Five Reasons CFA Candidates Fail the CFA Exams (Part 3)

We’ve covered two of the top five reasons candidates fail in the previous weeks’ posts. I was going to finish the series up with this one but could not wait. I figured there are candidates studying for the December exam now and they need to read this before it’s too late to get back on track.

Frequent readers of the blog will recognize this common hurdle that candidates face. It is a problem all students face. Worst of all, it is not something you can overcome once and not worry about it again. You have to continuously watch for it to keep yourself on course.

The number one reason candidates do not pass the CFA exams is the difference between active and passive learning.

Passive learning is those activities where you do not participate but really just absorb the material through sensory perception. This includes reading, listening to a lecture or watching a video. Studies have shown that students remember only about 10% to 30% of the material through passive study.

Active learning, by contrast, is those activities where you engage the material in an interactive manner. This includes discussion, presentation and problem solving. Students are able to remember up to 90% of the material when they use active studying as part of their routine.

Just Reading the CFA Curriculum isn’t Going to Make It


Now that you know the difference, you are probably saying, “Oh crap, I am doing nothing but passive learning!” Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most school systems are built around passive learning (listening to lectures and reading textbooks) and students only grudgingly engage in active learning.

For me, it was only with the realization that the CFA exams were nowhere near as easy as most of my college curriculum and that passive learning was not going to cut it that I made the commitment to active learning. Its not the easier route, but would you rather spend a hundred hours reading to remember 10 hours of material (people typically remember about 10% of what they read) or would you rather work practice problems for about 11 hours to remember the same 10 hours worth of material?

Practice, Practice and yet more Practice for CFA Exam

1) Practice problems are the most obvious form of active learning. Make sure you do all the end-of-chapter questions and ‘blue-box’ examples in the CFA curriculum. These are going to be the most closely related to actual exam questions and are pretty close to the same level of difficulty.

The FinQuiz test bank includes almost 5,000 questions created directly from the curriculum and more than 500 item sets. It is a great supplement to the textbook questions and will help avoid boredom from doing the same questions multiple times.

Study groups for CFA Exam

2) Study groups are a good way to discuss and think about the material, but make sure you are efficiently spending your time on the curriculum and not talking about unrelated things that happened over the week. Flash cards are a good resource to use for study groups. You learn first by developing your own set of cards, then learn by working through other group member’s cards as well.

Level III candidates absolutely MUST work old essay questions.

3)  The Institute releases the last three years’ essay questions with guideline answers. We worked through about 12 of these before the exam this year and are available on the blog. Do not let the essay section surprise you. It can be extremely easy or extremely difficult.

I first wrote about active versus passive learning in a post earlier but thought I would include it in this ‘top 5’ list because it trips up so many candidates. Click here for more information on active learning and how it can help you remember 90% of what you study.

‘Til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 28, 2016 at 4:02 am

And you thought practicing FinQuiz Mocks was tough! - Copyrights FinQuiz.com

And you thought practicing FinQuiz Mocks was tough! – Copyrights FinQuiz.com

Five Reasons CFA Candidates Fail the CFA Exams (Part 2)

I used to know a First Sergeant in the Marine Corps, one of the hardest and most admired men I have ever known. First Sergeant had a saying for when someone failed or things didn’t quite work out, as if all failure came down to one motto, and it brings us to the second of five reasons why candidates fail the CFA exams.

“Prior proper planning prevents p*ss poor performance!” For those that do not know, ‘p*ss’ is an expletive used here as an adjective for how severely you just messed up.

Lack of planning may seem like an oversimplification as to why candidates fail the exams, but much of the time it is just that simple.

CFA Exam – 300 hours studying

Candidates know that it takes an average of 300 hours studying to learn the curriculum and pass any given level. That’s not just some number I pulled out of the air. Every year, the CFA Institute surveys candidates and every year those passing the exam report that they spent about 300 hours studying. For the most part, candidates understand the time required and most plan to put in the necessary time to pass.

They figure 300 hours divided by 3-4 months is about 20 hours per week studying and they plan on starting in late February for the June exam.

But that is about as far as their planning goes.

Life and CFA Exam

Then something happens I like to call, “LIFE.” Life is your little sister getting married and you have to fly to Albuquerque for the wedding. Life is first quarter reporting and you putting in 80 hours a week at the office to get client presentations done. Life is your son’s Little League Championship series that takes you to every baseball diamond in the state and out for pizza afterwards. Life is all the things that get in the way and cause you to deviate from your study plans.

Besides the little things in life that come up to detour the best made plans, I always planned ahead for those cabin fever moments. These are when you have been hitting the books every day for a month, when you have locked yourself away studying for so long that you see the efficient frontier in your sleep. These are the moments you need to step back and take a day or two off of studying or face some serious burnout.

When to start studying for CFA Exam

A lot of candidates and charter holders cringe when I tell them I started studying in November or earlier, more than seven months before the exam. When I say I started studying, they assume it was studying as they are used to doing when they start in February or March (studying every day for 15 hours a week until the exam).

When I say I ‘started’ so early, I mean a relaxed schedule of 5-10 hours a week for the first couple of months. Just reading through the curriculum but not worrying too much about problems or the exam. After the first reading, I would start through it again using study guides and working practice problems. This all gave me enough time to work through the curriculum and not worry about setbacks from ‘LIFE’ or burnout. I could take a week off if I needed to and still get back on schedule without drastically increasing study time.

There is a procedural component of your study planning as well, of which we’ll talk about tomorrow, but this time component is what trips up candidates the most. After all the time spent learning about the exams, after all the money spent on resources, it seems too simplistic that a lack of time is what causes candidates to fail but it’s true.

Learn to plan ahead and plan to pass the exams.
Thank you First Sergeant.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

For the first part of the series and the problem of meta-studying, click here.

Last updated: July 27, 2016 at 6:15 am

Five Reasons CFA Candidates Fail the CFA Exams (Part 1)

Today’s post starts a five-part series looking at the top five reasons candidates fail any particular level of the CFA exams.

Two things should be obvious here:

  • The list, as with the majority of posts, is subject to opinion and may vary across candidates. Besides working through the exams myself, I have spent a great deal of time talking with other candidates about the exams and their preparation. I like to think I know something about the process, but you always need to focus the material from your own viewpoint.
  • The list is composed of things that candidates do across all three levels that make it generally more difficult to pass. Each level has its own idiosyncrasies and hurdles that may also make it difficult. The habits listed in this series are not level-specific.

Which CFA exam level is the most difficult?

While understanding why each level is difficult and how to approach each in your preparation is important, the type of question brings us to our first reason candidates fail.

TOO MUCH META-STUDYING FOR CFA EXAM

Candidates love to talk about the exams. They talk about which level is most difficult and why. They ponder the minimum passing score and trends in the pass rate. I have even seen forum posts on the best beverage to drink while studying. This is all meta-studying or [studying about studying].

Yes, you need to understand the topic weights on the exams. Yes, there are some great tips and tricks out there on how to approach the CFA exams. The problem is that candidates too easily use this meta-studying as an excuse to get out of actual studying. How many hours have you spent ‘researching’ how the tests are conducted, how to approach each topic area, the earliest one should start studying, or a myriad of other questions about the exams?

I have to be careful here. Your meta-studying is what brought you to the blog and I want you to come back regularly to listen to my ramblings. But I also want you to pass the exams and I have seen too many candidates sabotage themselves by spending too much time on the forums and not enough time actually studying.

Everything in Moderation

As with most habits, the first step is understanding the behavior and approach it with moderation. There is some great advice out there and it can make your life incredibly easier come the first Saturday of December/June. You need to know the general process involved and the idiosyncrasies within each exam, but you also need to know when to get off the forums and get to work studying.

