Should you buy the CFA Exam printed material?

Do you spend the extra cash to buy the CFA exam notes in paper/hardcopy? At an extra $150 it is not an insubstantial expense.

The answer of course, is it depends BUT if you can swing it, you should get the hard copy as well. 

Here's why.

Buying the CFA Curriculum can save your eyes

The average page count for any of the three levels of the CFA Exam - whether Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 - will be in the mid thousands of pages. That's a lot of computer time if you only use electronic forms of the material. But of course it can be done. 

If you work in front of a computer all day, which I assume you do, you already know if you are prone to eye strain. If that's you - then this is a no brainer. 

Either way, you should consider investing in a dedicated e-reader. 

E-ink is easy on the eyes because it reflects ambient light just like a paper book, but computer screens, smartphones and tablets have a combination of  glare, pixilation and flickers can also tire the eyes. LCDs are certainly gentler on eyes than their predecessor, cathode-ray tubes (CRT), but prolonged reading on glossy self-illuminated screens can cause eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision. Such symptoms are so common among people who read on screens—affecting around 70 percent of people who work long hours in front of computers—that the American Optometric Association officially recognizes computer vision syndrome.

Science says you retain more in print

Some people sense this intuitively: they print everything. Some folks probably have never noticed and don't care. But the early jury is out, and print allows the reader some definite advantages.

Scientific American for example, writes "most screens, e-readers, smartphones and tablets interfere with intuitive navigation of a text and inhibit people from mapping the journey in their minds." That's sort of related to my point about how one of the first things you must do when studying for the CFA is to map the forest. Thus "instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead."

Another study, since replicated, posits that scrolling—which requires you to focus both on the text and how you are moving through it—drains more mental resources than turning or clicking a page. This reduces the processing power you have available for comprehension.

Practically speaking, whether you use print or not, you should make a conscious effort to skim the entire chapter before diving in. Says one education scholar, Anne Mangen, "The ease with which you can find out the beginning, end and everything inbetween and the constant connection to your path, your progress in the text, might be some way of making it less taxing cognitively, so you have more free capacity for comprehension."

So does it empirically impact test scores? There's certainly no CFA-specific study, but one study found that while test results were comparable students had significantly higher reading time when using digital devices. In other words, is a reliance on them actually inefficient?

David Daniel and William Woody urge caution in rushing to e-textbooks and call for further investigation. Their study compared college student performance between electronic and paper textbooks. While the results suggested that student scores were similar between the formats, they noted that reading time was significantly higher in the electronic version.

If you want to learn more, this article provides a good summary of the latest in the field. 

It's Easier Not to Multi-Task

Let's be honest, we generally would rather do something other than study for the CFA exam. If you have hard copy books I wager you are much less likely to multi-task. A few studies have confirmed this across geographies. Naomi Baron, a researcher, found in one of her studies that 92 percent of American and Japanese students found it easier to concentrate when reading in hard copy (98 percent in Germany). Of the American students, 26 percent said they were likely to multitask while reading in print, compared with 85 percent reading on-screen.

Another study found that during a 15-minute study period students using digital devices shifted tasks an average of three times. If writing this post is any indication, that seems pretty accurate. 

You can handwrite notes in the margin

If you're highlighting passages and leaving notes digitally that's pretty good. But actually writing something down has been found to be incredibly useful for comprehension. The hard-copy lets you do this on the page, near the relevant material. Either way, make sure you are keeping your own notes. It's why we recommend writing your own flashcards (and yes, we say that offering 900+ of our own for you to use).