Best CAIA Exam Prep Courses

How to prepare for the all-important test

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So you’ve decided to take the next step in your financial career by earning the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) Charter, but you’ll need to prove your qualifications by passing the exams first. With a completion rate of just 40%, the CAIA Charter program is notoriously intense. For many people, the best shot at success is enrolling in a CAIA exam prep course.

The CAIA Association publishes a list of recommended third-party preparation providers. Even among these options, however, some are better than others. CAIA exam prep courses can cost anywhere from close to $500 to more than $1,100, so it’s important to choose carefully. We took a close look at all the options available and identified the best courses based on curriculum, materials, instruction, pricing, and more.

The Best CAIA Exam Prep Courses of 2021

Best Overall : Kaplan Schweser


Kaplan Schweser

  Kaplan Schweser

Wherever you are in the world, Kaplan Schweser is the gold standard of CAIA exam prep. From OnDemand classes to mock exams, every step of this course is top-notch.

Pros
  • Both self-study and instructor-led options

  • Local course providers in seven global regions

  • Flexible 0% APR financing available

  • No charge for your second course if you don’t pass on the first attempt

Cons
  • Pricier than competitors

  • No weekend technical support

  • Extra fee for flashcards

Since 1999, Kaplan Schweser has been the most well-recognized provider of CAIA exam prep worldwide. In fact, the company and its distributors make up more than one-third of the CAIA Association’s list of recommended preparation providers. Through this network of partnerships, Kaplan Schweser is able to offer courses in seven different regions across North and South America, Europe, and Asia helping it take the overall best spot. 

Kaplan Schweser’s CAIA prep program is divided into four packages. Two of these are self-directed courses, providing access to a library of study materials with the option to add a review workshop and online mock exams. The other two feature live weekly classes and access to instructors, who can answer questions at any time.

If there’s a drawback to the Kaplan Schweser CAIA exam prep course, it’s the price tag. Self-study packages start at $499 per level; for access to live classes, review workshops, and mock exams, you’ll have to pay $1,129. On the bright side, 0% APR financing is offered to all United States residents except people living in Iowa, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico with flexible payment terms of three, six, or 12 months. If you fail your exam on the first try, Kaplan Schweser will provide free access to the same course you originally purchased on your second attempt.

Best Value : Wiley Efficient Learning


Kaplan Schweser

 Kaplan Schweser

CAIA exam prep courses are a major investment, but Wiley Efficient Learning gives you the best value for your money with a no-commitment trial, generous student discount, and continued access until you pass the exam.

Pros
  • Offers a 14-day free trial

  • Free study resources

  • Students get a 20% discount up to 90 days after graduating

  • Includes course access for as many retakes as you need to pass

  • Lessons broken down into short 30- to 45-minute bite-sized lessons

Cons
  • No live classes

  • Mentor response time takes up to 48 hours

  • Only provides one mock exam

CAIA exam prep course fees start at $495, no small cost especially given exam registration fees total an additional $1,650, and that’s assuming you pass on the first try. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have an employer covering those costs, Wiley Efficient Learning will give you the best bang for your buck.

Right off the bat, Wiley Efficient Learning offers prospective CAIA exam takers a 14-day free trial of its premium study package with no credit card required. University students who decide to continue with the program can benefit from a 20% discount on all packages and study materials until 90 days after their graduation date. If you fail the exam, the company will continue providing access to the study package you purchased for as many attempts as it takes to pass. (Every other provider we reviewed either limited this guarantee to a single retake or gave a nominal discount on subsequent courses.) All of this combined makes Wiley Efficient Learning the best value of our providers. 

Wiley Efficient Learning does offer fewer course options than competitors, selling just two study packages priced at $495 and up to $795 per level. The program lacks live online classes, although the premium package includes pre-recorded video lectures and access to ask instructors questions. You’ll also be limited to a single mock exam instead of the multiple exam options provided by some competitors.

Best Study Materials : UpperMark


Kaplan Schweser

 Kaplan Schweser

UpperMark’s proprietary software that generates customizable mock exams isn’t the only reason we picked the company for best study materials. Packages also include a wide selection of handbooks, flashcards, formula sheets, and more.

Pros
  • Choose from four customizable packages

  • Digital and hard copy options for most study materials

  • Advanced test bank software contains more than 1,700 practice questions

  • Premium packages include 3.5 hours of live instruction per week

  • 25% discount for enrolled students

Cons
  • No trial or refund period for course fees

  • Digital materials expire after the exam period

  • Only gives a 50% discount for retakes

A large part of the value offered by a CAIA exam prep course is the quality of its study materials, and you won’t find a more comprehensive toolkit than UpperMark, which is why it leads this category. The company’s claim to fame as a preparation provider is its proprietary TestBank software that generates customizable exams from more than 1,700 practice questions. The software even includes analytical tools that help you track progress over time and identify topics that need more review.

