Can You Study CFA on Your Own

Can You Study CFA on Your Own

For those of you who constantly find yourself putting off registering for the CFA program because of the demands of conventional classes, the thoughts of studying the CFA on your own must have at one point popped up. 

However, looking at the bulky syllabus and seemingly tough exam questions, the big question is – can you study CFA on your own? 

Yes, learning the CFA syllabi on your own is achievable. What you have to do is create a study routine and adhere to it. However, this does not in any way take away the challenges you’ll come across in the process of earning a CFA charter. 

For those of you working full-time or running your own business and are unable to commit to attending structured CFA classes, do not stress yourself further.

In this guide, we’ll be providing everything you need to become a chartered financial analyst on your own.

How to Study CFA on Your Own

Among the several study options available for the CFA, Self-studying is the most challenging study option, but it is not impossible.

Many candidates have earned the CFA charter by studying on their own. To achieve this, they devoted time and discipline and planned their study routines. 

Materials You Need to Self-Study CFA

To study CFA effectively, you need the following:

  • Study Materials
  • Video Tutorials
  • Prep courses from Approved Prep Providers
  • Time
  • Discipline

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1. Prepare Ahead

Planning is essential to your entire learning process. You must create a good study plan and adhere to it.

Consider the length of the curriculum, necessary study abilities for the course, your current commitments, and your educational background when developing your plan.

The curricula of the CFA program are of three levels. The following elements are covered across the three levels: 

  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Derivatives
  • Portfolio Management 
  • Corporate Finance 
  • Equity 
  • Fixed Income 
  • Alternative Investments 
  • Ethics 
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Economics

Each level is structured differently and has its exam: computer-based. To become chartered, you must pass all three exams sequentially, i.e. Level I, then II, and lastly III.

You can sit for the Level I exams in any of the four opportunities in a year: Feb, May, Aug, and Nov.

However, you can only register to take a CFA exam twice in one year. This means there must be a six-month interval between resitting a level’s exam or sitting for a new level.

Be prepared to invest your time while studying for CFA. It takes about 4-5 years to complete the program and become chartered, approximately 300 hours for each level. 

You must be ready to devote at least 15 hours per week or even more to studying since you’d be learning by yourself.

One study aid you can explore is to create a detailed blueprint of your study plan in an MS Excel sheet. Typically, you have about six months (180 days) before an exam.

Allocate study and non-study days. The non-study days can include weekends, festive days, and other breaks.  

As an example, you can decide to study for 120 days for each level, which is almost 3 hours each day. You can map out 70 days to complete the syllabus, 20 days for revision, and 30 days for practice tests.

Also, ensure you design your plan in compliance with CFA schedules, planners, and indices. Remember to plan for procrastination and include flexibility because you may get ahead or fall behind along the line.

The important thing is to maintain the schedule as much as you can.

2. Get Familiar with the CFA Curriculum

Get Familiar with the CFA Curriculum

It is widely known that CFA level exams are quite difficult but only a few believe that this is true. This shows the naivety of the approach of many candidates. Most lack the discipline required to stick to a study routine. It shows in the pass rates of the exams. 

The table summarizes the most recent pass rates of the three CFA levels.

LevelPass Rate
(Adapted from CFA Institute)

Now, these pass rates for CFA exams are pretty low. More than half of the candidates who sat for the exams of the first two levels failed. Not that they did not study but because there is more to acing these exams than just learning. Why?

The CFA program is unlike most career advancement programs you’re familiar with. The exams are structured in a way that requires critical reasoning and problem-solving skills. They are not structured directly from the learning materials.

Yes, studying the course materials provide ample curriculum resources, and practicing the mock questions will enhance your skills. However, without guided instruction, passing the exams may prove much more complex than you prepared for.

Why is Guided Instruction Necessary?

You can’t have the same level of strengths in all the different elements taught at each level. Some concepts may be beyond your comprehension levels and require someone to simplify them for you to understand.

This is why most experts and CFA members advise that candidates study with experienced instructors. A tutor will guide your learning process and help you stay on track and motivated.

You should only adopt the self-study option if you are disciplined and can commit all the time and resources necessary to the process.

3. Practice Adequately

Practice Adequately

After everything is said and put in place, the next thing is to do everything planned. Study new topics. Review. Practice. Repeat. Over and over.

You must exhaust any (and all) value-added resources you can find to increase your odds of passing. To do this, you must practice and practice.

24 hours after registration, you will receive the CFA curriculum. The online copy is free, but the hard copy comes at a fee.

Complete the entire syllabus in this material. Go over it as many times as you can. You can also add the Kaplan Schweser and/or Wiley study materials.

Be careful not to replace the original learning material with any of these. These alternatives may seem more attractive or less complex. Still, they do not cover the curriculum as much as the institute’s materials.

There are YouTube channels that create and curate content on the CFA curricula, such as IFT and Mark Meldrum. Perchance while studying, you get stuck, you can watch any of these for support.

The only hinge here is that these channels are focused solely on Level I.

Your competency and proficiency are expected to increase as you progress to subsequent levels. If you have your concepts right and have prepared adequately for the first level, surely you should be able to scale through the syllabi of the other levels.

Also, there are prep courses you can use in practice for the exams. Be careful to only commit to prep courses provided by CFA Approved Prep Providers (APPs) like Wiley. You can find the list of APPs here.

Ensure you practice the mock tests available for each topic on the website. While practicing, properly time yourself.

Practicing these questions will help enhance your time management, critical reasoning, and problem-solving skills because these skills are highly required in the actual exams.

-> Learn more about the 7 best websites for self-learning

4. Track Your Progress

As you study, keep track of your progress. Note the topics you have covered, the questions you have attempted, areas to revisit, and other relevant data.

Doing this would make you more aware of your study habits, skills, and pain areas. With these detailed analyses, you’d be able to prepare more time to review these problematic areas and redo questions you skipped.

All these will come in handy so that you won’t panic while sitting for the real deal.

Track Your Progress

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can You Prepare for CFA Independently?

Yes, you can prepare for CFA exams on your own. However, it is best to study under guided instruction. On your own, the study texts may be too complex, exams tough, and the process intense, especially if you do not have a background in finance, business, or a related field.

Q: How Long Does It Take to Complete the CFA Program?

It takes about 4-5 years on average to complete all levels of the CFA program. Some candidates do it in 3 years. Still, it is not advisable to cram that much work into such a time.

Q: How Many Hours Do I Need Each Day for CFA Studies?

You need about 3 hours of study for 100 days to complete the minimum study requirement of 300 hours for each level. You can devote more time if you can.

If 3 hours a day is too much, you can spread the 300 hours over nine months, roughly 1 hour and 10 minutes per day on average. 

-> Learn More about Self-Learning vs. Classroom Learning: Which Is Better?

Final Thoughts

Busy schedules and little or no spare time don’t mean you should give up on becoming chartered. You can adopt the self-study option.

No doubt the CFA program is quite challenging. You need to invest time, discipline, and adequate preparation. 

Ultimately, teaching yourself the CFA syllabi is possible. Still, you must be highly motivated to study and ace the exams independently.


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