Study Groups | candidates probably making the same mistakes that you are making

One of the most difficult aspects of the CFA exams is that you are basically on your own. Sure there are study groups but these are composed of candidates in the same exam level and probably making the same mistakes that you are making.
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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

Click here to read part 3 of this series

Last updated: October 1, 2016 at 5:10 am

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

 

CFA Level 2 Study Plan and How to Get the Most Points

With just under 21 weeks left to the 2016 CFA exams, now is a great time to get started on your CFA Level 2 study plan. What? You don’t have a study plan?!?

Don’t worry, a smart study plan to pass the CFA exam doesn’t have to be a complicated or stressful plan. In fact, start now and follow the plan below and it could be a rather relaxed experience. With nearly five months left to study, you can dedicate each week to a study session and will still have time for topic reviews and those all-important mock exams.

Other candidates will tell you to wait a few weeks, that you’ve got plenty of time before you need to start your 2016 CFA study plan. Don’t believe them! Start now and be one of the candidates that pass the exams!

A Timeline for your CFA Level 2 Study Plan

The timeline for your 2016 CFA study plan is fairly simple. We want to cover each of the 18 study sessions each week over the next eighteen. Covering just one session per week gives you the time to really hit the material multiple times and commit it to memory. Remember, most people need to see something upwards of seven times for it to be committed to long-term memory.

Some CFA Level 2 study plans will suggest reading the study sessions out of order, whether mixing easy and difficult topics or some other method. I always just read the curriculum books in order but you can read in any order you choose. The order of the books does a good job of building up to the more difficult material so you have the knowledge to tackle more complex ideas when you get to them. Make sure you read the topic readings in order.

Every six weeks, you should take a 60-question exam on the sessions you’ve covered. This can be done by putting together end-of-chapter questions or more easily with a question bank of practice problems. This is going to help refresh the material and measure your mastery of the curriculum.

Cover each study session in a week and you’ll have nearly three weeks left over before the 2016 CFA exams. You’ll use this time to work mock exams to measure your overall retention and review the most important material. Taking one or two mock exams each week before the actual exams will help you prepare physically for the six-hour tests as well as guide your study plan for areas where you still need work.

How to Study for your CFA Level 2 Study Plan

The best study plan combines active and passive learning techniques in repetition. Passive learning involves activities like reading the curriculum or watching a video. It’s an easy way of studying but you don’t retain as much information as you do when you use active learning techniques like working practice problems and flash cards.

The best study plan always starts with reading the CFA curriculum. Resist the temptation to jump straight to condensed notes, they can’t offer all the material and you’ll end up missing some critical points.

After you’ve read through a study session, work the end-of-chapter problems to measure your retention level. Then review study notes on the section to reinforce the key points.

Use a test bank of questions to work another set of practice problems. These are the best resource you can use because they get you actively thinking about the material and mentally ready for the exams.

Review the study session one more time with brief Smart Summary cards of the material and work any difficult concepts on flash cards. You can buy pre-written flash cards but the most effective method is to write your own. You’ll remember more of what you write down yourself and will save money.

Do this cycle for each study session in your CFA Level 2 study plan, repeating it each week.

CFA Level 2 Study Plan

CFA Level 2 Study Plan

How long each study session takes will depend on how quickly you read and will vary on some of the more difficult topic areas. You will probably be able to read through Ethics relatively quickly but may need more time on derivatives and other topics. Do not rush through a study session and make sure you hit each step in the cycle.

This CFA Level 2 study plan won’t guarantee that you pass the exam in June but it will give you plenty of time to master the material. Covering each study session in multiple formats will help you commit it to memory and you should be able to recall everything on the exam.

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

Last updated: October 6, 2016 at 4:23 am

Most Popular FinQuiz Blog Posts of 2015

Around this time of year, we love to look back at the posts that have helped CFA candidates the most and the ones most popular with candidates. Some articles are perennial favorites with candidates and a must read if you want to pass the exams. Other posts might not have gotten as much attention but carry some extremely valuable information and need to be highlighted.

The Finquiz CFA Blog had another record year in 2015. Nearly 280,000 candidates and potential candidates read 427,420 posts from January through November. That’s almost 1,300 pages a day of information helping candidates to pass the three CFA exams.

We’re proud to be able to bring this resource to candidates and will continue to get you the best information for CFA exam success for years to come. Check out the most popular posts of 2015 and of all-time below and get ready for a successful 2016!

Top Finquiz CFA Posts of 2015

2016 Level 1 CFA Curriculum Changes – The articles outlining the CFA curriculum changes for the following year are always the most popular and some of the most important information of the year. The CFA curriculum doesn’t change much from year to year but it’s must-know information if you’re going to pass the exam.

The changes to the 2016 CFA curriculum were relatively light this year compared to the changes last year. No topic weights were changed in the exams so that was a big relief. One reading was added to the CFA Level 1 exam and quite a few LOS were modified or changed. If you’re taking the Level 1 exam in June, especially if you’re retaking the exam, this may be the most important post you read all year.

