What’s in the Box

For a chronological index of my path to the CFA, click here.

A couple weeks after signing up for a CFA exam, your study guides (curriculum) arrive on your doorstep!

These are supposed to contain, in one place, all knowledge necessary to pass your exam. So you shouldn’t have to buy a lot of finance and investment textbooks and then wonder which sections to study.


The first impression upon seeing the box of study guides is that it looks small. But then as you move to bring your box inside, you notice that its heavy – like a stack of phonebooks (but luckily with larger fonts). According to the packing slip, it all weights about 18 lbs.

It’s an exciting time to crack open the box and see what you’ll be studying. Here are the 6 books covering what I’ll need for the Level One exam:

    Vol. 1: Ethical & Professional Standards and Quantitative Methods
    Vol. 2: Economics
    Vol. 3: Financial Statement Analysis
    Vol. 4: Corporate Finance and Portfolio Management
    Vol. 5: Equity and Fixed Income
    Vol. 6: Derivatives and Alternative Investments

In addition to the study guides you get a little brochure directing you to the CFA’s online preparation toolkit as well as some quirky postcards (e.g. the dog no longer getting walks, coffee becoming a new food group, etc.) to send to your friends to let them know you’re unavailable because you’re too busy studying. ๐Ÿ™‚

Only thing missing at this point is an exam-approved calculator. But there’s no rush to order it immediately. The first major study sections concern ethics and professionalism – no math.

Update: I finally passed all the CFA exams and wrote an eBook about the program. If you’re interested, click here.

32 thoughts on “What’s in the Box”

  1. Hi,
    I was just searching on CFA online and came across your blog. I just read your 3 articles on tag CFA and I felt as if my career has been your replica…Its just that am probably a couple of years behind you…am a soft engg and have started investing 1-1.5 yrs back, no financial background what soever but want to get into it….

    Anways, currently I am in a bit of delimma of whether to go for CFA or MBA or something else or nothing……

  2. Hi Amit,

    I looked at a variety of programs including financial engineering, Finance, MBA, CFP, CFA, etc.

    On one hand the easiest fit, coming from an engineering background, seemed to be Financial Engineering (also called Financial Mathematics). Several schools offer good programs in this and it doesn’t take too long to earn:


    But when I compared all curriculums I found that the CFA was the best fit in terms of covering exactly what I wanted to learn. That was my top consideration.

    In terms of gaining employment, (from the little I’ve read on the web) having both an MBA and CFA helps big time in landing a position at a top finanacial firm. But an MBA or CFA by itself, might not differentiate an applicant as much as you’d think.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Man I found it really hard to study the CFA mainly because I hated the accounting sections… More than half the course is accounting and professional stuff. All the best with the study. Mind if I add you to my blogroll?

  4. Hey I’d love to be on your blogroll. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I haven’t hit the hardcore accounting stuff yet – only recently made it out of the ethics, professionalism, and GIPS bits into my first taste of quantitative analysis. So I’m still in the honeymoon phase where I’m loving every minute of it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Looks like you have some interesting stuff going on yourself over at http://ai-quant.com/. I forked over the dough to get Matlab’s Neural Network Toolbox about a year ago and have also written some market genetic algorithms but haven’t developed anything worthy of taking out of the lab and releasing on the real world yet.

    I look forward to following your blog.

  5. You response to Amit’s question was that with a CFA credential alone, it won’t differentiate you from others, but with a MBA + CFA, you will shine (so to speak). Are you going to be pursuing the MBA as well or is the CFA path the only one you’re going to take? I know you already have your Masters in EE, but maybe that + your CFA credentials will be enough?

    The reason why I ask is that I have an undergrad in EE, but also am interested in finance. I find myself investing with my own money as well. I also read the “how-to” books like you did. Currently designing at a semiconductor company and feel obligated to engineering in a way because I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s kind of hard to let go you know what I mean?

    Any thoughts on either paragraph? lol

  6. Hi Christopher. Nice to meet a fellow EE!

    I do know of at least one EE who was hired straight to a Wall St. firm with nothing more than an EE degree (no CFA, no MBA, etc.). The word on the street was that for this particular position (quant), they were specifically looking for an engineer b/c they believed engineers had superior mathematical & statistics backgrounds than people coming from other majors.

    So if quant work is what is interesting to you, and you have a strong grasp of stochastic processes and statistics, I would think a CFA would only improve your odds of landing a job. But it might not even be necessary (but a graduate degree might) depending on your EE area of concentration.