Give yourself an hour or two every week to answer questions about the exams. You might take a little more during the first couple of weeks to familiarize yourself with a new level and you might take less time toward the end after you’ve learned what you need. The important point is to understand how much time you are spending and to make sure it does not come at the expense of studying.

  • If you have a specific question about the exams, especially while studying the curriculum, do not stop studying. Write the question down and address it later, after studying.
  • When looking for the answer to a specific question, try searching for the question using the forum’s search bar rather than making a new post. This will help answer the question quickly and will not bring you back to the post every time someone leaves a reply.
  • Find a couple of good sites (I hope this blog will be one) that you visit once or twice a week to see if there are any updates. Finding a new site can be helpful but don’t spend too much time surfing the web for new places to visit.

December and June will be here soon enough.
Good luck and happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 26, 2016 at 11:33 am

CFA Results 2016 and How to Deal with a Fail

The time between taking the CFA exam and the release of results can be excruciating. The CFA Institute has released the date of June exam results July 26, 2016. Emails will start going out at 9am eastern standard but it may take several hours to receive your email.

How can you use the exam results to prepare for your next exam? How could you possibly deal with the results if you end up in one of the fail bands?

Decoding CFA Results 2016

Results will look like the graphic below with your percentage range in each topic within one of the three ranges. The graphic is actually from my Level 3 exam results but the format is the same for all three exams (I didn’t save my exam results for the Level I which seems a million years ago).

cfa exam resultsThe asterisks mark the range in which you scored. The CFA Institute does not release an exact score or a minimum passing score for the exam but you can still use your results for some useful information.

I scored greater than 70% in five of the eight topic areas on the item-set portion of the exam and between 51% to 70% in the remaining three topic areas. If these were results of a Level I exam, I would look closely at the three topic areas and their relative weight on the Level II exam.

For example, I know that Equity Investments is a very important part of the second exam and is worth between 15% and 25% of your total exam score. I might want to consider spending some time before my CFA Level II studies to review some of the Level I equity material to make sure I have a good base of understanding.

We published a basic strategy for the Level II CFA Exam which you might want to review.

How to deal with a CFA Exam Fail

Getting the email from the Institute saying you failed the exam is like getting punched in the gut. Your stomach sinks, you start to feel queasy and some even break down into tears.

You will hear all kinds of excuses and complaints about the designation and the CFA Institute after results are released. Some blame the questions, others try to make themselves feel better by saying that the designation doesn’t matter to their segment of the industry. These are all common coping mechanisms to deal with the results but you need to resist the urge. Your reasons behind taking the exam and the value of the designation have not changed and neither should your attitude.

Resist the urge to get mad at yourself or at the CFA Institute. Half or more of the candidates that take any given exam do not pass. The exams are tough and that is what makes the designation so valuable and will be a source of pride when you do pass.

Take an honest look at how you prepared for the exam and ask yourself where you could have improved your efforts. For most candidates, it is a matter of simply not devoting enough time to study the curriculum. Others may have done really well in a few topic areas but so poorly in core topics that it put them in a fail band. Either way, use the information in your exam results to see where you need to improve.

On the bright side, having taken the June exam means you are still able to register for the December exam and have a good chance at success. The Institute does not publish pass rates for repeat test takers but I have to believe that it is much higher than the general pass rates.

Not passing an exam is the worst thing to happen?

Contrary to what you may be thinking, it is not really too difficult telling friends, family and coworkers about the exam results. If not passing an exam is the worst thing to happen in your life, you are either very sheltered or not challenging yourself enough. Your friends and family understand that the CFA is important to you and will go out of their way to empathize.

If others in your office have taken the exam, they will know full well how difficult the test is and will not hold it against you. Unless you completely blew off studying, there are bound to be some topics in which you did well and can highlight your success in those areas. Take an honest approach and admit that you just have to work a little harder in the topics where you didn’t score as well.

What to tell the friends and family?

We published a post Exam Results, What to Tell the Friends and Family which you might want to review. Another helpful post is Exam Results Coming Soon, What if…?

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 25, 2016 at 7:54 am

Getting the Job and CFA work Experience (part 5)

This is the last post of a series we have run over the prior few days highlighting some of the great resources available to candidates through the CFA Institute’s Career Resources. We covered networking, branding, job search techniques and interviews in previous posts. Today, we will wrap it all up with career management and what to do after you’ve got your dream job.

For resources from the Institute: Click through to CFA Institute – then to Career Resources – and then to Library. Click Career Management Webcasts and Podcasts and access 78 resources.

Did you forget how hard you worked to get the job?

The resources on career management are all podcasts, between 10 minutes and an hour, and take longer to browse through than the other topics we’ve reviewed. Don’t neglect the topic though, it is one of the most overlooked by employees.

The fact is that many people stop strategically thinking about their career after they land a job. Worse yet, many forget how grateful they were and how hard they worked to get the job and they soon fall into a daily routine that gets them nowhere. Constant career management is about two things, guiding your long-term career goals and guiding your career where you currently work.

Just because you love the company for which you work does not mean you want to or have to work their forever. It may be a great job and give you tons of experience but there are a number of reasons why your long-term plans may take you elsewhere.

  • Is the firm large enough for advancement opportunities?
  • Will the position/sector you want ever be available?
  • Does the firm deal in the asset class in which you want to work?
  • Does the culture fit with your long-term goals, i.e. family

Don’t forget that even the strongest, most long-lived firms may fall on hard times. Even if you see yourself at your current employer, you cannot afford to completely cut yourself off from the rest of the investment community.

Guiding your long-term plans just means being aware of how you want your career to progress, what rungs do you want in your career ladder, and devising a rough plan on how to climb your ladder. This includes knowing the limitations of your current firm and what other firms can offer. The four-part Career Conversations series with Khalid Ghayur lays out the topic very well and is definitely worth a look.

Guiding your career where you currently work may or may not be different from your long-term plan. I included it as a separate idea here because I see a lot of employees quickly fall into a rut after they get the job. The worked so hard to get the position, were so happy to get it but then lose their momentum. That desired position becomes just another job and they miss out on the opportunity to manage their career at the company.

Everyone’s job can get monotonous at times. The best advice I can offer is to formalize milestone career goals. These should be things you want to accomplish within six-months, one-, three- and five-years. The earlier periods (i.e. six-months and a year) should have multiple goals and may be more defined while the longer-term goals may be more strategic and vague. Regularly reevaluate your milestone goals to make sure you still want to get there and you are on track to achieve them.

Again, doing all this alone will not be half as effective as seeking the advice of someone else. With career management it is better to seek the advice of a supervisor or mentor rather than a peer. You don’t have to tell your supervisor that you see your long-term goals at another company but talk with them openly about how you can advance at the firm.

It strikes me, writing this series on getting a job and career management, that two very important ideas are prevalent across all the topics.

  • You need to be strategic to reach your goals. Know where you want to go and plan on how you can get there. Planning two steps ahead will put you at least one step ahead of the rest of the crowd that is reacting to their environment instead of guiding it.
  • You need to be active to reach your goals. Too many people passively go with the flow and wait for opportunities to come their way. Unless you have a guardian angel (i.e. someone that is pushing you to your goal and being active for you) then opportunities are not going to seek you out. You need to seek them out by knowing where you want to go and putting yourself in front of them. Attend conferences and professional events, be active in your local CFA society, do research into special topics and become an expert in things that may not be directly related to your current position.

We’ve still got at least four months before you need to start thinking about the next CFA exam. This is the perfect time to review the resources on the CFA Institute’s website, career resources or otherwise. Don’t just be a participant in your life’s story, actively guide it and you won’t regret where you end up.

