Comparing Live vs. Self-Study CFA Prep - Kaplan Schweser

Posted by: Tim Smaby, PhD, CFA, FRM Director of Product Management
Updated: February 26, 2020

The CFA® exam requires a significant commitment of your valuable time and your scarce financial resources. So the first decision you have to make (after you decide to sign up for Level I and use the services of an exam prep provider like Kaplan) is how you are going to make it through 300 hours of study over a period of 6 to 9 months and give yourself the best chance of success. That means deciding whether you are going to attend a live or online class, or go it alone, so to speak. So, let’s explore the main differences between self-study and guided instruction.

CFA® Exam Preparation: Self-Study

Going at it alone, or self-study, means you will prepare, practice, and perform without the help of an experienced instructor to guide you. You will:

  • Create your own 300-hour study calendar for the next 6 to 9 months
  • Read the curriculum, study notes, or both
  • Watch recorded videos
  • Do practice questions
  • Take mock exams
  • Identify and rectify your weak areas
  • Develop a test-taking strategy that will give you the best chance of success
    …all on your own.

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Self-study takes a lot of motivation, persistence, patience, confidence, self-awareness, and some expertise in learning to do it on your own. Some people have what it takes to do it this way. They tend to be highly motivated self-starters who have the mettle to put in the hard work day after day and be successful on exam day.

So the first thing you have to do is take an honest, unflinching look at yourself and your own history of learning. Ask yourself the tough question, “Do I have what it takes to do this on my own?” Think back to your time in college or university. Could you have made it through and graduated without the help of teachers and mentors? Were you ever successful in a class where the professor walked into the classroom the first day, dropped a big stack of books on your desk, said “the final is in 15 weeks…good luck,” and walked out of the room?

CFA Exam Preparation: Online or Live Class Instruction

In my years in this business (both working for Kaplan Schweser and as a university finance professor), I’ve seen many successful candidates and students who fit the mold of a motivated self-starter perfectly suited for self-study. But, I’ve seen many more (successful and not) who need help and guidance. And I certainly include myself in the latter group.

So what exactly does the additional investment (it is more expensive) of adding instruction and guidance to your strategy do for you?

  • It will motivate you by giving you a structure to your studies, as well as a mentor who can pat you on the back or kick you in the backside to keep you on track when you need it.
  • You will get regular, expert feedback on your weak areas, suggestions for how to improve, and guidance on where to get more practice.
  • You’ll have a guide and mentor to ask for help with challenging material.
  • The class will provide focus to your study efforts and enable you to use your 300 hours of study time in the most efficient and effective manner.
  • You’ll receive guidance on test taking strategies to make the task of tackling 240 questions in 6 hours a bit less daunting.

So here is the decision you have to make: Do you save some money and rely on your inherent personal strengths of motivation, persistence, and learning expertise; or do you make the extra monetary investment in a classroom experience? It’s up to you.


If you have decided on self-study or live or online classroom instruction, please visit the Kaplan Schweser website to enroll today.