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If you plan on pursuing a career as a chartered financial analyst (CFA), you'll need to pass a series of tests. The CFA exam measures and certifies your competence and integrity before becoming a financial analyst. In passing the CFA exam, you'll gain analytical skills and expertise in quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting, investments analysis, and portfolio management. The exam is meant to help you enhance your career or help you find a new role in the finance sector.
The CFA Institute's tests are mostly multiple-choice, and candidates have a variety of options for how to prepare. The CFA exam consists of a series of three tests: Levels I, II, and III. On the Level I exam, you can expect questions to be focused on basic knowledge and comprehension around investment tools, while the Level II test is centered on a more complex analysis of valuing assets. The Level III exam is application-based, challenging you to think more analytically about portfolio management and wealth planning.
If you're planning to take the CFA exam, it's important to consider taking courses to ensure you're as prepared as possible. With several choices in the test-prep landscape, it's necessary to consider your learning style, budget, and time constraints. And, it's important to note that these are all subject to change during the 18-plus month journey of passing the exams.
One option is to prepare directly from the CFA Institute’s materials, which are free with every paid registration (around $700 to $1,450). As these materials are the Institute’s curriculum, they are effectively the font from which the exams are crafted.
But the materials can be excessively long for the readings, and excessively short for questions. They tend to be more theoretical than instructional, and fail to break up topics, or focus attention on what is essential for success within a pass-fail multiple-choice exam. Moreover, using these materials means primarily book-based preparation, which is unappealing to visual or auditory learners.
Most candidates, therefore, use prep course products to complement their self-study from the Institute’s materials, or as a complete alternative to using those materials. So, candidates should focus on the products that they really need given their own circumstances.
There are five distinct categories of product: self-study (i.e. buying books/e-books to work through alone), questions and mocks (i.e. paper or web-based questions and mock exams), instruction (i.e., attending a class, which can be live or online), review (i.e. accessing a cram course shortly before the exam), and tutoring, which typically means getting email-only access to an instructor.
In order to best help you feel ready for the exam, we assessed the best CFA prep courses to get you across the finish line.
Most Established : Kaplan/Schweser
Kaplan/Schweser is the largest and most established provider, offering its products in packages that increase in price accordingly.
The basic self-study package lists for about $699, and features notes, practice exams, questions, and planning tools. The mid-level package adds instruction, which can be either online for around $1,099, or live in select cities for approximately $1,399. Priced at $1,799, the top-tier package adds a weekend workshop and review books.
Kaplan/Schweser also sells access weekend and week-long review packages as standalone products, which is great if you've relied solely on self-studying and would like a new tactic.
Weekend reviews are about bringing everything together and focusing on exam strategy, rather than instruction. The week-long session is about review and instruction, since the latter is unlikely to be enough on its own.
Newest : Salt Solutions
A newer option for CFA exam prep, Salt Solutions launched its Beta platform for CFA Level I exam prep in late 2020. The open Beta will last through 2020, with the paid version coming in early 2021. The company will also release CFA Level II and CFA III exam prep later in 2021.
Salt Solutions knows it’s tough to stay focused on a large volume of material with limited study time, so it breaks it into small chunks to complete in 10 to 30 minutes. Salt Solutions also improves the study process by showing you which steps are most important. While the platform offers flexibility, the scheduler also sets weekly goals to keep you on track.
The platform has a user-friendly interface with a light or dark mode, making it easier on your eyes after long hours of studying. The Beta platform currently includes 1,600 assignment questions, 200 hours of downloadable high-definition videos, and a scheduler with weekly goals to stay on track.
Although Salt Solutions doesn’t have a proven track record yet, the user-friendly and thoughtfully designed software looks promising, particularly for those who are tired of staring at textbooks. Passing all three CFA exams isn’t easy, and Salt Solutions may be a good option for those struggling to buckle down and focus.
Most Versatile : Bloomberg Exam CFA Prep
Bloomberg Exam CFA Prep provides a modern, AI-based learning platform that aims to help identify and then focus attention on your weak areas.
The self-study and instruction-based package costs around $700 and gives you access to “micro-lessons” on the entire curriculum. You will also get variable amounts of access to practice questions and instructors, depending upon any add-ons you choose.
The base package includes 13,000 questions—more than its competitors—six full exams, and the ability to message an instructor 20 questions. With the premium package, priced at around $2,000, you'll receive four more exams, unlimited question-messaging, and five private tutoring sessions.
