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How to Prepare for Your CFA Exam

The CFA exam covers a lot of material, and to be successful, you need to have an effective plan of action to master those concepts and be ready as you can be for exam day. Following is some important advice as you prepare your own study plan.

  • Don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to dedicate to the program.

It has a rightly deserved reputation as one of the toughest qualifications, due in no small part to the volume of information a candidate needs to retain. The CFA Institute reports that candidates spend on average 300 hours preparing for each level. A common mistake people make is to think ‘that doesn’t apply to me’. It probably does.

  • Take a structured approach to study.

Find out what works best for you. Online classes, live classroom sessions and revision classes – all are available. Passing with nothing but the voluminous official readings alone is a phenomenal effort.

  • Practice questions.

Getting through the readings is a monumental task in itself and many candidates make the mistake of reading and re-reading them at the expense of question practice. You have to know not only the technical content, but how that technical content will be examined. Try and include both reading and practicing in appropriate rations in your CFA level 1 study plan.

  • Regularly revisit each topic to keep them fresh instead of revising single topics for weeks at a time.

A good trick is to stagger them – read equity and practice fixed income questions one evening, then read economics and practice equity questions the next, and so on. Put it this way in your CFA level 1 study plan.

  • Do a mock exam (or preferably three or four).

The exams for each level are six hours in total, three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. They are daunting and tiring so don’t approach them without going through the experience in a mock situation.

  • Don’t pick the books up with two weeks to go, it won’t work.

I know you’ve heard it before, but this time it’s true. You don’t have the time to read the entire curriculum in two weeks, let alone practice enough questions.

  • Get familiar with your calculator early on in your studies.

There are only two allowed in the exam, the Texas Instruments BAII Plus and the HP12C. If you’ve used neither, it’s easier to pick up the Texas. The calculator is a vital time-saving device; it has functions that will perform valuation calculations in seconds that would otherwise take minutes.

  • Each multi-choice question in the exam is worth the same number of marks so don’t get bogged down with long calculations.

If a question looks time consuming, leave it until the end. In that way, you’ll always feel ahead of the clock. Better to rush two or three long questions at the end than guess at 15 or 20 that you didn’t have time to attempt.

  • Save time by reviewing the requirement in a question before reading the scenario.

This is especially helpful with ethics questions. If you don’t know what the question is asking, you’ll find yourself wasting time reading the scenario, reading the requirement, and re-reading the scenario.

  • Start and end with ethics.

In general, we recommend you take all of the topics in the order presented in the CFA curriculum. However, spend just a little time on ethics at the beginning to get a big picture overview, and then really hit the topic hard in the last weeks before the exam. Starting off and ending with ethics needs to be incorporated in your CFA level 1 study plan.

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