2016 Level 2 CFA Curriculum Changes – The final study session of the CFA Level 2 curriculum (Portfolio Management) was changed for 2016, making it a must-read topic for next year. Click through to the article and download the changes to the curriculum along with Learning Outcome Statements for review.

2016 Level 3 CFA Curriculum Changes – Two readings were removed and one was added to the 2016 CFA curriculum so make sure you’re up-to-date if you want to pass the final level of the designation.

Top 9 Formulas for the CFA Level 1 Exam – New CFA candidates always get information overload when they first see the CFA curriculum, especially when it comes to formulas. The books are massive and mastering the entire curriculum seems impossible. Focus on the most important material first like these nine critical formulas and you’ll be well on your way to passing the exam.

2015 CFA Study Schedule – We updated our CFA study schedule this year given the changes in CFA topic weights across the three exams. The post includes a great daily blueprint for your study schedule as well as how to use some of the new resources available through technology. Of course, using condensed CFA study notes to complement the curriculum is still a core part of the schedule to save time and get the most critical information.

Top Finquiz CFA Posts of All Time

These next posts have stood the test of time and are some of the most popular on the blog. They cover some of the most common questions we get from CFA candidates and how to really make your study time productive.

The Passing Score on the CFA Exams and How to Use It (2013) – Even though the CFA Institute doesn’t release the minimum passing score (MPS) for the CFA exams, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some very important information you can use. Learn what has been said about the passing score and how to use the information to plan your study schedule.

The #1 Reason Candidates do not Pass the CFA Exams (2012) – This is one of my favorite articles. It covers one of the biggest hurdles for CFA candidates and three ways to overcome it. It’s a short post but one that every candidate should read before beginning their CFA study plan.

How to Pass the CFA Level 2 Exam (2012) – The Level 2 CFA exam is likely the most difficult of the three exams. A few candidates will tell you the first exam was difficult for how the massive amount of material surprises new candidates or that the third CFA exam was most difficult for its essay section. Most candidates agree though that the Level 2 exam is a quantitative monster. You will get into the most minute detail of financial statements and be expected to master a mountain of formulas.

I Passed the CFA Level 1 Exam, Why don’t I Have a Job? (2013) – Using the CFA exams and designation to get a job is one of the most frequent questions we get. Passing the exams will not get you a job but you can use your CFA progress to get your foot in the door. Check out the post to see how to use the CFA to land your dream job and how to get ahead.

There were quite a few great articles that didn’t make the cut. Check out the menu on the right of popular posts and make sure to use the search box above for any questions you have. The Finquiz CFA blog features more than 328 posts on passing the CFA exams and how to get the most from the CFA designation. Don’t miss your chance to get out in front of the rest and jumpstart your career!

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

10 Weeks and 10 Goals for the CFA Exams

Ten weeks left to the 2015 CFA exam and it is time to start really defining what you are going to do to get there. As CFA candidates, most of us are driven and goal-focused people so I thought I would set a challenge for you. Give yourself 10 goals to accomplish over the next 10 weeks to make sure you pass the CFA exam.

Study Goals

1) Read through the six most difficult study sessions of the curriculum, one last time. You may not have time to hit every page of the curriculum again, but you should try to cover your sticking points. Candidates typically do really well on a third of the material, o.k. on another third and then not so well on another third of the curriculum. Figure out where you are having trouble and really hit it hard so you can get at least some of these points.

2) Read the study notes one last time. You should be able to get through the condensed study notes one last time to review all the study sessions. This is going to keep everything fresh so you don’t go into the exams with a long lag between the test and covering any specific material.

5) Master 10 concepts or problems with which you’ve really struggled. Even if you’ve avoided them, you know which parts of the curriculum are giving you real problems. These are the problems or LOS that you have basically given up on and that you’re just hoping do not come up on the exam. Pick one a week to finally master.

6) Do 2,000 more practice problems. Whether from the end of chapter sets or from a question bank, practice problems are one of the best ways to study for the exam. Make sure you really read through the answer to make sure you didn’t just guess correctly and really understand the material.

7) Take at least 6 mock exams. Sit down for a practice run at least six times, using either test bank questions or actual mock exams. Building an average across the six mock exams will help to see where you are on each topic area. Besides helping you learn the material this is really going to put you in shape for the real exam. Sitting for a six-hour exam can be physically taxing and you need to be prepared.

8) Spend a week super-studying! Believe it or not, this was always one of my favorite weeks within the CFA study schedule. Spend a whole week devoted only to the CFA exam. Go somewhere on a study vacation for the best vacation you ever had, something I detailed in a prior post.

2) Spend less time worrying about the exam and know you will pass. The stress leading up to the exam is a killer. Resolve to worry less about passing the exam. Whenever you feel the anxiety building or find yourself questioning how you’ll do, just take a deep breath and relax. Remind yourself all the hard work you’ve put in studying and know that you will pass the exam.

8) Put all your test materials together a week before the exam and check your route to the testing facility days before the exam. Being prepared for the exam doesn’t just mean knowing the material. Have everything ready and know your way to the testing site well before exam day. It’s rare but there are candidates every year that miss the CFA exam because they were late or couldn’t find their identification.

