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CFA Exam Study Tips

Study Smart with the CFA Institute Learning Ecosystem

The CFA Institute Learning Ecosystem contains the full CFA Program curriculum, personalized study plans, practice questions and mock exams, flashcards, moderated message boards, curriculum-based games with leader boards, and more. Check out these videos to learn more about how the Learning Ecosystem can help you prepare for exam day.


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Studying for the CFA Exam After a Deferral

After a year of disruptions, you are getting ready to prepare for the CFA Program exam. Deferrals and cancellations have upended your study plans again and again. We estimate that most candidates who succeed on the exam spend approximately 300 hours of study time, but if you are a deferred candidate, you may have already put that much time in. Don’t assume you remember it all!

So how should you tackle a refresher study of your CFA curriculum?

General Study:

  • Consistently set aside at least some time every day. Cramming doesn’t work. And, even if you are studying regularly, it’s more effective to study a little every day than to study in one large block each weekend.
  • Start your studies as early as possible
  • Leave a minimum of 4 weeks at the end for review, longer if possible.
  • The only source of material for exam questions is the assigned CFA curriculum provided upon registration by CFA Institute. Use the learning outcome statements and practice questions and problems in each lesson to guide your studies.


  • Make extensive use of the practice problems in the Learning Ecosystem, but do not focus solely on drilling with practice exams. Take some time to reflect on how the practice problems demonstrate variations of how concepts and techniques are applied in different situations.
  • Pay attention to where you are strong versus weak with the content. Continually focus on your weak areas.
  • If you haven’t already, try using the adaptive plan in the Learning Ecosystem. The tool is intended to assess your current knowledge and help you focus on your weak areas.
  • The Learning Ecosystem has a tool that allows candidates to “Rate Your Confidence” with concepts. This tool can help you track where you are feeling strong or weak regardless of whether you use the structured or adaptive study plan.
  • Use the mock exam to help assess your overall readiness and to help you practice pacing yourself.

If you’re stuck:

  • If you are stuck, join a study group, reach out to your society for candidate resources, or seek out a prep provider.
  • If you already took the official mock exams, consider purchasing a prep course in order to access some fresh mock exams
  • If you consumed all the official curriculum questions, many prep providers have good question banks which can be a way to freshen your studies
  • In general, switching prep providers may help you see the curriculum and questions through fresh eyes and drive motivation

On exam day:

  • Read each question carefully to be sure you understand the knowledge or skill the question is targeting. For multiple choice items, read all answer choices carefully before evaluating the question. Incorrect answer choices are designed to appear plausible to an unprepared candidate, but not to appear ambiguous to a prepared candidate.
  • Each question can be answered solely with the information given. Do not introduce extraneous information or make unnecessary assumptions.
  • Answer all questions; there is no penalty for incorrect answers.
  • Some tips specifically for Level III Essay:
    • Answers are graded only on content. They are not graded for language and style.
    • Use short phrases and bullet points to save time but be sure your meaning is clear.
    • No points are awarded for general knowledge that is not responsive to the question. Focus on addressing the bold command words used in each question.
    • If the question requires a decision (e.g., command words Determine or Recommend), clearly state your choice. When a candidate’s intent is unclear to the grader, or contradictory information is included in an answer, no points will be awarded. For example, if the question requires the candidate to Justify a recommendation, the information you provide should clearly show why the recommendation is correct.
    • If a question asks for one advantage or two reasons, provide no more than the number of advantages or reasons requested. Only the first advantage and the first two reasons that you provide will be graded. If you are uncertain, you must use your judgment as to the advantage and the reasons that you think most strongly and directly support your answer.
    • If appropriate, state any assumptions that support your approach to solving the problem.
    • Assume the question is addressing a generally accepted concept or principle. Do not assume that questions are designed to trick candidates or test arcane exceptions.
    • Manage your time. This is a common challenge for candidates, particularly on the essay portion of the exam. Avoid providing additional information not directly responsive to the questions asked; be particularly alert to this tendency on topics you know well. Avoid laboring over questions on topics you do not know well; return to those questions after you have answered the questions where you are confident of your understanding. Try to follow closely the minutes allotted to each question.


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