The best CFA prep book

Michael Pollick

The price of the CFA exam includes an exam fee for each exam and a one-time enrollment fee. Currently, the lowest total cost is $2,400, but it could be much higher depending on how early you register.

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is one of the most challenging in the world of finance, but many candidates believe the benefits of certification far outweigh the demands on their time to prepare for the exam. Taking the test is expensive, and many candidates do not pass on the first attempt. The Level 1 exam alone has an initial passing rate of less than 50%, and candidates must pass all three levels before earning certification from the CFA Institute. If you are planning on taking the CFA exam, our guide has everything you need to consider when shopping for a prep book, including our top picks. We especially appreciate the thoroughness and accessibility of Wiley's prep book for Level 1 of the CFA exam.

Considerations when choosing CFA prep books

Study materials

Prep books for the CFA exam strive to give exam candidates a wide range of useful study materials, although many stop short of providing current exam questions. This is deliberate because part of the exam requires processing and analyzing unfamiliar scenarios without previous simulations. The better CFA prep books provide candidates with practical exercises based on previous exams, along with helpful tips on time management and general test-taking strategies.


The CFA exam requires candidates to demonstrate a wide range of skills, including mathematical, analytical, and ethical problem solving. A CFA prep book should have a tone that is academic, in that it covers all the tested subjects, but also accessible for more effective studying. The most helpful prep books tend to be written by experienced members of the CFA Institute who break down the information into easily digestible chapters.


Study tools

Some CFA prep books focus more on test-taking strategies or an overall review of the exam's subject areas. Others provide many tangible study tools like charts, graphs, and formulas. The most comprehensive CFA prep books include a variety of study aids so that a candidate has the best chance of success on the exam.

Insider tips

Because the CFA exam has earned a reputation for being challenging, candidates should seek out prep books written by those who have actual experience with the exam itself. One type of study guide might provide the academic insight needed to answer test questions, while another type can provide insider tips that will demystify the exam process. A CFA prep book that combines both elements will be your best bet.


Q. Why are only two calculators approved for the CFA Level 1 exam?

A. Many calculators feature a text-saving function that could give an unfair advantage. The CFA exam only allows two calculators without this function, either the Texas Instruments BA II or the Hewlett Packard 12C.

Q. How much study time is recommended for the CFA Level 1 exam?

A. The three-part CFA exam is considered one of the most difficult exams in the world of finance. Many experts recommend at least six months of study, or around 320 hours, before taking the Level 1 exam.

CFA prep books we recommend

Best of the best: Wiley 2019 Level I CFA Study Guide Complete Set

Our take: This is the ideal CFA prep book for professionals who already have a lot of experience in the field and are looking for a straightforward approach to the exam.

What we like: The authors take a very thorough and comprehensive approach to the study material. Candidates should feel fully prepared for the Level 1 exam.

What we dislike: This study guide focuses more on theory than practice. Some first-time exam takers may find it too academic.

Best bang for your buck: 300 Hours CFA Exam Insights

Our take: An affordable, accessible CFA prep book that's best used in conjunction with a more comprehensive study guide.

What we like: Uses previous CFA exam questions to generate new study material. Includes useful demographic information and a companion website with supplementary materials.

What we dislike: The entire guide is less than 100 pages. Includes many graphs and charts but not in-depth subject reviews.

Choice 3: CFA Confidential: What it Really Takes to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst by Gregory Campion

Our take: We recommend this book to CFA exam candidates looking for inside information from someone who speaks the language.

What we like: Experienced author includes numerous personal anecdotes about the CFA exam. Contains very honest pros and cons about the entire exam process.

What we dislike: More comprehensive material on the actual test is available elsewhere. Does not provide academic analysis.

Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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