can help keep group-time focused.
I would caution against participating in more than two groups. Spending more than a few hours a week in group is seriously going to cut into your study time. Groups can be great for discussing problems and questions but they are not as efficient as reading the material yourself and working end-of-chapter questions.
If you can’t manage to coordinate an in-person study group or a live-internet group, you might try one of the forum or chat groups. You might have better luck than I did with these groups but remember to keep it organized and on-topic.
I’d love to hear how you are using CFA study groups to further your studying and prepare for the exam. Let me know if I missed any pointers or any of the risks you’ve seen in groups.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA