skip to Main Content
What CFA® Candidates Need To Know About Online CFA® Exam Prep

What CFA® Candidates Need to Know About Online CFA® Exam Prep

For this post, we asked our friends at Fitch Learning to share with us different concepts CFA candidates need to know before using online study resources and third party CFA Exam Prep providers. We hope you enjoy this article, and we invite you to contact us and share your thoughts and comments with the community. Enjoy!


What CFA Candidates Need to Know About Online CFA Exam Prep

by Andrew Jones

Everyone learns in their own way. It’s a fact of educational life, but it’s easy to forget. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam candidates often question whether preparing for the CFA exam using online courses and resources is right for them, or whether they also need classroom instruction.

The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The right approach to CFA exam preparation depends a great deal on the particular needs of the individual candidate.

What does this mean on a practical level? In order to find the right preparation style, you’re going to have to take a close look at your own study situation.

Putting in the time

No matter which approach one takes, a CFA exam candidate is going to have to meet a certain set of practical requirements. Chief among these is the need to put in the CFA Institute’s recommended three hundred hours of study prior to taking the exam.

Many candidates imagine that three hundred is an exaggerated estimate, or that they can get away with less study. But they couldn’t be more wrongheaded, and it’s led more than a few of those candidates astray.

The time investment is serious and necessary for success, and your first step is to recognize that fact – and find the approach to CFA exam preparation which is most conducive to your putting in the time.

Understanding your needs

Consider travel, for example. If the closest classroom instruction facility where you can attend face-to-face classes is an hour away, you’re going to spend two hours commuting for every session.

For most people, fitting three hundred hours of preparation into their schedules is challenging enough to begin with. The additional time commitment of a significant commute may make this schedule more difficult to sustain, and could lead many candidates to avoid putting in the necessary hours at home.

For such candidates, online courses may prove to be the best option.

The advantages of online preparation

Online resources, usually consisting of instructional tools such as video lectures, study notes, and practice questions, are often best-suited to CFA candidates who:

  • Need flexibility.
    For some, putting in the three hundred hours can mean taking advantage of every available moment – on break at work, say, or while traveling. For these candidates who need to be able to study whenever and wherever, online resources supported by a mobile app can be the way to go.
  • Aren’t convenient to a classroom.
    You might be too far from a face-to-face instructional facility to make a sustainable commute, or there may not be one anywhere near you. In either case, online resources free you to study without geographical constraints. For a candidate who can’t stay around the same instructional area for the duration of their studies, this can be key.
  • Need materials that go beyond the book.
    Like we said at the start, everyone learns differently. Many people have a learning style that calls for concepts to be demonstrated and explained in multiple ways – reading over a passage in a book just isn’t enough. These students benefit from a “blended” approach. Online resources can help you master material by reading the material then reinforcing it with instructional videos and practice questions. In fact, this blended study style is a good idea for any candidate.
  • Need to go over it all again.
    Speaking of reinforcement, sometimes students simply need to be able to repeat a class over and over again to make sure they’ve truly internalized the material. This can be impractical or impossible with face-to-face classes; online material, however, is available to use however (and however many times) a candidate may require.


In short, for CFA exam candidates who prioritize flexibility and mobility – whether because of geographical limitations or learning styles – online learning resources may be best-suited to their needs. Of course, this isn’t the whole story.

The advantages of in-person instruction

Other CFA candidates may find that additional classroom instruction is necessary for them to achieve the best results. Typically, this is the case for test-takers who:

  • Need the interactivity of classes. 
    Some people simply learn better in person, with an instructor who can immediately answer any specific questions they might have. These students thrive on the questions of classmates and discussion among a student community. If you learn best through dialogue and continuous engagement with other learners, it may be useful for you to leverage both online and in-person resources.
  • Tend to procrastinate.
    Three hundred hours represents a tremendous amount of time, and those candidates who already have challenges with self-discipline are particularly liable to fall prey to procrastination. For all the advantages of online resources, one practical downside is that they require you to be effectively self-directed, and not everyone is suited to this style of study. Face-to-face classes impose a schedule that students have to stick to in order to make the best use of their time and learn the material.


This last point drives home an important lesson. A characteristic like inflexibility of schedule can be a deal-breaker for exam candidates who need to time study around a demanding work schedule or travel requirements. But this same attribute can be absolutely essential for students who face serious challenges with procrastination.

The style that’s right for you

The important thing, then, is to figure out what kind of student you are, and what kind of resources you require. Do you strictly need the mobility and flexibility of online CFA exam preparation tools? Or in addition to these reusable, “blended” learning style resources, do you need the extra push and structure of face-to-face classes?

In either case, make sure to plan your study well ahead of time – ideally, at least five months ahead of the exam. If you plan your studies effectively and dedicate ten to fifteen hours a week, every week until exam day, you’ll be in a great position to succeed.

About the author: Andrew delivers both CFA® exam preparation courses and non exam finance training for Fitch Learning. Having passed all three levels of the exam as well as gaining a wealth of experience as an industry practitioner he understands the pressures of studying for this prestigious qualification.

Back To Top