Bloomberg is also a great option if you're cramming since it also offers packages for sprinters—approximately $500 for two months’ access right before the exams. There are also bundles for marathoners, who can get four years’ worth of access for about $1,300—so enough for up to eight sittings of the level 1 exam.
Best for Self-Directed Learners : FinQuiz
FinQuiz is a great choice for self-directed candidates looking for an affordable complement to working directly from the CFA test materials.
The service provides a variety of options, but puts an emphasis on what the exam is expected to ask. Products available for you to use via FinQuiz are an online question bank, chapter notes, smart summaries, six mock exams, formula sheets, and a study plan.
FinQuiz’s basic program—priced at $99—is just questions and mocks, which are deliberately challenging and designed to stretch the candidates. If you have more budget to spare, FinQuiz has a premium package for approximately $179, which provides access to detailed summaries of the company's materials and instructor support.
Depending on how you learn, you can also by some of the study materials separately, which are priced around $10 to $35.
Best Modular Approach : Fitch Learning
Fitch Learning takes a modular approach to its offerings.
The modular approach means that candidates can buy just the one product that they need, rather than waste money buying a package that contains materials that you do not need and will not use.
A basic, online-access self-study package costs around $495, while a range of review and instruction-type packages can be bought separately. If you're looking for access to questions, it'll cost you about $195, while mocks are approximately $79 online and review courses are pricier, at around $300. There are also various live, online, or on-demand classes available that you can purchase separately.
The question and/or mock packages are a great value if you are looking for extra opportunities to practice working with questions, and the standalone review course is worth considering if you are in the final stretch before the exam.
Best Tutoring Option : MyGuru
MyGuru offers affordable, individual tutoring from CFA charter holders, either in person or online. Candidates get a lot of flexibility with tutors, both in terms of when and how it takes place, and also with regards to how many sessions are purchased.
Tutoring is often used as a supplement to in-person or online self-study, or an instructional course. An individual teacher is there to help you create a more customized study plan out of whatever materials or curriculum exists, as well as to focus on the topics and concepts that might be challenging. Of course, they can also become a mentor to you and help build confidence leading up to the date of the exam.
In contrast to online courses that include access to an instructor or mentor as part of a package in advance, you will get to choose how many lessons you need as you study. Plus, you will get personalized attention dedicated to your specific concerns. Costs vary, but typically does not exceed $125 per hour, with lower pricing offered when students invest in a package of hours.
Most Price Options : Wiley Efficient Learning
Wiley Efficient Learning offers layers of packages that increase in price by how many materials you need.
The standalone self-study course costs around $645 and notably includes questions, as well as two mock exams. For about $995, you can get instruction in a live-on-line and/or video format, as well as the right to email questions to an instructor, flashcards, and other goodies.
For $1,395, Wiley throws in a review course, which includes an online class, a mock and a book. There are less hours of video lectures and questions as candidates progress through the three exams. For tutoring, candidates get responses from instructors within 24 to 48 hours.
Wiley’s CFA offerings are up-to-date and don't contain questions that relate to topics that are long-gone from the curriculum.
When Can I Take the CFA Exam?
If you're planning to take the CFA exam, they take place each year in June. In 2020, the CFA level 1 and CFA level 2 exams will take place on June 6 for the majority of candidates.
What Score Do I Need to Pass the CFA Exam?
There are a variety of score combinations you can get to pass the exam. You can pass with less than 50% in about four of the topics: Derivatives, Economics, Portfolio Management, and Quantitative Methods. You would need to score 51% to 70% in Alternative Investments, and average 70% in Corporate Finance, Equity Instruments, Ethical and Professional Standards, Financial Reporting and Analysis, and Fixed Income. Or, you can score under 50% in Financial Reporting and Analysis, average 70% in Economics and Portfolio Management and get between 51% and 70% in seven other subjects.
Bottom line: You don't need to get more than 70% across the board to pass.
Is Getting a CFA Worth It?
If you're looking to advance your career in finance, the CFA exam is definitely worth taking. Considering the markets are always changing, becoming a certified CFA will provide you with a solid base of knowledge and opportunity to pursue a variety of jobs, including a relationship manager, research analyst, chief executive, financial advisor, corporate financial analyst, and more.
How We Chose The Best CFA Prep Courses
To help determine which CFA prep course is best for you, we compared which services stood out in terms of pricing, value, packages, options for online and in-person courses and the ability to purchase study materials individually. We also looked into how customizable the companies' services were and which companies would offer money-back guarantees.