Comparing the Best CFA® Exam Level I Books
Passing level I of the CFA® exam is a major accomplishment. The average student spends around 300 hours of time studying for the exam. Since less than 50% of people pass the first level of the exam, your prep work is even more critical to your success. This article covers the top CFA® study materials and books available. I also offer suggestions for how to most efficiently master the material based on my first hand experience studying and passing all three levels of the exam.
CFA® Institute Textbooks
New candidates are required to pay the following fees to take Level I of the CFA® exam:
- Program Enrollment Fee: $450
- Registration Fee: $650 (for early registration) or $950 (for standard registration)
Your total fees include access to the full CFA® curriculum in electronic e-book format. Students also have the option of purchasing a print version of the CFA® curriculum textbooks. The print version is not included with your initial exam fees. I actually prefer studying with a print version of the material instead of studying with electronic text. That is just a personal preference and many people don’t mind studying on their phones or tablets.
Should you Use the CFA® Institute Textbooks or a CFA® Review Course?
The printed version of the CFA® institute curriculum includes close to 4,000 pages of text. Systematically reading the text from start to finish would be a very inefficient way to study for the exam. I recommend you use the CFA® Institute curriculum as part of your study plan, but that you use it in a more strategic fashion.
I strongly believe you should utilize a CFA® review course as the main aspect of your study plan. As you practice test questions and read summary notes for each of the major topic areas, you will begin to get a sense of which sections are your strengths and which sections are your weaknesses.
Weaker Topic Areas
I recommend you take the following steps after discovering which sections are most challenging to you:
- Go back and read the original text from the CFA® Institute curriculum. Make sure you spend the time to practice problems directly from the CFA® Institute curriculum for these topic areas.
- Continue to practice questions from test bank software for your weakest areas as frequently as possible.
- Consider using as many different sources as possible to practice questions for these topics.
When I took Level I of the exam, my weakest areas included quantitative methods, some accounting sections, derivatives, and a smaller section on fixed income.
Stronger Topic Areas
Depending on your comfort level, you really don’t need to use the CFA® institute curriculum for topics that are your strengths. I would continue to review study notes and regularly practice questions in these sections, but I would not use my time to read about these topics in depth.
The Ethics section of the exam is always much harder than you expect. No matter how many practice questions you use, you should expect the questions to be very challenging on exam day. For this section in particular, you should read the original curriculum material often.
Make sure that you periodically re-read the Ethics material as you study. Given how hard the questions are on exam day, I would plan to read the Ethics section in full again during the last month before the exam.
Wiley CFA® Review Books
Wiley has a long history and strong reputation in the test prep industry. Wiley offers a comprehensive study guide for all material covered on Level I of the exam. The study books cover the most important concepts and material within Level I. Each book includes in depth strategies and tips for each section of the exam as well in depth problem solving examples and practice questions.
Wiley’s books offer an ideal balance between quality and price. The books offer comprehensive coverage of all topics on the exam and are available at a much lower price than some of the more expensive prep course materials.
For more information, you can see our full review of Wiley here.
11th Hour Final Review
When your reaching the final stretch of your studying before taking the exam, Wiley offers a great guide to help you maintain your stamina and keep you focused on the most important material for test day. The 11th hour review condenses the most important topics and formulas into a highly readable reference guide. Don’t be surprised when you regularly refer to this text when you need to quickly find a formula or remember how to handle a foreign currency conversion.
AdaptPrep Test Bank
Probably the single most valuable asset in your study plan will be a comprehensive practice question test bank with strong tracking capabilities. AdptPrep offers the best of both worlds. They offer a comprehensive test bank at a far more affordable price than many of the larger review course providers.
For just $149, you can access over 2,400 practice questions, 50 detailed video solutions, and detailed analytics tracking your progress. This represents a significant savings compared to other test bank options that require you to purchase as a bundle with additional products that can cost well over a $1,000. AdaptPrep also offers more detailed study notes which are included as part of more premium product options.
For more information on AdaptPrep, read our full review of their product options here.
Kaplan Schweser CFA® Books
Schweser is probably the most well known provider of study material for the CFA® exam. Schweser offers high quality products and has a great reputation for helping students. This is also a great choice for students that want to look into a live classroom experience in addition to a self study program. Based on the Schweser’s strong reputation, their CFA® exam books are typically available at premium prices compared to other options.
In many cases you need to purchase a more expensive bundle for access to their test bank and other products. For students looking for less expensive options, you could also consider purchasing used Schweser study material. If you purchase used books within the most recent exam period, you can typically receive a pretty big discount. Just be cautious not to purchase material that is too far out of date because the CFA® curriculum is frequently updated.
See our full review of Schweser here.