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"Deep" vs. "Light" Reading

MarcMarc TorontoPosts: 186 Portfolio Manager
edited April 2013 in General CFA Topics
This has probably been discussed elsewhere, but do people have an opinion on "Deep" vs. "Light" reading for the CFA curriculum.

Personally, I'm a "deep" reader. I need to truly get where the author is going and I find it difficult to continue when I come up against a concept or wording that I don't fully understand. Obviously this means that "deep" reading = "slow" reading and sometime I think I would do better to make a note of where I didn't fully get something and move on. This would allow me to get through the curriculum quicker (I'm half-way through SS15, so while I don't have tons of readings left, the stuff that is left is dense) and I feel like a certain amount of panic would be gone if I could say that I've read every page and then circle back to the parts that I didn't fully understand the first time. The problem with that is that approach is that the curriculum is often structured very sequentially (ie. not understanding section 4 makes it difficult to just skip to section 5 because it builds on what was written in section 4).

I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to hurry up and get to the point where I can say "I've read every word of the curriculum", but I don't want to feel like I "cheated" myself to get there. Any thoughts?

PS. I realize that reading "every word of the curriculum" may be a misguided objective, but that's the approach I took for Levels 1 & 2 and it worked for me then. I am well-aware that the readings are repetitive and there is plenty of overlap, but a) I believe that repetition an overlap are actually an important part of developing a true understanding of this material as opposed to simply cramming 1,000 facts in your brain; and b) the exams are based on what's in the curriculum and I find it unacceptable to go into an exam knowing that there were parts of the curriculum that I left unread. Maybe this is an entirely separate discussion thread.


  • ZeeZee Charterholder London - UKPosts: 1,550 Sr Partner
    That's a very astute observation @marc. Your Deep and Light analogies are a very good one!

    So to define the terms:
    • Deep: "I must understand every concept thoroughly before moving on."
    • Light: "As long as I think I can do the exam questions, or if I can convince myself it's not going to show in the exam, I can move on."
    I would definitely classify myself as a 'Light' reader. I would start off trying to be 'Deep', but as you say, as time runs out I become Lighter and Lighter.

    My personal thought is that while trying to be a Deep reader is a good intent, from a pure 'need to pass' perspective sometimes the Light approach works, especially when running up against the CFA equivalent of a brick wall. Weighting your Deep sections against topics you know are important in the exam would make sense, but there's no point in spending too much time in something you know that will count for a tiny portion in the exam.

    It's not an answer that is in the spirit of learning and self-improvement, of course, but I think it's practical. I had a friend who insisted on being 'super Deep' and never finished the curriculum in time for the exam. So it can be taken too far!
  • I concur with @zee's observation, although I'm a bit of an idealist too and lean towards to 'deep' reading end.

    But I'd draw a similar comparison with this quest for "perfection" in the exam - in the sense that you mull over a question of which you have no idea how to answer (at least for now), and over exceed your allocated time. Because that was what happened to me in Level 3 essay and I had 3 questions unanswered. Expensive lesson.

    So, in terms of your quest to go 'deep', here's an approach I'd suggest for your reading.

    First, how is your progress compared to your target schedule? If you're behind, you need to give yourself 1 chance to go through a concept, and that's it. If you're not sure you fully understand, highlight that section and come back to it later when you have more time (once you covered the curriculum reading once). Goal #1 is to keep up with your scheduled timings. Same like the exam. It's better to understand 80% of everything than 100% of half of the syllabus.
  • MarcMarc TorontoPosts: 186 Portfolio Manager
    @sophie, @zee

    Thanks again. I'm on schedule (or at least the schedule that I initially set). But I'm always putting pressure on myself to be ahead of schedule. This tendency is very much exacerbated when you start the process of banging your head against the derivatives reading and the pace starts slowing. From what I understand, SSs 16, 17 and 18 are no walk in the park either.

    I think the bottom line is that I need to step back and realize that I'm doing fine and I'll be fine on June 1st as long as I keep being persistent.
  • Indeed @Marc. It looks like you have extremely high standards, and that's ok and fine, but not to put too much pressure on yourself when it's not necessary! You have already come far working hard for so many new qualifications (+passing them first time!) amidst all the other things in life, and sometimes you should celebrate that :)
  • @Marc lol I'm like that I first spent time making a schedule and fret when I am not ahead of schedule.