UpperMark’s four study packages also come with a wide range of helpful study tools such as handbooks and formula sheets. Most materials are available in both digital and printed format; choosing digital materials may save you a bit of money on your course costs, while both can be purchased together for an additional fee.

Pricing on UpperMark CAIA exam prep courses starts at $499 and goes up to $1,029 per level, although actively enrolled college students can request a 25% discount. Each package is extremely customizable, with the ability to remove products you don’t need and even opt out of live classes for topics you’re already comfortable with.

Unfortunately, UpperMark doesn’t offer any type of trial period for its course and won’t refund fees once they’ve been paid. The company’s pass guarantee is also much less generous than other preparation providers. If you fail on the first try, you’ll only receive a 50% discount on your next UpperMark study package. Most competitors will give you this for free.

Best One-on-One Instruction : Varsity Tutors


Varsity Tutors

 Varsity Tutors

Varsity Tutors is the best choice if you’re looking to incorporate one-on-one instruction into your CAIA exam prep plan. These flexible online sessions can be personalized according to your existing knowledge and study progress.

Pros
  • Personalized, one-on-one tutoring sessions offered online

  • Discounts offered when buying classes in bulk

Cons
  • Most expensive CAIA exam prep option

  • Price doesn’t include the cost of study materials

  • Only a handful of tutors to choose from

  • Not included on the CAIA Association’s list of recommended preparation providers

Formal CAIA exam prep courses are helpful, but they don’t always provide the level of individualized attention you need to pass an incredibly difficult test. Varsity Tutors’ CAIA exam tutors are a great way to get one-on-one guidance, whether as a standalone preparation method or to supplement a formal course, giving it the edge in the category for one-on-one instruction.

Varsity Tutors’ convenient online tutoring sessions can be scheduled from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Typically, CAIA exam prep sessions last two hours and are purchased in packages of hourly credits; the more hours you buy, the more you’ll save. Credits expire after one year, although you can use them to prepare for either the Level I or Level II CAIA exam. Pricing is structured as follows:

  • 12 to 23 hours: $105 per hour
  • 24 to 35 hours: $100 per hour
  • 26 to 47 hours: $95 per hour
  • 48 or more hours: $93 per hour

It’s important to note that Varsity Tutors is the only company in our review that isn’t included on the CAIA Association’s list of recommended preparation providers. The quality of the tutoring you receive may depend on the individual, so make sure you verify their independent credentials before signing up for sessions. Only a handful of tutors with CAIA curriculum knowledge are available through Varsity Tutors.

Bottom Line

CAIA exam prep courses aren’t cheap, but they can easily pay for themselves when you consider that every retake requires a $450 fee and six-month wait for the next exam period. If you’re concerned about passing on the first attempt, look for a program with a pass guarantee such as Wiley Efficient Learning or Kaplan Schweser. On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with most of the curriculum and only need to review a handful of topics in depth, UpperMark’s customizable, subject-based plans might be a better fit.

Compare Providers

Company Why We Picked It Instruction Type Cost Per Level
Kaplan Schweser Best Overall Self-directed, live instruction $499 to $1,129
Wiley Efficient Learning Best Value Self-directed $495 to $795
UpperMark Best Study Materials Self-directed, live instruction $499 to $1,029
Varsity Tutors Best One-on-One Instruction Live instruction Varies; $93 to $105 per hour

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is the CAIA Exam?

The CAIA exam, short for Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst, is a professional charter program designed to prepare you for a career in alternative investments. The exam is broken down into two parts, Level I and Level II, which are taken in separate sessions. Each exam is administered twice per year in March and September. A minimum of 200 hours of study is recommended and most candidates take 12 to 18 months to pass both exams and become a CAIA Association member.

Who Should Take the CAIA Exam?

Compared to the more sought-after CFA exam, the CAIA exam has a very narrow but in-depth focus on specific alternative investments. With this in mind, the CAIA exam is best suited for financial professionals pursuing a career in private equity or hedge funds.

What Does a CAIA Exam Prep Course Cost?

Most CAIA exam prep courses start around $500 per level for a self-study program. Instructor-led courses can cost between $900 and $1,100. Keep in mind that the CAIA exam is divided into two levels, so you’ll need to purchase separate packages if you want help preparing for both.

How We Chose the Best CAIA Exam Prep Courses

To choose the best CAIA exam prep courses, we first reviewed the program curriculum covered by each provider, making sure it met CAIA Association standards. Next, we examined the different formats of study materials provided, including textbooks, notes, flashcards, and practice exams. We also looked at options for live classes and ease of access to instructors. Finally, we considered the price of the course, available discounts, and any pass guarantees offered.

Article Sources

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  1. Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association. "The CAIA Charter." Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  2. Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association. "Preparation Providers." Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.