A CFA Level 1 is considered valuable

Routes to finance

The prerequisites for obtaining the CFA certification (Chartered Financial Analyst) are a lengthy examination. The CFA Institute believes that mastering one's own curriculum readings and learning outcome statements should be sufficient to successfully complete the exams. However, its website lists the members of the Prep Provider Guidelines program who meet certain criteria.

CFA exam level of difficulty:

In June 2009, the CFA Institute stated that about 35% of those who take the Level 1 exam pass, while about 50% pass the Level 2 and Level 3 exams.

The higher success rates on the later exams likely reflect the larger pool of applicants that remains after less qualified candidates are excluded from the Level One exam. The difficulty of the exams has fueled the demand for formal CFA review courses to complement the self-study materials.

Leading CFA Review Course Providers:

Some of the leading providers of review kofurses and review materials are:

  • Schweser (part of the Kaplan Division of the Washington Post Company)
  • Stalla (sold to Kaplan in 2001 by DeVry's Becker Professional Education Division.
  • CFA Institute member societies, specifically the New York Society of Security Analysts (NYSSA)

The NYSSA touts the New York area leader in CFA test preparation based on the number of people enrolled.

CFA Review Course Essentials:

Applicants considering a review course (test prep course) should ask these crucial questions before choosing a particular provider:

  • Was the course and learning material developed and maintained by CFA certificates (CFA holders)?
  • What qualifications do the teachers have? Are you a CFA certifier?
  • Does the exam course provider have the resources to deliver their program on an ongoing basis?
  • What access do students have to ask questions outside of the classroom?

NYSSA suggests these additional considerations when choosing a provider:

  • The length of the teacher's experience in leading CFA exam preparation categories
  • Whether the instructor is teaching test strategies such as Question based on his score. This is where a CFA holder is especially valuable as an instructor
  • Whether the class has one or more instructors. A class with a single teacher can have greater continuity.
  • How long the provider has been in the CFA test prep business
  • Word of mouth from CFA holders who used the test prep providers themselves

Ironically, an organization designed to promote transparency in reporting, the CFA Institute prohibits authorized test prep providers from disclosing their performance rates (the success rate of participants); otherwise, this would be an important consideration when choosing a provider.

Example CFA exam questions:

The CFA Institute offers sample exam questions from previous years on its website. A careful study of these questions is advisable for several reasons:

  • To understand the format, complexity and breadth of the exam
  • To get a general impression of whether you should prepare yourself through self-study or whether you should take a formal CFA overview course