‘til next time, happy job huntin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Getting the Job and CFA work experience (part 4)

This is the fourth post of a series we will run over the next few weeks highlighting some of the great resources available to candidates through the CFA Institute’s Career Resources. We covered networking, branding and job search techniques in previous posts. This week, we will look at one of the most intimidating and difficult stages for many candidates, interviewing.

For resources from the Institute: Click through to CFA Institute – then to Career Resources – and then to Library.

From 1-in-100 to 1-in-10


Congratulations, you have made it through the mountain of submitted resumes for a position and actually landed an interview. Getting the call for an interview is a huge affirmation of your skills and experience, especially in today’s ultra-competitive environment.

As great as it is to make it to this stage, don’t forget that there are likely at least five or ten other candidates that want the job as badly as you. You’ve improved your chances but you can’t let up on the effort until you sign the employment contract.

  • Understand the company and the type of person they usually hire. Are many from a specific school or field of study? Do they prefer newbies or people with strong experience? What is the workplace atmosphere, laid-back or hard-charging? Most candidates will give a cursory glance at the company’s website but this won’t tell you anything about how personalities fit in the office. Proving you are a good fit with the culture is just as important as proving your skills and experience.
  • As with your resume, it is important to be able to answer questions with definitive proof. Make sure you are able to support your skills with an anecdote and quantitative proof.
  • Be brief and listen to what they are saying. Avoid talking for more than a couple of minutes without some input or response from the interviewer. This will help avoid rambling or getting off topic. If you can turn the interview into a conversation, it becomes much more enjoyable for both and increases your chance of making a connection.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your answers and skills. If you can address the interviewer’s biggest problems/concerns during the interview then you’ll have a better chance when they are making the decision later.

The Behavioral Interview

The ‘Behavioral Interviewing Worksheet’ provides a nice template for answering experiential questions. These behavioral experience questions are popular with many employers because they cause you to ‘prove’ your abilities through actual experience. Make sure you keep each part of the question brief, the worksheet recommends 2-3 sentences, because it can be too easy to ramble and lose focus.

If you thought you were done with networking when you got the call for an interview, think again. One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard was to find someone already working for the company to get the inside-scoop on the interview. They may not offer much, depending on how well you know each other but it is an opportunity you do not want to pass up. Does the company ask behavioral questions, will there be some kind of test, do they ask opinion or off-topic questions? Having an idea of the type of questions could save you a ton of time in preparation.

While it should go without saying, make sure you follow-up with everything you promised in the interview. Did you promise to provide contacts for references or to find some other information? At minimum, you need to send an email thanking the interviewer for their time.

As with most of the steps we’ve looked at in the series, you really need to be working with someone on your interviewing skills. It’s easy to sit there and read your pitch back to yourself but you’ll never get the feedback you need. Find someone else on the LinkedIn CFA group or around your city that is also job hunting and team up for feedback and support.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the series with career management and what to do after you get the job.

‘til next time, happy job huntin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Getting the Job and CFA work experience (part 3)

This is the third post of a series we will run over the next few weeks highlighting some of the great resources available to candidates through the CFA Institute’s Career Resources. We covered networking and branding in previous posts. This week, we will look at resume writing and strategic job searches.

For resources from the Institute: Click through to CFA Institute – then to Career Resources – and then to Library.

Do people still use resumes?


There is only one resume link to, “Insider Tips for Resume Writing,” offering nine bulleted tips. In the age of ubiquitous internet profiles, resumes may seem outdated but are still universally used by employers.

HR and employer time is limited, especially with the hundreds of resumes they may be receiving, so it is imperative that you get there attention quick. Put a summary section above everything else that gives a one or two sentence pitch and offers a few bullet points of your top achievements or skills.

One of the hardest but most important things to do on a resume is to quantify your accomplishments. Anyone can say they helped improve the return on a portfolio but you need to be able to prove it. Spend some time to analyze your own contribution to your past employers. Did you suggest and/or lead a project or investment. If your split with the employer was friendly, they might be able to offer ways to quantify your accomplishments.

In keeping with the idea of a restricted time reading your resume, the tips suggest limiting it to two pages though I am still from the old school that tries for one page. This means limiting the amount of information and the number of employers you list. Focus on your most recent and most relevant experience.

Crafting a superb resume is still not going to get you out of networking. The author of the linked tips states that 75% of all new positions are won through networking. While I’m thinking this seems a little high, you absolutely must make those personal connections.

Strategic Job Searches


I couldn’t have told you what ‘strategic job searches’ were before I started this post but the Institute offers nine files for review so I figure there must be something to it. From reading through the resources, it appears that searching ‘strategically’ is just integrating all the topics (i.e. resume writing, branding, networking, interviewing) and formalizing a process for the search.

As a type-A person who likes to have everything planned out ahead of time, the need for a strategic search seems obvious but the resources are no less helpful. It strikes me that a lot of candidates think getting a job begins with a search on Monster or eFinancialCareers but have very little idea of what they actually want to do besides make money. If you do not fully understand what you want and what you can offer, then you won’t be able to relay that to a potential employer and will have nothing to separate yourself from the crowd.

I would highlight two resources available on the site. Effective Job Search Campaigns gives you a template, though you may want to add or delete some sections, to formalize a marketing plan and a few helpful tips on networking.

Job Search Strategies for Today is probably the most detailed resource with 44 slides that cover quite a few different topics including resumes, planning and social media. You will want to take some of the ideas within this resource to develop the template from the previous resource.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at those all-important interviewing skills.

‘til next time, happy job huntin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Getting the Job and CFA work experience (part 2)

This is the second post of a series we will run over the next few weeks highlighting some of the great resources available to candidates through the CFA Institute’s Career Resources. We covered networking in last week’s post and, as much as I would like to move into resumes and interviewing, we need to cover something almost completely overlooked by job candidates…personal branding.

For resources from the Institute: Click through to CFA Institute – then to Career Resources – and then to Library. I like the presentation, Building and Managing a Professional reputation, for its straight-forward questions but it won’t take much time to browse through all the material on the site.

Personal branding? It’s not like I’m Coca Cola

You may not be a multi-billion dollar company with a product to push but you are still trying to sell something, yourself and your skills.

Sure, you hold the CFA designation or are working towards it but that puts you in the company of about 280,000 other charter holders and candidates. That is on top of the masses of new finance grads and the consolidation in equity analysis over the last few years that has left fewer positions for which job seekers must compete.

Personal branding WILL get you a job! and your CFA work experience

I can say this so confidently because the process is so neglected by job seekers that working it into your job search will distinguish you from all the rest. As with networking, there are several slideshows and resources on the Institute’s webpage. Most are relatively brief, notes from a presentation, so you might want to check out something from the library. You don’t have to spend weeks developing a plan but give it the time it deserves and it will pay off.

Branding is actively creating a perception of yourself and your skills. This means sitting down to think through the idea and writing down a formal plan. Do not just spend 30 minutes and figure that you will remember your brand without writing it out. Actively creating your brand means seeking out ways to display it so it gets built into people’s perception. This includes public speaking, writing or blogging, as well as highlighting it on all your communications material like resumes and business cards.

The best advice I got from the resources on the website was to be focused and differentiated, understand your value proposition and the specialized solutions you can offer. Think creatively here. Experience is not the only value proposition. If you lack experience, you need to develop your brand around something else.

