Why You Should (or Shouldn't) Take a CFA Review Class
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Most candidates do not get through all three exams studying on their own. But is a live review class right for you? Only you know if you can commit to a weekly schedule or whether a live class appeals to you, but there is another factor you should consider. CFA Institute states, “The progressive nature of the three different levels means that the questions at Levels II and III require higher-order thinking than the questions at Level I.” So I suggest thinking about this based on your exam level.
LEVEL I – DISCIPLINE
The Level I curriculum focuses on investment tools (corporate finance, economics, quantitative methods, and financial statement analysis) and contains hundreds of learning outcome statements (LOSs) across a wide-range of topics. The volume of required information is vast. This means that disciplined study is essential to pass this exam.
There can be great value in attending a class and gaining insights from instructors who have boiled down the readings into manageable, easy-to-remember chunks. Plus the weekly schedule helps keep you focused and disciplined.
LEVEL II – ANALYSIS
Whereas Level I tests basic knowledge, Level II takes it up a notch by testing your ability to analyze and apply investment tools and concepts. Simply put, Level II is analytically challenging. Live instruction can really help you master this material. But the key is to find great instructors, ones who can simplify, organize and present the material efficiently and effectively. Not everyone can do that. So do your homework by asking Level III candidates or CFA Charterholders for recommendations.
LEVEL III – SYNTHESIS
Level III candidates should have a solid foundation in the concepts and applications of the investment tools. This exam expands that knowledge by asking candidates to evaluate information and determine effective portfolio management and wealth planning decisions. (Refer to the exam area weights chart - 90% of the exam is on asset classes and portfolio management; none on investment tools specifically.)
While it is easy to develop class sessions around one topic, it is not as easy to develop an effective course that follows the structure of the Level III exam. At this level, information is combined from a number of study sessions into one question, something not done on previous exams. I would argue that a Level III review class adds little value other than color from the instructor. Instead, I suggest joining a study group as well as spending time with the morning exam format. One way to do that is to study past exam questions. You can find questions from the past three years online.
Exam review classes taught by veteran experts can be beneficial at Level I and II because classes provide candidates with structured discipline and meaningful insights. Seasoned Level III candidates’ needs are different. Due to the nature of the Level III exam, classes are probably not as worthwhile for this level.
Linda Lam is the program manager of the CFA Review Program offered by the University of San Francisco.