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

Posted by: Derek Burkett, CFA, FRM, CAIA Vice President of Advanced Designations, Kaplan Schweser
Updated: January 4, 2021

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 utilize expert instruction, 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
  • Utilize practice questions in a question bank or other source
  • Take mock exams
  • Identify and remediate 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? For most people, this approach is likely not the answer. Instead, most CFA candidates who want to pass the first time will need help from the experts.

CFA Exam Preparation: Guided Instruction

In my years in this business, I’ve seen many successful candidates who fit the mold of a motivated self-starter perfectly suited for self-study. But, I’ve seen far more (successful and not) who need help and guidance. Fortunately, for those who need such guidance, Kaplan Schweser has a very long track record of helping candidates succeed on the CFA exams.

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 180 questions in 4.5 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 guided instruction? It’s up to you.


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