CFA Review Courses Overview: The requirements for obtaining the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) certification include passing a lengthy examination. The CFA Institute believes that mastery of its own curriculum readings and Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) should be sufficient to succeed on the exams. However, its website does list the members of its Prep Provider Guidelines Program that meet certain criteria.
CFA Exam Difficulty: As of June 2009, the CFA Institute indicates that about 35% of those taking the Level One exam pass, while roughly 50% pass the Level 2 and Level 3 exams. The higher pass rates on the later exams probably reflects the stronger applicant pool that remains after less qualified candidates have been winnowed out by the Level One exam. The difficulty of the exams has spurred demand for formal CFA review courses as a supplement to the self-study materials.
Leading CFA Review Course Providers: Some of the leading providers of review courses and review materials are:
- Schweser (part of the Washington Post Company's Kaplan division)
- Stalla (sold to Kaplan in 2001 by DeVry's Becker Professional Education division)
- CFA Institute member societies, most notably the New York Society of Security Analysts (NYSSA)
The NYSSA touts itself as being the market leader in CFA test prep in the New York area, based on the number of enrollees.
CFA Review Course Essentials: Applicants considering taking a review course (test prep course) should ask these crucial questions before deciding on a particular provider:
- Has the course and study materials been developed and maintained by CFA certificants (CFA holders)?
- What are the qualifications of the instructional staff? Are they CFA certificants?
- Does the review course provider have the resources to deliver its program on a continuing basis?
- What access do enrollees have to faculty, such as to ask questions outside the classroom setting?
The NYSSA suggests these further considerations in choosing a provider:
- The instructor's length of experience in leading CFA test prep classes.
- Whether the instructor teaches test-taking strategies, such as how much time to spend on a given question based on its point value. This is where having a CFA holder as an instructor is especially valuable.
- Whether the class has one or more instructors. A class with a single instructor may have greater continuity.
- How long the provider has been in the CFA test prep business.
- Word-of-mouth recommendations from CFA holders who have used test prep providers themselves.
Ironically for an organization that is supposed to promote transparency in reporting, the CFA Institute prohibits authorized test prep providers from disclosing their performance ratios (the pass rate of enrollees). Otherwise, this would be a key consideration in choosing among providers.
Sample CFA Exam Questions: The CFA Institute offers, on its website, sample exam questions from previous years. Close study of these questions is advisable for several reasons:
- To understand the format, complexity and breadth of the exam
- To get a general sense for whether one should prepare via self-study, or whether one should enroll in a formal CFA review course