If you want to pass the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam, you’ll certainly need the best CFA prep books and study materials to prepare. CFA prep books are a cheaper alternative to CFA exam review courses or in-person classes, but they still represent a valid approach to CFA exam study preparations.
This article provides a comprehensive review of the best CFA prep books in the market today. It also contains a list of free CFA prep books and information on CFA prep sections. These books offer detailed instructions on the CFA curriculum along with practice questions, step guides, and a detailed explanation of financial analysis concepts.
Should I Take the CFA?
Yes, you should take the CFA if you want to become a chartered financial analyst. The CFA exam is a standardized exam that tests knowledge of investment tools, quantitative methods, wealth planning, portfolio management, and asset valuation.
CFA certification will provide you with the analytical skills and expertise to land a wide range of roles in top companies hiring financial analysts in different fields, including trading, research analysis, brokerage, corporate financing, financial advising, financial reporting, personal investments, and more. CFAs are considered to be the gold standard of the corporate finance field.
According to the CFA Institute’s CFA Program Candidate Survey, each candidate spends about 323 hours preparing for the CFA exam that focuses on different subjects in the field of finance. However, there are CFA requirements to satisfy before registering for the exam process.
The CFA Institute requires that the exam candidates have a valid passport and either an undergraduate degree, be in the final year of a bachelor’s degree program, or have a minimum of four years of professional work experience in any field.
Common CFA Sections You Need to Prepare For
- Ethical and professional standards. This section of the CFA curriculum tests the candidates’ knowledge of ethics, challenges to ethical behavior, and the importance of ethics and professionalism to the investment industry.
- Quantitative methods. This section focuses on quantitative concepts and techniques for financial analysis and investment decision-making. It has no weight in the Level III exam.
- Economics. This part assesses the candidates’ understanding of the fundamental concept of supply and demand, market structure, and macroeconomic concepts and principles.
- Financial statement analysis. The financial analysis section tests candidates’ knowledge of financial reporting procedures and standards. This part has no weight in the Level III exam.
- Corporate issuers. This topic contains questions about corporate governance, investing and financing decisions, and the impact of environmental and social considerations on investment. It also carries no weight in the Level III exam.
- Equity investments. This section explores the features of equity investments, security markets, equity valuation models, and indexes.
- Fixed income. The part of the curriculum tests the candidates’ knowledge of fixed income securities, markets, valuation measurements, yields, fundamentals of bond returns and risk, and the basic principle of credit analysis.
- Derivatives. The section involves topics on basic derivatives and the derivative markets, such as forward futures, swaps, and contingent claims.
- Alternative investments. The alternative investments part includes topics such as hedge funds, real estate, infrastructure, commodities, and private equity.
- Portfolio management and wealth planning. In this section, candidates will be tested on risk and portfolio management concepts, such as return and risk measurement, portfolio planning, and construction.
The 10 Best CFA Prep Books to Help You Get Ready
1. CFA Institute: CFA Program Curriculum Level I Volumes 1-6
- Best for: Students who want a comprehensive review of the entire curriculum.
Developed by the CFA Institute, this is considered the official prep book for the CFA exam. It is a six-volume CFA study guide for all 10 sections of the exam and provides essential learning tools for students. Every section includes a learning outcome statement that a student can use to build their study session and enhance their performance. It also offers sample questions, quizzes, and practice tests that are similar to the actual exam.
This resource is a great study material for in-depth study. The best part about this prep book is that it is free and ideal for those on a limited budget. You will get complete access to the entire curriculum when you pay your exam fees.
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2. Level I SchweserNotes™ & QuickSheet
- Best for: CFA test candidates looking for a structured learning approach.
Kaplan Schweser’s curriculum helps students learn important subjects by employing exam-focused CFA study notes that cover all the content areas. The study work is split into bite-sized lessons that make it easier to understand. It also includes practice quizzes, step-by-step examples, and practice questions with the correct answer explanations.
A cool feature about this package from this prep course provider is that those who purchase this book also gain access to Kaplan Schweser’s online learning platform and a formula sheet for a quick refresher.
3. Wiley’s Level I CFA Program Study Guide 2022
- Best for: Students looking for a high-level summary of the CFA curriculum.
This prep book provides essential knowledge of difficult concepts on the first exam level. The exam prep courses also offer in-depth strategies and exam tips to approach each section. This study plan comes with a learning outcome statement tracker to monitor personal progress and find information that professionals may need for a more in-depth review.
4. Wiley’s Level I CFA Program 11th Hour Review Guide and Test Bank
- Best for: Students who want to revise CFA concepts.
This book was created to serve as a “summary of the summary.” It compiles all the crucial concepts, formulae, and rules for the CFA exam into one study guide, making it easy for students who want a quick refresher without rereading all of the CFA books from cover to cover. It is best used as a complementary prep book.
5. CFA Level 1 – 25th HOUR NOTES
- Best for: Students in the final stage of preparation.
This CFA Level 1 study guide helps students prepare for their examinations. It contains a summary of vital concepts, key formulas, and points from this difficult exam. It is a great book to use for the final stages of your CFA extensive preparation to help you revise what you might have forgotten from the initial stages.
It is very affordable, costing just $14.99. Another cool feature is that it comes with a money-back guarantee for those who are unsatisfied with the quality.
6. CFA Level 1 Calculation Workbook
- Best for: Students looking to practice calculation questions.
This is a great exam prep book to practice calculation questions for the CFA Level I exam. It contains 300 practice questions and detailed solutions on critical topics such as alternative investments, financial statement analysis, financial reporting and analysis, quantitative methods, economic analysis, equity and fixed income, and derivatives.
7. Chartered Financial Analyst Examination: 2020 CFA Level 1 Question Bank – Volume 2
- Best for: Polishing test-taking strategies and final pre-exam concept tuneups.
This is another CFA prep book by Havels Learning System that offers a comprehensive question-and-answer guide to help students prepare for the CFA Level 1 exam. It contains 19 study sessions on crucial topics from the CFA curriculum and provides more than 1,000 relevant exam questions with comprehensive answer explanations for students.
8. CFA Confidential
- Best for: Students who want to learn the dos and don’ts of the CFA world.
This is a book by current CFA charter holder Greg Campion on what it takes to become a chartered financial analyst. It provides a detailed review of everything needed to ace the CFA exam, cope with the stress of preparation, and manage anxiety on exam day. This book does not directly treat CFA concepts. However, it is a great complementary study guide.
9. Kaplan Level III SchweserNotes & QuickSheet
- Best for: CFA test candidates looking for a structured learning approach.
As the name implies, this is a complete guide for students preparing for the Level 3 exam. It provides a detailed breakdown of the Level 3 CFA curriculum, delivering lessons in short study sessions that make it easier to retain crucial information. It includes practice quizzes, comprehensive study notes, and a QuickSheet containing a summary of formulae, basic concepts, and definitions.
10. CFA Exam Study Guide! Level 1
- Best for: Busy students who do not have much study time.
Author Travis Brody tries to make it easier for students to prepare for the CFA test with this study guide. It contains a complete review of essential concepts in the CFA curriculum and practice exam questions. Each section is split into smaller micro-lessons to ensure all aspects of the exams are covered.
Free CFA Books and Resources to Help You Get Ready
- Free CFA Level 1 Mock Exam
- Salt Solutions
- UWorld Finance CFA® Level 1 Exam
- Bloomberg Exam Prep
- IFT’s 101 Concepts for Level 1
Best CFA Prep Books FAQ
The best CFA prep books for the Level 1 exams include CFA Institute’s CFA Program Curriculum, Wiley’s Level 1 CFA Program Study Guide, and Kaplan’s SchweserNotes. All the Level 1 prep books listed in this article are great review materials for Level 1 of your CFA exam.
The study materials that are best for the CFA exams are Kaplan Schweser, Princeton Review, Fitch Learning, Analyst Prep, and Wiley CFA Review. You can use this review material if you want to enhance your learning experience. We recommend you choose the relevant exam curriculum based on your most preferred learning style.
Yes, you can self-study for the CFA exams. Even though this exam content can be difficult and the exam pass rates can be low, you can still get high scores by using the best CFA prep books, study materials, and study techniques for your exam preparation.
No, the CFA is usually not better than an MBA, although this depends on your personal goals. If you prefer to build a career as an investment professional, the CFA designation is more suitable for you. An MBA study program is a better option for people who are interested in general management and executive leadership.
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