Potential brands

  • Cross-specialization : Are you someone that has strong experience in other areas? There are tons of analysts out there but many cannot put two sentences together intelligibly. I have built my brand around being able to produce persuasive and thoughtful writing around strong fundamental analysis.
  • Perseverance: Everyone says they are passionate and will, “do what it takes.” If you can prove it with a short anecdote then the brand might be yours. Have at least two stories of how you went above and beyond or overcame huge obstacles.
  • Be the First or the Leader: You don’t necessarily have to be the very first to do something as long as there are few that do it. Make sure to pick something that will be in demand by a large enough universe of employers.
  • Be the Expert: This doesn’t necessarily mean being the global expert but could be the Expert among the group of job candidates. If you do not work in the topic or have much experience, you’ll have to take the time to develop it. Read everything you can on the subject and seek ways to develop your expertise. Volunteer to speak on the topic or submit analysis to journals or to newsletters.

As with any communications strategy, branding works best if it is integrated across multiple channels. You need to focus on your brand across your LinkedIn profile, resume and cover letters, business cards and in your face-to-face interactions.

Whatever brand you choose, stop saying you are, “well-rounded!” Do you know what this tells me, that you do not know your strengths or are not an asset in any particular area. It is fine to have some good general knowledge but you need to be able to bring something extra to the team.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few resume tips and some job search strategies.

‘til next time, happy branding.
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 21, 2016 at 5:10 am

Getting the Job: From Networking to Interviews and Beyond

This is the first post of a series we will run over the next few weeks highlighting some of the great resources available to candidates through the CFA Institute’s Career Resources to help you in getting your CFA work experience. We’ll start with some networking ideas, highlighting some of the best articles, handouts and presentations available on the site.

Through the next few weeks, we’ll move through the career search highlighting interviewing, resumes, personal brand development and communication skills. Don’t feel like you have to wait for the posts though, click through to the CFA Institute’s site and take a look at some of the resources available.

Click through to CFA Institute – then to Career Resources – and then to Library
You will need your candidate Id number to login to the site.

It’s not what you know
After 300+ hours studying for your exam and countless hours spent in your undergrad program, I’ve got bad news.  You may have neglected the most important skill for our industry.

Most people think of networking only when they get ready to find a job to meet CFA work experience requirement. Don’t let the fact that you’ll spend much of your day following portfolio returns and market analysis fool you, your success in the investment and asset management industry lives and dies on relationships. This is most obvious for the brokers and advisors but the dealmakers and analysts also need to know who is looking in the market for their advice and expertise.

Networking to get CFA work experience can be frustrating at first.

It’s not really taught in school and the ease of social media platforms like LinkedIn has given people a false impression of how to really make connections. Networking is not adding someone as a “connection” on your profile and it is not simply “Liking” someone’s re-post of the cat playing piano video.

Networking is about getting to know others, their job and their personality, and understanding how the two of you can work together to achieve both your goals.

Ok, so most of you are saying, “That’s fine but I NEED a job now and that’s the only thing I’m thinking about.” That’s understandable and your networking will eventually lead to job opportunities, but…

Try to approach networking first as the opportunity to meet others in the industry and learn. Too many job hunters rush through getting to know someone and jump right into asking for a job. When you do this at a social event or conference, you immediately stop being someone with which the other person is interested in building a relationship and become just another resume.

There are a few handouts and multimedia podcasts available on the CFA site.

Handouts like these will give you tips and some good starter advice for networking but the best way to learn is by getting out there and practicing.

Don’t just scan through the handouts. Actively read through and compare the advice with your experience in the last couple of times you’ve been to a social or networking event. Did you do anything particularly well? Chances are you will find some points that you either didn’t do well or actively avoided. Use the handout and your experience to write out a networking plan, not a long book on meeting people but a half page outline on what you are going to do at the next event you attend.

Better yet, write it on a small index card and take it to the event with you. Looking back on the outline during the event can be a great way of forcing yourself to do some of the things that you actively avoided in the past.

There are a ton of tips available in the handouts but my favorite is to network with a friend. Working with a peer will help you develop your ‘elevator speech’ ahead of time. At the event, you can use each other to help with introductions. Each of you plan on meeting at least 3-5 people then introduce each other to the people you met. After the event, talk about what you were able to do from your outline plan, what you might have missed and what you learned.

Your local CFA society is your best bet for networking events related to CFA work experience.

From there check out the local business organizations and your connections through LinkedIn. After going to a few events, you will start to see familiar faces and your ‘real’ network will grow exponentially. Start talking about what you want to do through your career and what you think you be great at doing.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few resume tips and some job search strategies.
‘til next time, happy networkin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 21, 2016 at 5:10 am

Notes from the 2015 CFA Candidate Survey

The 2015 CFA Candidate Survey presents some interesting facts and study hints for other candidates

The CFA Institute surveys candidates each year before and after the exam to help improve the curriculum and the CFA candidate experience. The survey results offer an interesting look into what type of candidates are attracted to the CFA and the overall candidate profile.

The Institute surveyed nearly 16,500 candidates before the exam and almost 25,000 candidates after the exam. The response rate varied between 21% and 31% for each cohort.

Results of the 2015 CFA Candidate Survey

Candidates for the June 2015 CFA exam ranged from age 21 through 65 and from more than 141 international markets. The majority (75%) were employed full-time along with 15% students, 6% unemployed, 2% self-employed and 1% unemployed but not looking for work.

CFA Candidate Employment Status

CFA Candidate Employment Status

There was even a small percentage of candidates (0.05%) that reported being retired. The CFA exams are a challenge to which many aspire. I’ve talked to a few candidates that were already retired and hear that many people always wanted to take the exams but never felt they had the time or failed several times during their busy careers. Taking the exam while retired gives many the chance to accomplish their goal even if they don’t plan on using it professionally.

Nearly half (41%) of candidates reported employment in one of six job functions including portfolio management, research & analysis, risk management, consulting, corporate finance and accounting.

The part of the CFA candidate survey that I’m always most interested in seeing is the section on exam preparation. The CFA Institute surveys candidates on how long they prepared, resources used, emotions leading up to the exam and many other topic areas.

As is almost always the case, candidates reported spending just over 300 hours on average to prepare for each of the CFA exams. Actual averages from the 2015 candidate survey were:

  • 308 hours average across all three exams
  • 287 hours average for the Level I
  • 315 hours average for the Level II
  • 327 hours average for the Level III

Most candidates (78%) reported using the official CFA Institute curriculum and 72% reported using the Institute’s mock exam to prepare. Nearly two-thirds (61%) reported using third-party prep materials as well. Only 5% of candidates reported taking part in a local study group.

What I thought was a little disturbing was that only 51% reported doing the end-of-chapter problems in the curriculum. That means about a third of the candidates that used the official curriculum didn’t bother doing the end-of-chapter problems. What did they use then to test their retention?

I won’t get into a rant on the importance of working practice problems but high fail rates on the exams shouldn’t surprise you when so many candidates neglect some of the best resources available.

More than a quarter (28%) of respondents thought the exam questions were more difficult than they expected while 63% thought they were as difficult as expected. Most candidates (73%) felt the questions were all or mostly clearly written while 2% felt many of the questions were not clear.

The Institute asked candidates to rate the most difficult three topics on each exam.

  • On the Level I exam; Fixed Income, Ethical & Professional Standards, and Financial Reporting were claimed as the most difficult
  • Level II CFA candidates had trouble with Fixed Income, Derivatives and Alternative Investments
  • Level III candidates reported Derivatives, Ethical & Professional Standards, and Portfolio Management as the most difficult topics

The fact that candidates reported these topics as the most difficult should give you ideas on studying. Many of these difficult topic areas are also high-value topics on the exams so you might want to spend extra time making sure you master the material.

