Last updated: October 22, 2018

How to Remember What You Studied for CFA® Exam

CFA® exam / Study Plan / Knowledge Retention

How to Remember What You Studied for CFA Exam

You have your CFA exam study plan. You are doing your best to execute it. You study systematically. But after a couple of days you seem to no longer remember what you studied... I hope you know it doesn’t have to be this way! The solution is really simple – though it takes some TIME & EFFORT. Are you notorious for forgetting what you studied? Get to know your enemy and how to defeat it!

There are 3 lacks CFA exam candidates usually experience during their exam prep: lack of CONTROL, lack of MOTIVATION, and lack of KNOWLEDGE RETENTION. We’ve already covered the first 2 issues in the previous posts. Today, we talk about how to minimize forgetting and maximize learning while studying.

To begin with – for the purposes of this post – we need to state the difference between STUDY & LEARN.

While study focuses on the action alone, learn already appreciates its effects. What it means is that not all who study – learn... At least, not with the same satisfying effect. I’m sure you want to study so as to learn effectively. I’d like to tell you how you can do that.

Forgetting Is Natural:
How Human Memory Works

Our memory has its limits. It can’t & won’t store everything.

This distinctive characteristic of the human brain is about the economy of its functioning. We are bombarded daily with tons of info. It would be exhausting to remember each and every detail of our lives: what we saw, what we heard, what we read... That’s why our memory filters all the information and retains only those it finds worth remembering.

At the time when we get to know new things, our information retention is 100%. However, it starts to drastically fall over the following hours and days as we don’t use the info. This phenomenon is called forgetting curve and it was first described in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus:

Forgetting Curve

Forgetting Curve

The retention of information decreases with time.

On the one hand, it’s a natural process. But on the other, it’s truly harmful when you’re preparing for your CFA exam...

How deep your forgetting curve is depends on the attention you pay to the specific information or the strength of your memory as such. Sadly – though – you will forget even up to 65% of what you study today by tomorrow’s evening.

Surely, you need to do something about it if you want to have a successful exam prep. You need to retain your study material much better than just 35% of it (or even less over time).

To this end you must adopt the right attitude towards studying and enhance your learning style!

How To Improve Study Skills
& Make Your Forgetting Curve Shallower

No more unproductive studying!

This should be your motto!

How can you do that? The first step is to develop your study routine and find the motivation to persist in studying. For this, adopting the right strategy will be hugely helpful. For example – as part of your study strategy – you may want to set your study sessions to concrete days and hours and reward yourself every time you stick to your plan.

That brings us to the second key element of enhancing your study skills, namely consistent self-assessment. While it’s only natural to err when building your study routine, you need to stay observant and constantly improve your study process. Because only when you understand what keeps you back, can you move forward!

Finally, let’s not forget about some obvious study rules all CFA Program candidates should always follow but often fail to.

To be productive while studying for your CFA exam, it’s best you:

choose blocks of time during the day when you are at your peak performance,
do notes/flashcards/cheat sheets including the most important issues,
put theory into practice by solving some sample problems to see if you can apply what you studied,
regularly revise what you study.

I know you know it! But it’s only when someone tells us something that we often realize we already knew it and we should really do it .

Do it all indeed and you’ll see your forgetting curve get shallower while your learning curve will grow:

Learning Curve

Learning Curve

The retention of information increases with revision.

If you do nothing about your forgetting curve – you fail to respect your study time and let like half of it simply be gone with the wind.

You can’t let your study time evaporate just like that! You need to condense your CFA Program curriculum readings into the essential pieces of information and revise them time after time to make sure they stay in. Do not worry about overlearning! Ebbinghaus defines such a thing (it’s when you practice something a bit more than would do to memorize it) but says it’s not dangerous . To the contrary – it shallows your forgetting curve significantly and ensures more successful knowledge retention.


  • develop your study routine,
  • find the motivation to persist in studying,
  • consistently assess your studying process,
  • study when you’re at your daily peak performance,

As we said: millions of times a day our brains need to decide what’s worth remembering and what’s redundant. By reviewing and practicing the chosen bits of CFA Program curriculum – you imply they’re important. That is how they get transferred from your short-term to your long-term memory and safely – in your brain – to the testing room on your exam day!

Quality Performance: Best Way to Study for CFA Exam

It’s not the aptitude most candidates lack – it’s the attitude.

I have no doubts you can understand all that’s required to pass your CFA exam. But can you LEARN it? Will you retain it and be able to recall it when you’re asked about it in your exam? With the right attitude adopted now to your prep – the answer is most likely a YES.

And that is exactly why – apart from studying – you also need to review. To ensure you’re having a productive study process where resisting your forgetting curve (while enhancing your learning curve) becomes a habit.

Because developing the right learning habit is far more important than applying even the most effective study tips. Habit is something repetitive, something ingrained, something automatic. You should apply the most effective study tips that work for you, but they will never truly resonate until you habitualize them.

