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CFA Institute Curriculum vs. Third Party Notes



CFA Institute Curriculum vs. Third Party Notes

There are two main camps when it comes to studying for the CFA exams. Either you read and study the full CFA Institute curriculum or you use third party study notes to cover the material. By this stage at Level 3, you've probably gotten comfortable with one approach or another.

When I took the exams, I actually changed my approach. Between L1 and L2 I went from reading the curriculum to relying more on other notes. Why?

Approach 1: Reading the Full CFA Institute Notes

The CFA Institute curriculum is obviously the most reliable and in-depth source of content for what could be tested on the exam. It is comprehensive and exhaustive.

But it's also really long and contains pages of fairly irrelevant material. It takes time to get through it.

Another drawback is that most of the sections are written by different authors. The different writing styles, tone, and level of detail from each author can make it hard to keep a good pace as you go through the material.

So if you opt to read the official curriculum you gain the comfort of covering everything that could potentially be tested, but you risk getting bogged down in less important details and miss out on repeating key material enough times.

Using Condensed Third Party Notes

If you trade reading the CFA Institute curriculum for third party notes you get more condensed (yet still long) notes that are more directly aimed at passing the test.

The main advantage is that you can cover the material faster the first time through and then spend more time studying your weaker areas or doing problems. If this has been your approach on L1 + L2 you probably already have a favorite note provider. We believe there are definitely some good options out there for full third party notes.

You also benefit from having a consistent editorial voice throughout each volume of notes. Invariably the study providers will sprinkle exam tips or what to really pay attention too on top of the content itself (although we think they don't do this enough--hence our concise review notes).

Occasionally, however, you risk small inaccuracies in the material or you may miss a detail here or there. In my opinion, since you can score major points in L3 through broader theme-based knowledge, this is a minor risk.

In practice, many of us that choose third party notes as our primary option still reference the CFA Institute curriculum. This happens either for sections where we are having particular difficulty, or in more high level review where we look to do the the "blue box" problems and rewview the end of chapter summaries and questions

Common Keys to Success

Regardless of the approach you adopt, there are some shared methods to get through the material that can maximize your retention and better prepare you for exam day.

  • Understand the types of problems you will encounter and the overall perspective of the exam makers
  • You should have a time line for covering the material (we provide a full timeline if you register for our emails)
  • Try to avoid unscheduled 'zero' days
  • When you finish a section of either CFAI notes or your study notes, do the problems at the end of the section. Spend time looking at the answers and understanding your mistakes. Doing sample problems throughout your study time is vital
  • We also highly recommend you write down the page and number of the questions you get wrong. If there are questions you got correct at the time but that seem like they are crucial to what you read, mark those down too. That way in a few months you can re-do key problems quickly and easily as you review (cram) without wasting time on less important problems.
  • We also highly recommend you write down the page and number of the questions you get wrong. If there are questions you got correct at the time but that seem like they are crucial to what you read, mark those down too. That way in a few months you can re-do key problems quickly and easily as you review (cram) without wasting time on less important problems.
  • If you are using third party notes do the sample problems in the CFA-I curriculum too. This isn't necessary but it can make sure you cover every detail that the CFA Institute found worth asking questions about.
  • Take notes as you read. This is really time consuming which is why we have our condensed notes for you, but the actual process of taking notes yourself can be really helpful if you have the time to spare.
  • Use notecards. We're creating a set of notecards that is way better than the "fake" notecards out there but until they're ready having your own set of notecards allows you to quickly review material on the go.

How our Notes Fit Into Any Approach

It's easy to get lost in the details of what you're reading over the hundreds of pages of text you will have to read (no matter which approach you take). It's incredibly frustrating, not to mention a huge waste of precious time, when you are slogging through material but aren't sure how this material is related to the test or the rest of the curriculum. The bottom line is that knowing the material is great, but you want to PASS.

In fact, when I was studying it wasn't until after I had covered a large part of the curriculum and done a few mock exams that I was confident I could see how all of the pieces of information tied together. At that point I could start to build common frameworks that linked seemingly unrelated parts of the curriculum together. It made my use of study time much more efficient.

That's why we built our notes the way we did, making sure we've been very explicit about laying out how each section has been tested in the past and how it relates to other sections you will see.

If you read our condensed notes before you've covered a section it will help you focus on important elements of the curriculum. As a result you will cover the readings much faster with a higher level of comprehension. You will start drawing links between areas you're reading as you're reading them for the first time. Most important, you'll have a sense of how this information has been tested before and the types of problems to expect.

All of that moves you away from trying to memorize disparate things to figuring out exactly what you need to know to pass the test. (That's also why we've created more visual mind-maps and other study tools). Plus, when you go back to cram having a condensed set of notes is invaluable.