A third of the candidates reported taking the CFA exams for career advancement or development while increased competency and professional status also ranked highly as candidate motivations. The CFA Institute also asked candidates to rate their expectation for employment opportunities over the next 12 months. On a global level, there were about an equal share of candidates expecting more and less opportunities. The tool allows you to filter by country so check it out.

The results of the 2015 CFA candidate survey are available here. You can view the results by web-page or in the pdf version. Even if you don’t learn anything from the results, it makes for an interesting look into the candidate profile.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 15:41 pm

Is the CFA Exam More Difficult Now?

Perhaps an unanswerable question but candidates are always wondering if the CFA exams are more difficult now than in the past

A common question we get at Finquiz each year, especially as candidates wait for their exam scores and look at pass rates provided by the CFA Institute for prior years, is has the CFA exam become more difficult over the years.

It’s a taboo question for some. It’s probably impossible to answer with certainty and emotions get high when you start comparing your CFA exam against others’.

Let’s look at the pass rates for the CFA exams over time and then some ideas of whether the exams are more difficult now than in the past.

Are the CFA Exams Getting More Difficult?

Looking at CFA exam pass rates over time suggests that the exams are getting more difficult but there are other factors that could be involved.

  • Pass rates for the CFA Level I exam have fallen from an average of 57% over the five years through 1989 to just 40% over the last five years
  • Pass rates for the CFA Level II exam have fallen from an average of 65% over the five years through 1989 to just 44% over the last five years
  • Pass rates for the CFA Level III exam have fallen from an average of 74% over the five years through 1989 to just 52% over the last five years

cfa pass rates over time

While there is a lot of volatility in pass rates from one year to the next, the trend over the last 30 years is fairly clear. The percentage of candidates passing their exam each year is falling.

There have been a lot of changes to the CFA exams over the years and it seems the curriculum has ballooned with new material. One candidate reports seeing a CFA Level III exam with just four essay questions as opposed to the 10+ essay questions on today’s exam. A few of the topics including Alternative Investments, Derivatives and GIPS didn’t exist in the past.

So the curriculum has definitely expanded along with the body of knowledge available in the industry but are there other reasons why pass rates have fallen?

There could certainly be some intent in the lower pass rates. With ever more candidates registering for the exams, the CFA Institute may be increasing the minimum passing score to manage how many pass. While the Institute needs to add new dues-paying members every year, it also doesn’t want a massive flood of new charterholders to overwhelm the industry. There’s no way of knowing whether this is true or not because the minimum passing score isn’t public but it’s one theory.

There could also be a geographic explanation to falling passing rates. Many more candidates come from non-English speaking countries than have in the past. While English proficiency among international candidates is very good, you would expect it to be more difficult for non-native English speakers to pass the exams. I speak conversational Spanish but there’s no way I would have been able to pass the CFA exams in the language.

In the end, is there really a need to compare the CFA exam of today with bygone years to say that either is more difficult? The industry changes, requiring a different skill set of analysts and money managers. The knowledge you needed to be successful in the 80s was far different from what you need as we reach farther into the 21st century.

What we should really be asking is whether the CFA exams remain as difficult as the industry needs them to be. As charterholders and future CFA charterholders, we need to require that the Institute and our community keeps up with changing requirements in the industry and designs a curriculum that will hold to the highest standard of the past. This means continuously updating your own knowledge even after passing the CFA exams and sharing that new skill set with the Institute and within your local societies.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 15:44 pm

You’re Waiting for the CFA Exam Results? Why?

Waiting for the CFA exam results can be excruciating for candidates but it may not matter as much as you think

Candidates worldwide are now waiting anxiously for their CFA exam results from the June test. That’s 172,682 candidates biting their nails and pacing the floor waiting for the CFA Institute to grade their exam.

It helps to have gone into the exams with the confidence of passing but even the most self-assured candidates will have a tough time until results are released. The Institute gives itself up to 60 days to release Levels I and II of the CFA exams and up to 90 days to grade the third exam.

It seems like an incredibly long time to wait given the stress around the exams and the work you put in studying…but does it really matter? Of course it would be great to pass the CFA exam but is there a bigger picture you’re overlooking?

The Zen Approach to the CFA Exams

Maybe it doesn’t help much if you’re sitting there wondering your fate for the next year. The low pass rate on the CFA exam means just about every candidate is going to have some doubt as to whether they’ll be spending another 300 hours before next June.

But if you think about the long-term and how much one year really matters within your entire career, it starts to look a little less significant. For many candidates without the necessary work requirements for the charter, you may have years before you can use the designation and passing the exams certainly won’t mean an end to long hours studying how to be a better analyst.

Passing the exam may seem like your top goal in life right now but which is more important, barely making it through to the next level or truly mastering the material? Many of you are probably thinking it’s much better to pass the exam now and worry about mastering the material later but taking one more year to really understand the profession isn’t that bad an idea.

Putting all this in perspective helps to handle a CFA fail as well. I’m not trying to jinx your results but historically half the candidates won’t pass their exam. Getting the bad news means telling everyone that wished you well and dealing with it every time someone asks you how it went.

Resist the urge to find an excuse to blame for not passing the exam. You just weren’t ready and there’s nothing wrong with having to retake the exam. You’re in good company with most candidates having to repeat at least one level of the CFA. Look at it as an opportunity to not only get a better understanding of the curriculum but to learn from whatever study habits held you back from passing. Not only will you be ready to take on the exam next year but you’ll have learned to pull yourself up from defeat and push yourself harder in the future.

Besides being much more relaxed about waiting for CFA exam results, taking the ‘no worries’ perspective of the exam can actually help you study and prepare for next year. If you’re less worried about scoring points and figuring out the tricks to passing the exam, you’ll be better prepared to just study and learn the curriculum. Instead of spending hours ‘studying’ about studying for the exam and trying to game the system, you’ll spend that time more efficiently mastering the curriculum and becoming a better financial professional. And that’s what it’s all about!

‘til next time, just relax!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 15:45 pm

5 Ways to Relax after the CFA Exam

Learning to relax after the CFA exam can be the payoff after months of dedication

It’s usually this time of year, just after the June CFA exam, that I post an article about what to do with all your new free time. You’ve spent upwards of 20 hours a week buried in the CFA curriculum and many candidates forget what it’s like to be…human.

I’m a big proponent of using the post-exam quiet period to keep the momentum going. I usually use this post to highlight some ways to get involved with the local CFA society or ways to learn about finance without it being from the Institute.

If you’re looking for something like that, ideas on how to get a head start on everyone else, check out some of these posts from prior years.

But this post isn’t about any of that, it’s not about learning or networking with your new CFA brethren. This post is just about relaxing!

How to Relax after the CFA Exam

I would hope you have a few ideas of what you want to do over the next few months, ways to relax and feel a little more normal. I used to put things I couldn’t do while studying for the CFA exams on a mental checklist to do after that first Saturday in June. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget or have been studying for so long that it’s hard to remember how to relax.

1) Act Like a Kid Again. Seems everything was simpler when we were kids. Maybe there’s something to that and the key could be getting in touch with the kid inside. Think about a few things you loved doing as a kid. I played whiffle ball with cousins and liked to explore my grandparents’ farm but hadn’t done either in decades until I decided to last year. It was so much fun and my cousins and I get together every couple of months now to play a game.

2) De-orgainize. Most CFA candidates are super-organized type of people. What else would you expect of financial analysts? If I don’t have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to do for the week, I feel a little lost. But sometimes we have to just let our need for organization go to relax a little. Clear your schedule entirely for a day and make a point to do anything you want (unplanned). Go for a walk and just see where the day leads.

3) Get a massage. I’m not talking about asking your significant other to rub your shoulders. Go to an actual spa and get a professional massage, in fact, make it a whole spa day just for you. You’ve earned that sauna, massage, facial package and will love the sense of peace.

4) Make a short-term bucket list. A bucket list doesn’t have to be just things you want to do before you die. Make a list of things to do over the next couple of months. Get creative and be daring. Don’t be afraid to leave home and get outside your comfort zone.

5) Read something totally unrelated to finance. Take up a hobby or read a book totally unrelated to the CFA or finance. Do something regularly just for fun. Being goal-driven personalities is one thing but we have to remember that life is short and we need to take time out to have fun.

Don’t stop with just five ideas for your post-CFA exam relaxation. Make the next few months count and have as much fun as possible. It will be January soon enough and we’ll be right back here studying for another year.

‘til next time, happy relaxing!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 15:46 pm

5 Things to Avoid During the Last Week Before the CFA Exam

Avoid these five wastes of time and challenges to get the most of your last week before the CFA exam

It’s the last week before the CFA exam and hopefully you’re reading this from your study room hideaway just before starting a long week of nothing but cramming for the test. Taking the whole week off work to study is a great way to get those last few points you need to pass the exam.

Not being able to take the week off to focus on studying doesn’t mean you won’t have enough time though. You’ve already spent hundreds of hours on your CFA study plan and putting in 15 or 20 hours this week instead of 40 isn’t going to doom your result.

There are a few things that won’t help your chance at passing the CFA exam though and that should be avoided at all costs.

What to Avoid Before the CFA Exam

Distractions – This one might be difficult to avoid at any point in your CFA study plan but it’s crucial that you get the most of your time this week. This is it, just one more week before the exam and you can’t afford to be taking breaks and surfing online. Find a study area away from home where you will not be distracted regularly and work through the day. Take a ten minute break each hour and 30 minutes for lunch.

Too much group time – Whether you have been studying in a group so far or not, the returns to additional group time are probably limited. At this point, everyone has very specific topic areas in which they need to study most and group members’ needs may not align with yours. If the rest of the group wants to work on derivatives and risk management but you feel you’ve got the study sessions mastered, your time would be better spent studying the topics in which you need to study. Keep the lines of communication open with group members for any quick and specific questions but its best to spend your time really focusing on your individual needs this week.

Negativity and Worry – I understand it’s a lot easier to say not to worry about the exams now that it’s five years since passing the level 3 but you really do need a Zen-like perspective on it. You have done what you can and are using this last week to get those last few points. Worrying about the exam isn’t going to help you make any additional points. Calm down, put in the study time this week and accept whatever score you earn.

New study ideas and inefficient study – It’s too late to start trying out new study ideas or trying to work all the way through the official CFA curriculum again. You need to focus on what has worked in your study routine and getting the most of your time. If you have FinQuiz Study Notes and other review study aids, focus on them to get the point of each LOS rather than reading through thousands of pages in the curriculum.

Too much meta-studying – We’ve covered this one on the blog before but it’s extra important now. What is meta-studying…you’re doing it now. Any time you read something about the test or how to prepare for it, you’re meta-studying. It’s not a bad thing, you need to understand how to study in the most efficient way possible and what to expect on the exam. Just don’t use meta-studying to replace actual studying of the LOS and curriculum. Too many candidates spend a lot of time online, in different CFA forums and searching for questions about the exam rather than actually reviewing the material and working practice problems. Get what you need to know what to expect on the exam then get back to studying.

Getting caught up in some of these studying hurdles won’t necessarily doom you on the exam. If you’ve already put in the time you need then you can probably relax a little this week and go to the exam refreshed on Saturday. Spending a lot of time on these five distractions and wastes of time won’t help you either though so make sure you know that you’re getting the most from your time.

‘til next time, happy testing!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 15:47 pm

Beating CFA Study Burnout in these Last Few Weeks

Just a few weeks remain and CFA study burnout can be your biggest challenge. Use these strategies to stay strong.

There’s just three weeks left to the June 2016 CFA exam and you’re probably hitting the books pretty hard trying to get those last few points. After months of studying, many candidates face a critical challenge in these last few weeks. Whether you get tired of studying or just become less efficient, you need a plan to confront CFA study burnout.

Burnout can hit in one of two ways. The most obvious kind of burnout is when you just get tired of studying, can’t bring yourself to even look at the CFA curriculum and stop studying. You either stop studying altogether or procrastinate studying so much that you barely put in a few hours each week.

The other kind of burnout is just as bad, maybe worse. In this kind of burnout, you just zone out while you’re studying. You still put in the hours studying for the exam but it becomes like driving to work, you get to work but honestly can’t remember much about the trip. Not only are you still spending hours on the curriculum but it’s so ineffective that it’s like not studying at all.

Don’t want to throw you off your plan but want to offer an alternative in case you feel tired

Study Better by Turning Your Plan on its Head

I don’t want to throw you off your study plan so late in the game. If you feel like you’re still studying effectively and retaining the material, go ahead and keep to your schedule.

Use your CFA mock exam or test questions as a guide. If you are still doing progressively better every time you do practice problems after studying, then your studying is still paying off. If you’re getting less out of your CFA study sessions, you might want to check out some of these ideas to energize your studying.

One of the best ways to change up your studying is to use different media. This means using flash cards, study notes, audio and video in your studying. You can usually find some good YouTube videos to walk you through the bigger topics in the curriculum. These usually won’t substitute for a programmed course but can be a good way to break up the monotony and answer a few questions on difficult subjects.

Try going through a different process when you study. Do you always start out reading the curriculum then taking a few practice problems? Try starting off with practice problems or working through some flash cards. As a bonus, starting off with questions before you review the material will force you to reach deeper into your memory for the material.

We looked at some of the best places to study for the CFA in a recent post as well as what makes a great study place. Even the best location can get stale after a while and changing up your study spot can help to shake you out of a rut. Parks, libraries and coffee shops top the list of best places to study so try a few of these to see which helps to change up your routine.

If you’ve been really hitting one topic area in particular, you might try focusing on a few others for a few days. You still need to make sure you’re ready for the most important topics like financial statement analysis, ethics and equity investments but try not to overdo it. I spent so much time over the last few weeks studying equity investments for the Level II CFA exam that I caught myself skimming over important areas.

The idea is just to change up your studying to shock your brain into paying attention. The problem behind burnout is that you’ve done the same thing so many times that your brain is bored with the routine. Anything you can do to change that and make your new study plan unique should help to shake your brain out of its daze.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

A Scientifically-Proven Way to Study for the CFA Exam

Look to science to help you learn and remember more of what you study for the CFA exam

The phrase ‘study smarter, not harder’ is thrown around a lot but candidates may not be taking the advice to heart. Studying upwards of 300 hours for the CFA exam is hard enough but even that may not get you closer to the designation if you’re not retaining the information. You truly do need to master the material in order to recall it on the six-hour CFA exam and you won’t be able to do that by just reading through the curriculum.

We’ve already talked about the power of active learnings to remembering the CFA curriculum. We only remember about 10% of what we read and 20% of what we hear through these passive learning strategies. Working practice problems, flash cards and other active learning strategies can help you remember up to 90% of the material.

I thought I would explore a few more ways science has proven the best study methods and how you can incorporate them into your CFA study plan.

Keeping from Forgetting What You’ve Learned for the CFA

Ebbinghaus published his hypothesis on the ‘curve of forgetting’ in 1885, describing how we learn and forget information. The idea is that you learn everything you can about a topic through a study event or lecture but then start to lose the information over time if it’s not reinforced. If you do nothing to remember the information, you’ve lost up to 80% of it by the second day and retain just 2% in a matter of 30 days.