That is why – for those of you who want to STUDY so as to LEARNwe implemented a proper review system right into your study plan >> you will get to know:

how often to review,
how long your review sessions should be,
+ some ideas what to do while reviewing
(with all the review tools & apps available inside your study plan).

By applying your proper review system, which is more than just topic and final revision, you will be able to develop the habit of effective learning .



Knowledge Retention PLAN (7-day free trial included) is a monthly paid ($47/mo)
upgrade to your Free Study PLAN
(it already includes Motivation PLAN)

The idea behind these systematic review sessions is to improve your study process by making your studying more productive. You can finally take full responsibility for your CFA exam prep and prepare like you are aware of how great a challenge the CFA exam really is. Your Knowledge Retention PLAN – i.e. your CFA exam study plan with all its features & functions, including control & motivation – helps you turn your study time into the quality performance you need and deserve.

Developing Your Study Habit
(Striving for Growth: from Fixer to Grower)

Surely, you remember how we talked about Fixers and Growers in our first post (or is your forgetting curve messing with your memory right now...?).

We said that the Growers like challenges and can cope well even if things go wrong. The Fixers, on the other hand, like to think it’s all about their talent. If they can’t achieve something – it usually makes them think they are not gifted or lucky enough. They tend to give up their dreams and fall back on the comforting to them "I might have been" idea. They avoid an all-out effort...

The drive for development and improvement (despite all the obstacles) is the realm of the Growers. They just have it. They are determined, committed, and can take constructive actions – which eventually produces the results they are waiting for. The Growers believe that the character can be built. That is why they can develop new good habits more easily. The way they see it – it’s just some job they need to do to make a real change in their lives.

The Growers show us everything’s possible. It’s not that there are no natural talents among the Growers. There are. But together with a brainiac – side by side – there’s also a hard worker in them.


Never think you won’t pass your CFA exam. Also, never think you’ll surely pass your CFA exam. While strong faith in your abilities is part of your success, so is full effort. Without full effort, you’re unlikely to achieve.

How can you become a hard worker even if you do not naturally have it?

First of all, do not constrict your growth. Make yourself truly believe success is meant for you. Then, to make your belief come true – always apply effort (even you, Fixer ). Try hard despite difficulties. Persist in the face of troubles. Never give up. Such an approach can make you grow in life, not just in your exam prep.

But as for now – while you’re working hard towards your CFA exam success – we’d like to lend you a helping hand in developing your GROWTH-oriented attitude. Simply use your study plan to its full extent (with all its features & functions) to get some help in your struggle against:

  • 1. your lack of control,
  • 2. your lack of motivation,
  • 3. your lack of knowledge retention.

Be a hard worker who:

controls study tasks both daily (by marking the assigned readings as *done*) and weekly (by summing up each study week),
executes the study plan thanks to building the study routine, following estimated study times for readings, and staying motivated by the weekly growing Chance to Pass,
learns (not just studies) owing to the proper review system and review tools and apps available inside your study plan.

This is how – for your exam prep – you gain your quality performance based on (1) control, (2) motivation, and (3) knowledge retention.



Knowledge Retention PLAN (7-day free trial included) is a monthly paid ($47/mo)
upgrade to your Free Study PLAN
(it already includes Motivation PLAN)

The Growers are lucky indeed...

They seem to have what’s necessary for aware studying guided by self-control, driven by internal motivation, and aimed at effective learning that brings the desired results. But if the Growers have it – so can the Fixers or the Mixers (i.e. those who find it difficult to define themselves either as a Fixer or as a Grower). They just need some more incentive from the outside to awake their potential (because we all have the potential to grow).

Your CFA exam study plan is full of such incentives!

You just need to turn them ON :


Knowledge Retention PLAN

get +40 hrs videos + tests + formulas, etc.

proper review system

apply proper review system

review tools & apps

use review tools & apps

including Motivation PLAN

motivated to work

stay motivated to work

estimated study times

follow estimated study times

Chance to Pass grow

watch Chance to Pass grow

and Free PLAN

mark readings as done

sum up study weeks

edit your current week

I WANT IT ALL (just $47/mo)

7-day free trial included

It may be your first CFA exam.

You may not be fully aware yet of what a great deal of effort your exam preparation will take.

But if it’s not – you already know... And if you also happen to know what it means to fail (which I hope you don’t!), perhaps you were wondering at times why you failed while others passed even though you studied real hard – just like the others. The answer may be all about the mindset. Maybe the others were more GROWTH-oriented towards their exam prep. Meaning: all throughout, they stayed in charge of their exam prep, they maintained their motivation, and studied more efficiently than you.

A GROWTH mindset is good. It leads us toward reaching our goals. The goal you are striving for right now is Your Passed CFA Exam. With your heart set on it – make sure you can achieve it!

Source (Sisyphus):