    If your desire is to be a manager of your own fund though, I don’t think they’d hand over the controls to an EE with no business background!

    My own path is a little unclear. At this point, I’m really more interested in learning the CFA subject matter b/c I just like the world of finance so much. I have given almost no thought to what job this will help me land b/c I know if it just makes me a better private investor, I’ll recover the cost of the program.

    That being said, to earn one’s CFA you need to not only pass the 3 exams but have 4 yrs. experience managing assets. So at some point I will be looking for investment employment and I’ll be able to tell you then what the landscape is like for EE’s.

    Final thought – there was a discussion forum I stumbled upon a few months back where someone asked “should I get an MBA or a CFA if I want to land a good job an one of the top investment firms”? Another user, claiming experience in the field (but of course, unverifiable) summed it up by saying that having either a CFA or an MBA might not even get you an interview. Having both a CFA and an MBA, will probably get you an interview. If the MBA is from a top school then you’ll not only get the interview but almost certainly get offered a job.

    Interesting information and seems logical. But not everybody’s goal is to work at a top investing firm. Being an independent contractor, I’d prefer to start a business myself.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Friend,

    I just received my Level I curriculum the other day. I didn’t get a chance to look at all the materials yet, but didn’t we pay for a sample exam as well? Where would this be? Let me know if you know. Thanks.

  8. I think the sample exams may be online. I haven’t really looked yet but I definitely didn’t get any sample exams in my pack of materials either.


  9. Hi,

    I am really enjoying reading about your experience, and it gave me more courage to pursue the CFA.

    I have two questions:
    (1) Are we required to buy the level I books from the CFA institute?

    (2) have you tried other study guides and test banks offered by other institutions such as: http://www.schweser.com/index.php

    Good Luck


  10. Hi Nayef,

    Re: (1) it’s my understanding that starting with the 2008 exams the price of the exams automatically includes the curriculum, so yes you have to buy the whole package.

    Re: (2) No I haven’t looked into any other resources so far. My plan is to work my way through the study guides from the CFA Institute until I feel I know the material, then take one of their practice tests. If I don’t perform well on the practice test I might indeed look into 3rd party materials.


  11. Hi!
    I’m Borj from the Philippines…
    I’m also burning the mid night oil in preparation for the CFA Level I exam this June 2008… Sad to say I am not yet enrolled due to financial constraints… As of this week, I am browsing all stuff that I can find regarding the CFA exams…
    Its a bit hard for a newbie like me, specially Im from the province here in our country… Getting materials is so scarce…
    Hope I can be your review buddy…
    Thanks and God bless!

    Here is my email address samurai_x92003@yahoo.com or my gmail account (but i cant open it?) RGBorja.LGUPolangui@gmail.com

  12. Continuing the calculator line here, I followed your calculator links and if you haven’t seen this, there’s a bunch of free calculator video tutorials for the BAII here: http://movies.atomiclearning.com/k12/ti_ba2 (lusting after it).

    I also noticed for the HP that the 10c is permitted for the CFP exams and the CFA starts with the 12c. There is also 17bII that doesn’t seem permitted on the CFA exams and is more expensive – I wonder what this baby does extra? Strangely, none of these specs mention “Black Scholes” and options. Hmmm.

    Also, thanks for the financial engineering school links. BTW, there’s also one at Georgia tech. I looked at the FSU program and the “Festival of Financial Engineering” links and wondered whether “Larry Abele of Auriel Capital Mangement” is the son of the Provost of FSU, Larry Abele. Small World!

    By the way, here’s my “Ethics&Professional Standards&Quantitative Methods” long form CFA essay test question that I made up:

    An aspiring CFA student with a past entrepeneurial mindset purchases the Series I CFA Exam study materials (Approximately 1000.00)! approximately 500 pages: copies of these materials can be made for $.01/copy for 1000 copies, $0.005/10000 copies at Kinkos. Alternatively a Canon D66 copier can be purchased for 58.00, 10 reams of 500/ream at 2.99/ream or 100 reams for 1.99 per ream and scan pages to make a pdf at 20 seconds/per scan.

    Assume that the CFA materials lifespan for currency declines 30%/year – approximately 100% for the first year, 70% for the second year 40% for the third year and initially 1000 at people are interested in purchasing this materially globally at significant discount rates online for unofficial copies per annum. Scanned PDF’s could be shipped free and the paper copies at 12.00/package UPS for ground delivery. What is the profit potential/year and how much time should be spent on this to balance rate of return for passing the exam which the student is also studying for. Discuss risk and return here and the ethical implications of making such a return on investment. Discuss the time value of money. Calculate the return on investment (ROI) of what can be returned and reinvested throughout the CFA series here on a yearly basis assuming the same costs and a four year period. Also, assume for argument that the entrepeneurial student is primarily interested in global ‘secondary derivative market’s’ (i.e. people not officially interested in the ‘cfa materials’ for the exam and designation but rather as ancillary study/current financial materials on which to trade). What are the ethical and financial implications of acting here? How do his or her decisions segway within the larger background of innovation/entrepeneurship and capitalist markets?

  13. Hi Lumilog,

    Well I am another techie from CS background who share many traits with you and many other readers here. Your blog gave me real good insight about CFA program. Can you quantify material for level 1. From pictures I can see that there are 6 books and box weights points that each should weigh around 3 lbs. So, I was wondering how many pages u need to read counting all 6 books.

    All the best for ur preparation!!

  14. Awesome blog, my blog’s primarily about Life as an auditor, and the CPA, but I found some striking similarities between studying for both exams. Added this link to my blogroll.

  15. Thanks for the comments John. I’ll definitely check out your blog as soon as I get a free moment and pass the link on to my friend who’s prepping for the CPA.

    – Lumilog

  16. Hi
    I’ve completed BE Engineering (Mechanical) 4.5yrs back and doing job. Hearing from others I’m inetersted for CFA. Am I eligible



  17. When I took Leve 1 in 2008 it was:

    Vol 1: 524 pgs.
    Vol 2: 487 pgs.
    Vol 3: 703 pgs.
    Vol 4: 289 pgs.
    Vol 5: 516 pgs.
    Vol 6: 244 pgs.

    Grand Total: 2763 pages

  18. Hi Lumilog,
    I am PhD student and I am going to take the CFA exam. I dont like to register for classes an go to class to be prepared for test. I prefer to have books and study by myself.
    How much is the level1 package price?
    Where can I buy this package?
    Can I buy ebook version of these books?

    Thanks for your time and help


  19. Thanks a lot!
    I checked this website and I have a question.
    I want to buy the books from Amazon.
    Can I register for the exam without ordering the books? I mean I want to only register for the exam and I will provide the books another way.
    Is it possible?


  20. A long time ago I think they didn’t publish any books so you only paid for the test and had to come up with the material yourself. Now, however, they provide all the materials and it’s included in the registration, but I don’t think there’s an option to register w/o them. You might send them an email and ask them though.

  21. I am A Banker and working in assets side since last 3 years,which mainly includes lending to corporates in India.I have even did my MBA in Finance and Human Resources.I am bit confused regarding pursuing CFA Course(on doing the cost-benefit analysis).It would b helpful for me if u can give an insight on its prospectives and how wil it help me in my career…but i tel you,CFA seems to be tough but interesting to me.looking forward for reply…

  22. thanks for stopping by, swati. i’m probably not qualified to tell you how it might help given that i work in relative isolation as an independent consultant. the cfa certainly can’t hurt your career – but it takes a lot of time so you have to consider financial cost and the opportunity cost of what else you’d prefer doing with your time besides studying!


  23. Hi Lumilog,

    Your blog is very interesting!

    I am an Industrail engineering student, I’m expected to graduate on January, 2013. currently I’m doing my intern at PwC. After seeing your profile it comes to my mind to take the CFA level 1 on December. is it possible to take level 1 before graduation? and is it doable for an engineering background to study such a long materials? how it will affect my career after graduation?

    Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. The information in this thread is poor at best. For starters, having a CFA+MBA makes no sense. It does not make you shine, stand out etc. MBA’s are not for investing in 99.9% of cases. Corporate Banking, Private Banking, Ibanking, Consulting, etc is where you will go with an MBA. Try to get into an Arbitrage firm with an MBA. The CFA is purely investment focused. It is very very difficult to get into IB with only a CFA, it’s simply not valued. For the poster above about corporate finance in real estate, no the CFA is not suitable for you as you don’t work in investment management.

    Simply CFA = Investment Related
    MBA = Deal Flow related

    This is high level but unless you’re looking to work in equity research, investment management etc the CFA is worthless.

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