The solution is to reinforce the material and commit it to long-term memory by reminding yourself of the key points. Spending just 10 minutes studying the material the day after a lecture will help boost your memory back to full comprehension. After that, it takes less time revisiting the material to remember the bulk of the topic.

curve of forgetting

Using this idea in your CFA study plan means reviewing the material you study the following day and each week for the next month. Use study notes to review the key points and then do 15 or 20 minutes of practice problems.

Use active recall to convert to long-term memory

Work published in Psychological Science by a Washington University professor on a 2009 study shows that students remember material better when they actively recall it after studying. Instead of just reviewing notes or rereading material, close your book and verbally recite the key points to a topic. Do this just after studying and before reviewing the material.

Focus on one thing and don’t multitask

I know a lot of CFA candidates like to listen to music or sit in front of the TV while studying but research proves that these distractions cost you when you go to recall the information. Studies by Indiana University and Ohio State show that trying to multitask while studying interrupts the process of absorbing and retaining the material. Study more effectively by concentrating on just one thing and limit distractions.

Change up your environment

We talked about finding the ‘perfect’ CFA study location last week but there’s science behind finding a few different places to study. UCLA psychologist Robert Bjork points to evidence that changing your study location regularly helps to improve retention. It has to do with state-dependent learning and the idea that the brain associates learned material with the environment you were in when you learned it. Change up your location every few weeks and you’ll be able to recall the information no matter where you are.

Get moving before you get learning

Exercise gets your blood pumping and that includes to the brain. Research has proven that a brief period of exercise before studying can make you more alert and better able to learn.

So incorporating these five ideas into your study schedule could help boost your memory and get you those last few needed points on the CFA exam. Remember to use active learning by working practice problems and learning through all five senses (ok, maybe not so much through touch and taste). Actively recall the material after you study and then keep from forgetting by touching on it the next day. Keep physically active and focus only on your studying at different locations.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

 

Rounding Up the Best Ways to Prepare for the CFA Exam

Use these 8 articles on preparing for the last month before the CFA exam to get everything in order

There’s just six weeks to the June 2016 CFA exam and candidates are feverishly preparing their last month study plans. One of the biggest pitfalls that catch CFA candidates is all this time meta-studying, or studying about studying. All the time you spend finding resources, asking other candidates and putting together your study plan is time you could be spending on the curriculum and getting those last few points you need to earn the CFA designation.

To help speed up the task of meta-studying  and build out your last month study plan, we highlight the best articles on preparing for the CFA exam as well as checklists you can use to make sure you’re on track. Use the articles below as your guide to plan out your CFA study schedule as well as prepare for the big day.

Best CFA Advice on Studying

This last month CFA study plan includes the tools and resources you’ll want to use to get through the material one last time before the exam. You won’t be able to read the curriculum again but these resources will help you cover as much as possible to make sure you’ve mastered the topic areas. The article also includes a strategy on how to use practice tests to guide your study plan to focus your time where it’s needed most. Includes a six-day study schedule that you can customize with your available time.

A big hurdle to effective studying is the uncertainty around whether you’ve studied enough. Candidates freak out and scramble for ideas and input on how much is enough and what more they can do. I put together this CFA study checklist to help you know that you’re on the right track or to point out some milestones you need to reach for confidence on the exam. How many times do you need to read the curriculum and other sources? How many practice problems should you do?

The last week before the CFA exam was always my favorite. In this last week CFA schedule, I talk about how to use the time as a study-vacation and how to get the most from your time. The post also includes exam day materials and a link to some important Institute pages.

Best CFA Advice on Preparing for the Big Day

This CFA exam day checklist includes everything you need to prepare for the big day. You’ll find links to a review of the typical exam day, a list of testing centers and the CFA testing center policy. This is information directly from the CFA Institute so make sure you know it.

This post on 10 ways to relax on CFA exam day has been one of our most popular this year. The chemicals released when you’re nervous won’t help you remember the curriculum or pass the exam. One of the best things you can do to get a passing score is just to relax and have the confidence that you’ve done all you could…and that it will be enough. There’s ten great ideas here so definitely a few for everyone.

Most people carry an emergency road kit in their car but do you have your CFA exam day emergency kit ready? The post includes a list of things you’ll want to put together to have on exam day. The list includes required exam materials like your passport, admission ticket, pencils and calculator. It also includes the just-in-case materials that can mean the difference between passing the exam or ending up in one of the fail bands.

This is your CFA exam day strategy, a replay of the big day starting with the night before and running all the way through the afternoon. You’ll get advice on what to eat for breakfast and important considerations for getting to the exam. I cover what happens as the exam starts and how to spend your lunch to relax and set yourself up for a successful afternoon session.

What to do after the exam isn’t something candidates usually think about but you’ll want to check out this post-CFA exam checklist. It will get you started on making next year’s exam a success by setting an email reminder and reflecting on what worked for this year’s study plan.

The important idea here is to get what you need to put your last month study plan together and then get back to studying. Don’t spend time preparing to study at the expense of actual studying and the points you need to pass the CFA exam.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

 

Don’t forget your Free CFA Mock Exam!

Learn to use mock exams and CFA practice tests to guide your study plan and pass the exams

The CFA mock exams are now available on the CFA Institute website for registered candidates. If you are registered for the June exam, you have access to a free mock exam and topic tests. Both of these can be critical in guiding your study plan over the last two months and getting the most out of your time.

The CFA mock exam is designed to mimic the exam day experience with timed sections and structured along the exam topic weights. The Level 1 and Level 2 CFA mock exams include a morning and afternoon section of multiple choice questions. The Level 3 CFA mock exam does not include a section for the morning essay questions but does test you on the afternoon vignette format. The exams include the correct answers, a brief explanation of each and reference the curriculum on each question.

The CFA Institute recommends you take the mock exam towards the end of your exam preparation and most third-party mock exams take place well into May.  There’s good reason you may want to consider taking your mock exam much earlier than this to get the most from the experience.

How to Get the Most of Your CFA Mock Exam

I always thought it was odd that CFA mock exams were not held until mid-May at most local societies or third-party providers. I remember taking one mock exam on the 18th of May, just over two weeks before the June exam.

At this point, what is the mock exam going to do for you? You’ve got little time to rearrange your study plan. If you do poorly on the mock exam at this late in the game, it makes for a very stressful few weeks before the actual exam.

Getting the most out of your CFA mock exam means doing it early and in an environment that will simulate the actual test.

Ask your local society to organize a mock exam day in April or as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take weeks of planning, just reach out to candidates by email to see how many are interested and reserve a room at the library that can accommodate the group. Ask candidates to print off their mock exams and bring them to the event.

If your society cannot hold a mock exam day, you can still simulate the exam day experience by going to a semi-quiet public place. It shouldn’t be completely quiet like a solitary room but some place like the library with ambient noise.

Testing yourself in this exam day-type environment is going to test your concentration. If you find it difficult to concentrate on the exam with background noise, you’ll know to take earplugs to the actual exam in June. Testing yourself on three-hour sections will also help you see how your mental and physical stamina holds up. If you find yourself getting tired before time runs out, you should consider exercising ahead of the exam with more three-hour testing sessions.

More than anything, taking the CFA mock exam early is going to help you focus your study plan. It’s one thing to remember answers when taking short topic tests on material you’ve just studied that week. It’s another thing entirely to remember answers to all 18 study sessions all at once.

While taking the mock exam, you might want to mark the number on questions where you are unsure of the answer. This will help you review the questions that you happen to guess correctly but might need more study in the topic. Review the answers to these and any incorrect answers after the exam. Once you’re done, you’ll have an idea of how well prepared you are in each topic area. You can use this to rearrange your study plan over the last month to focus on those areas in which you need more work.