    Between @Sophie and @Zee they pretty much covered everything.

    Though I'd like to add is that I find it helps to read out loud and paraphrase what you just read for sections that you are having trouble with.

    It's interesting you mention reading every word of the curriculum because from a purely strategic point (from both a learning/passing perspective) it might not be the best approach. I'm sure there are parts you find extremely easy and some difficult. For the easy parts I skipped the reading entirely did the practice questions first and if I scored high enough didn't bother with that chapter at all because my time would be better spent on a section I was having trouble with.

    Also I think the what you are going for is called "active reading", I hope you find the link helpful.
  • I agree with @Diya. I usually do not read every single word for an easy section but when it comes to sections i am not very familiar with, i try to pay more attention and concentrate more on the reading.

    And yes, being ahead of schedule feels way better than otherwise.
  • What do you do when they put a bunch of survey information? Do we have to memorize that too or its too far-fetched?

    For instance, in the derivatives/alt investments there are results of surveys about banks judged best and what trading happens most etc... do we care ?
  • MarcMarc TorontoPosts: 186 Portfolio Manager

    I try to maintain a realistic filter, which involves asking the following question: How would CFAI feel if it got sued and had to go to court to defend itself? This might have something to do with being married to a lawyer, but I find it useful.

    Is there going to be a question asking about Brazil's tax treatment of income vs. capital gains? Not a chance. Why? Because they don't want end up having to defend why candidates from 200 countries were expected to know about the specifics of the Brazilian tax code.

    So there are obviously parts that can be skimmed, although I do find some of these interesting. For example, I know that they will never ask about what percentage of a typical bank‘s capital comes from deposits vs. Wholesale funding, but knowing that makes me better able to understand why a bank would behave in a certain manner.

    Does that help?
  • MarcMarc TorontoPosts: 186 Portfolio Manager
    I should clarify. By "deep" reading, I don't mean that I give the same weight to every sentence. And it certainly doesn't mean that I try to memorize every detail that is printed in the text.

    Rather, I hate the feeling that am no longer in tune with what the author is writing, but I just keep skimming along in order to say that I have "read" those pages. It also means that I'm not going to trust Schwesser, or anyone, to do the reading for me.

    I also believe that taking this approach pays dividends in the long run. There are many themes that run throughout the curriculum and putting in the time to really understand a concept (one that you know is important) almost always pays off later because you are better able to understand a related concept in another reading.

    Just my $0.02.
  • @Marc Active reading isn't synonymous with memorizing just a way to better comprehend what you are reading
    I agree with you and that reading the actual CFAI material has a higher yield, I admire your ability to read those books. And you are correct in not trusting Schweser or anyone else to do the readings for you. The disaster that occurs when you translate a sentence from one language to another comes to mind.

    My problem is that the dullness of the material and the meandering way it is written defends itself against being read. If CFAI ever were to diversify into screen writing I would find a way to short the venture and leverage it to the tilt.

    Cheers to whoever figures out whom I spoofed the second last sentence from.
  • MarcMarc TorontoPosts: 186 Portfolio Manager

    Thanks, and please believe me that, as someone who will likely have spend over 1000 hours with his nose in one CFA book or another, I am under no illusions as to the nature of these readings.

    I realize that in urging people to read the CFA curriculum, I'm essentially saying "Eat your vegetables." And if people disagree, that's fine with me. But they'd better not be under the impression that going out and spending a bunch of money for Schwesser or whoever is going to get them candy.
  • @Marc I understand your preference for the CFAI books but why the extreme dislike for prep material?
  • MarcMarc TorontoPosts: 186 Portfolio Manager

    I don't actually have an extreme dislike of prep materials. I'm sorry that I came across that way. In fact I'm using (legally obtained :P) 7City prep materials this time and I encourage people to use whatever materials they find useful. But I also encourage people to think about how much value they are getting in return for a not-insignificant amount of money. I bought prep materials at Levels 1 & 2 that largely collected dust because I found that the CFAI books were sufficient.

    In the end, people need to make the decision with which they are most comfortable, but - as someone who has been there - I can say that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

    PS. I don't get paid by CFAI to promote the use of their books.
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