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Selecting a Prep Provider

By Arif Irfanullah, CFA


Posted on 14-04-18 at 10:53 am


Studying exclusively from the CFA Program curriculum can be intimidating. Hence many candidates use products and services offered by CFA exam prep providers.

There are several prep providers, each offering a range of products.  Selecting a prep provider who is right for you is important.  Here are my suggestions on identifying a prep provider who can help pass the exams:

  1. Work with a CFA Institute Approved Prep Provider. The list of approved prep providers is available on the CFA Institute website: cfainstitute.org/programs/cfaprogram/courseofstudy/Pages/cfa_exam_prep_providers.aspx
  2. Short-list two or three prep providers based on recommendations from friends and colleagues. You can also check online forums to find out what successful candidates are saying about different prep providers.
  3. Spend a day or two carefully evaluating free/demo material.
    1. Determine whether the prep provider material is aligned with the curriculum.
    2. Pick the prep provider whose content you find most useful.
  4. Before making the purchase make sure you understand what you are buying.

No matter which prep provider you select, I strongly recommend that you keep the CFA Program as your basic reference book.  Make sure you do the examples and practice problems from the curriculum.  Also do the practice questions and tests which are available on the CFA Institute website.

CFA Institute makes the exam; hence, it is only logical that you attempt all questions prepared by CFA Institute. Furthermore, these questions are included in the fee that you’ve paid.

Candidates should not spend any more than 8-10 hours of there time, i.e. not more than 3% of your total prep time, in the process of selecting a prep provider. However, following questions can prove vital in selecting the right prep provider:

  • Do the instructors of the review courses specialize in the topic areas they are teaching?
    • Make sure the instructors know the topic they teach.
  • Does the preparatory provider predict what specific topics are going to appear on the exam?
    • Preparatory courses should help you prepare for the exam, not engage in speculation about what topics will appear on the exam.
  • Does the preparatory provider claim to use actual questions from previous exams?
    • CFA Institute has not released actual Level I multiple-choice questions since 1995 and does not release actual Level II and III item set questions.
  • Are the study materials prepared by CFA®charterholders or otherwise qualified Instructors?
    • Make sure your instructor is someone who has “been there, done that” or at least has significant experience in assisting the candidates for the exams.
  • Is the preparatory course teaching the current curriculum?
    • This sounds obvious, but some providers’ offerings are not up to date.
  • Are the preparatory providers’ practice exam offerings and other products consistent with the current program curriculum and exam question formats?
    • Many preparatory providers’ test banks are based on old material that is no longer included in the curriculum or exams.
  • When will the study materials be available?
    • Study materials that are not available until a few months before the exam will not offer much study time for the exam.
  • How are candidates informed about study material errata?
    • Will the preparatory provider automatically send corrections to all users, or does the candidate have to seek out corrections?
  • If the provider guarantees your success on the exam, how are guarantees handled for unsuccessful candidates?
    • If the product was not helpful for the exam you failed, will it help you for future exams?
  • If the preparatory provider posts a pass rate for its products, how is that pass rate calculated?
    • Approved Prep Provider Program participants agree not to publish their pass rates.

Comment on selection to study ratio.  This should be less than 3%.  If the expected study time is 300 hours no more than 9 hours should be spent on selecting a prep provider.

Related Articles:

Should I Pursue the CFA® Program?

The CFA Program® Exams