Don’t Just take One CFA Mock Exam

Also available and free to registered CFA candidates is a series of shorter topic tests. Download these from the CFA Institute website and use them for more practice.

Mock and practice exams are hugely beneficial and you should try doing more than one. Six hours is a long time to put pencil to paper and you need to train your body to not get tired. Without training over at least a few mock exams, you may not even realize how tired you’re getting and how much it’s affecting your score.

Taking multiple mock exams is also a great way to fine-tune your studying. Your first few months of studying were all about getting through the curriculum and touching on everything. Your last few weeks of studying should be about making sure you have a good understanding of everything but also making sure you get every last point where it counts.

I would recommend doing at least one mock exam every two weeks and a three-hour exam every other weekend. Try doing these in a semi-public place to get used to the noise and testing environment. You can use question banks to randomize the questions or take them in topic-order. Do this for the last month or few weeks leading up to the exam and you’ll be more confident and prepared for June.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

10 Ways to Relax on CFA Exam Day

Learn how to relax on CFA exam day to help unlock everything you’ve worked so hard to learn

OK, so it’s nine weeks left to the CFA exams and the last thing you want to think about is exam day. You want to hear all the secrets to getting every last point and how to master the material, right?

We’ve covered study strategies, the ins-and-outs of each exam and just about every part of the curriculum on the blog. The one thing we have never covered in more than four years of the Finquiz blog may be one of the most important to your success on the CFA exams…how to relax on exam day!

CFA exam day is stressful (that should be STRESSFUL!). You’ve studied for 3+ months and upwards of 300 hours for this one day and you know that nearly half the candidates will have to repeat the same exam next year. The hormones released when we experience stress, cortisol, affects your ability to recall from your memory…and your chances for success on the CFA exam.

Now before you start getting stressed out about stress on exam day, check out these ways to relax and get the confidence you need to pass.

10 Ways to Relax for the CFA Exam

1) Put it into perspective. One year within a lifetime career isn’t really that big of a deal. I know you want to pass all three exams in three years but relax, it’s not that important. Focus on learning the material and being a better professional, exam success will follow. Think about that on exam day.

2) Meditate for five minutes. Find a quite spot at the testing center, you might have to go somewhere nearby, and just sit with your eyes closed for five minutes. Breathe deeply and relax. Know that you have done all you can and it will be enough.

3) Concentrated breathing. Concentrate on your breathing for a few breathes. Breathe deeply in and out and feel yourself relaxing with each exhale. It’s amazing how just slowing your mind and breathing can help calm you down.

4) Take some chocolate squares. Dark chocolate has ingredients that regulate the stress hormone cortisol.

5) Chew some gum. This one never really worked well for me but I’ve heard it work for other people to reduce stress.

5) Green tea contains L-Theanine, a chemical that is supposed to relieve anger and calm you down.

6) Visualize success. Close your eyes and visualize the day for five minutes. See yourself sitting down to the exam and smiling. See yourself working through the questions, still smiling because it’s easier than you expected. See yourself and a huge sigh of relief as you walk out of the test center knowing that you passed the exam.

7) Try a little cold water. Dripping cold water on your wrists and behind your ears can help calm you down by cooling the major arteries just beneath the skin in these spots.

8) Make a checklist. For me, organization is calming. Making a checklist of things I need to take with me or of things I need to study/do to pass the exam helps me to know that I’ve covered everything.

9) Stretch for five minutes. Doing some light stretching helps to relieve muscle tension and aids circulation. Start with your toes and work your way up to your neck.

10) Take a walk. It will be early morning before the CFA exam starts so hopefully it won’t be too noisy outside. Try walking a few blocks in one direction from the test center. Breathe the fresh air and enjoy the morning a little.

Everything else aside, I always found the best way to reduce stress on exam day was super-preparation. Cover the material multiple times from multiple sources, i.e. reading the curriculum and study notes, working practice problems and flash cards, etcetera. The more you study, the more confident you are going to be going into the exam. It may not be the easiest answer but it will get you the designation.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

10 Week CFA Study Plans for Every Type of Candidate

Two 10 week CFA study plans for candidates that haven’t started and for those with a head start

We’ve got 10 weeks left to the 2016 June CFA exams and this point always seems to be a milestone for candidates. Maybe it’s just that ten is such an easy, round number that cause people to reevaluate their CFA study plans or motivate others to finally get started.

I get emails from both types of candidates. Those that started months ago want to make sure they’re on the right track. They start thinking about what they can do to change up their study plan to avoid burnout and squeeze out those last points they need to pass the exams. The candidates that haven’t managed to get started yet finally get nervous enough to crack open the books but are worried they don’t have enough time to study.

I thought I would use this week’s blog post to share some ideas for 10 week CFA study plans, one for those that have been studying and one for those just getting started. You don’t necessarily need to change up your plans if you already have a good routine but take a look at some of the ideas below.

10 Week CFA Study Plan for Candidates with a Head Start

If you’re already well into your CFA studying then revising your plan now is all about constantly testing where you’re at and changing your study plan to fill in the gaps.

We reviewed the Finquiz CFA question bank a few weeks ago and how to use it to test your progress across study sessions. You should be doing practice problems when you finish every reading and then doing more a day or two afterwards to refresh what you learned. Consider taking a half test or at least 90 questions every weekend to test your retention across all 18 study sessions. This is going to help you see where you need more studying.

If you haven’t read through all the readings yet, finish the remaining material up first. After that, go back and spend some more time on the core topic areas (those with the most points on the exam like FSA) and those readings where you are not scoring as well on practice tests.

You don’t need to read the CFA curriculum as thoroughly as you did on your first pass. Scan the official readings for the key points while using study guide notes to reinforce the Learning Outcome Statements. For your review, try to get through at least two study sessions a week.

10 Week CFA Study Plan for Candidates Just Starting

If you haven’t started studying for the CFA exam yet, or only have a couple of weeks of studying done, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. That 300 hours studying that the average candidate spends ahead of the CFA exam is now like a full-time job spread over 10 weeks.

There is still a chance though if you devote yourself fully to the task. If you can make studying for the CFA your job, studying eight hours a day throughout the week, you can get the necessary studying in with no problem. If you have to do your studying after work or on the weekends, it is going to be more difficult but still doable.

The difference with this 10 week CFA study plan compared to the one above is that you don’t have as much time to read through the official curriculum. The CFA curriculum is the best resource for studying but it’s just way too long when you’re pressed for time.

If you are to save the last week for an intensive review, you’ll need to work through two study sessions each week just to finish all of them. Instead of reading through the curriculum then study notes, try reading through the study notes first. This will give you a good idea of the important points and will make the curriculum reading faster and you’ll pick out those key points more easily.

Split your week into two 3-day study sessions, each one to cover one of the 18 study sessions in the curriculum. Read through the study notes and the curriculum over the first two days then spend the third day doing practice problems and reviewing the study notes one more time. Three days isn’t much to cover each study session but you’ll get through the entire curriculum in nine weeks.

One of the most important ideas for this accelerated CFA study plan is to use your time efficiently. You absolutely must study in a place where there will be no distractions. Turn off your cell phone and disable the internet browsing on your computer. You need to study straight through and cannot afford to spend your time doing anything else. If you can reserve a private study room at the library, that’s usually your best option but any quiet and uninterrupted space will work.

Whichever study plan you follow, you’ll still want to take the last week off from work for studying if possible. I always loved my last week before the CFA exams, studying upwards of ten hours to get those last points before the exam. It’s a challenging week but well worth it when you go to the exam confident that you’ll pass.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA