It’s a big week for Level 1 CFA Candidates. Saturday is the big day and many of you will be using this last week for an intensive review of the curriculum.
Studying for eight to 12 hours a day can get you those last few points you need to pass but you’ll need to use your time effectively and avoid burning out. You’ve spent the last few months studying the curriculum and it can be easy to zone out if you stare at it for too much time before taking a break.
The MIT Center for Academic Excellence recommends planning your schedule around one-hour blocks with 50 minutes of studying and a ten minute break. This helps you stay focused without zoning out and getting tired during those long days of studying for the CFA exam.
But there’s more to managing your time than just planning for your ten minute breaks. Make sure you avoid the biggest risks in your hourly breaks and plan activities that will help you succeed.
Avoid these Study Break Nightmares
There are two problems that come up when CFA candidates try to take a break from studying
- Too many breaks go into overtime. You plan on stopping for just 10 minutes but then find yourself an hour later still not back on your study schedule.
- Some activities affect your studying well after you’ve returned to the curriculum. It might seem like it’s only taken 10 minutes but the after-effects last for hours.
Avoid these bad study break ideas:
- Don’t turn on the television thinking you are going to watch just ten minutes of TV. You’ll end up watching an entire movie and wasting the whole day.
- Anything online is going to be a recipe for disaster. This includes checking email, news, the stock market and just about anything else on the World Wide Web. There are two problems with getting online for your study breaks. First, there is just too much temptation to go over your break time. You’ll also carry the distraction back with you to your studying. You’ll find yourself thinking about where the market is going or an important email instead of thinking about the CFA curriculum.
- Don’t check in on CFA-related websites or study groups during your break. That’s not really a break from studying for the CFA exam. You need something that is unrelated and that will take your mind off the curriculum for a moment to relax.
- Don’t start any conversations during your study break. You might not be able to wrap it up within the allotted time and any messages you leave might be returned when you’re trying to study.
Ideally, you want to take short breaks every hour or two that can take your mind off studying but that won’t keep you from getting off track.
Avoid foods as a CFA study distraction. Catching a snack every hour or two could mean some serious kilograms put on over the last week before the exam. Besides the extra weight, it’s too easy to be tempted to cook a bigger meal than you planned. You’ll spend valuable study time cooking and a big meal could make you drowsy when you finally get back to studying.
Instead, schedule regular meals around the day. Avoid foods high in fat that will sit in your stomach, making you feel sluggish, and don’t overeat.
Stretching or light exercise is a great way to use your study breaks. Do some quick calisthenics in the study room or stretch for about 10 minutes. It will improve circulation and wake you up. The idea isn’t to exercise vigorously but just to get a quick pickup. You’ll love the energy but won’t generally be tempted to extend the break for more than scheduled.
While you generally don’t want to do too much snacking or cooking during your study breaks, having a cup of tea can be a great alternative. It won’t take more than a few minutes to prepare your tea and another five or six minutes to drink. A cup of green tea will refocus your brain and improve your memory without hopping you up on too much caffeine.
If your study area is a disaster area, take a few minutes to organize your things and tidy up a little. Putting everything in its place can help you stay focused and can lead to less distractions while you’re studying. We’re not talking about taking an hour to deep clean the house, just a few minutes to pick up some stuff and make your study area more professional.
Whatever you decide to do for your regular study breaks, don’t do it every time you break. You’ll take upwards of ten breaks a day. Try exercising during every break and you’re going to start getting extremely tired. Doing the same thing each break will also get boring and won’t be much of a break at all.
Plan out your study schedule with effective breaks and use this last week for all that its worth.
‘til next time, good luck!
Joseph Hogue, CFA