Networking Goals

Anyone that has read the blog for a while knows that I am a big advocate of networking and using the CFA exams to reach out to the rest of the financial community. You can pass all the exams but if you’ve been in a shell for three years, you’re still going to have trouble getting a job if you don’t know anyone.

9) Answer at least 10 questions from other CFA candidates. Getting help when you need it is about being ready to give someone else a hand when they need it. The CFA exams are a great time to help out your fellow candidates.

10) Attend at least one local CFA society event or CFA Institute event. These last few months before the exam are a great time to network because the local societies get a little more active with events and people are still sticking with their resolution to be more active in the community. Attend at least one event and get to know a few of your colleagues.

Don’t stop at just 10 goals. Set mini-goals each week that you can achieve if you push yourself just a little harder. Set larger goals for the year that you can really reach for and make a bigger difference. Don’t get frustrated if you miss a goal, just learn from it and push on.

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:49 pm

The Ultimate Guide to the CFA Exam

I talked to a candidate the other day that was a big fan of the Finquiz blog but had one complaint…there is just so much posted that it’s difficult for new readers to look at everything.

I heard him loud and clear and decided to post this roundup of some of the best posts we’ve ever written on the blog. Some of the posts are specific to different levels of the exams but most will apply to all candidates. The posts cover the range of things you’ll need to be successful on the exams from basic strategy to general how-to and motivational.

Where to Start

Our basic strategy posts are always a good start when first coming to the blog. I usually update these posts every couple of years but the basic strategy for passing each of the exams does not change much. I posted a basic strategy for passing the exams in general that is a great overview to get you started.

For passing specific levels of the CFA exams, check out our strategy on passing:

Our most popular posts over the last year have been those detailing the changes to the 2015 CFA curriculum. This year, the curriculum has undergone the most drastic changes I’ve ever seen in more than six years. Not only have readings been added, deleted and modified but the topic weights in the exams have changed. Different topic weights mean a different study strategy because you’re more likely to see questions from different topics than you saw in previous years.

Check out the changes to the 2015 CFA Level I Curriculum
Check out the changes to the 2015 CFA Level II Curriculum
Check out the changes to the 2015 CFA Level III Curriculum

Most Common Candidate Questions

There are some questions that every candidate has and they are the most often we get here at FinQuiz. Below are some of the posts I’ve written to address your most common questions about the CFA.

Probably the most popular question surrounds the idea of using the CFA designation to get a job. A lot of candidates incorrectly assume that the exams and the designation is a golden ticket to any job they want. Nearly 11,000 candidates have viewed our post, “I’ve passed the CFA Level 1 Exam, Why don’t I have a job?” You can certainly leverage your CFA progress into getting a job and it will help but you have to follow traditional steps like networking and outreach.

Candidates are always asking which CFA exam is the most difficult. I fully understand the question since I asked it myself but does it really matter? You have to take all three exams anyway but I guess it helps to know what is coming in each exam. For me, it was the second exam but many have more difficulty with the third exam.

After the exams each year, I often get a lot of questions about the passing score. The CFA Institute does not publish the minimum passing score needed but there are guidelines you can use. There is also one key trick that I use to work my scores into a personalized study strategy.

General Advice on How to Pass the Exams

Many of our most popular posts are those that offer general advice that covers passing all three exams. Many of these posts address emotional and mental roadblocks to passing the CFA exams.

I showed candidates how to remember 90% of what they studied in one of our very first posts, viewed by nearly 8,000 candidates. Active learning techniques are not as easy as passively reading the curriculum but they are an absolute must for your exam prep. Another post on active learning included some specific action steps that you can follow to pass the exams.

Read this if you absolutely must pass the CFA exams! This was a short post but included four of the most important points to passing the exams and sums up the key things to remember.

Another of our first posts revealed the person that is most likely to keep you from passing the CFA exams. Resist the temptation to second-guess your commitment to being a better professional and follow these steps to stay on the right path.

I offered a tortoise and hare study plan for passing the exams a couple of years ago and candidates really appreciated the two different perspectives. I prefer the slow-and-steady approach to studying but some like a short-and-sweet approach.

Motivational

Some of the posts that I have had the most fun writing are those where I talk directly to candidates about the exams and help them get through this tough challenge.

Having passed the CFA Level III exam more than three years ago, there are things I wish I could do differently and things I wish I knew before starting the CFA exams.

Easily my favorite post was written when proctoring a mock exam in 2012. I realized that there is an overlooked benefit to the CFA exams that most people don’t realize. The CFA exams are truly the great equalizer in our industry and give everyone the opportunity to succeed.

If you’re looking for a specific topic or idea, remember that you can use the search box at the top-right of the screen to find posts. Check out the Popular Posts on the right-side of the screen for more of our most recommended articles.

Just a few weeks until the 2015 CFA Exam Study Season kicks into full gear, get ready!

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

A Secret about the CFA Curriculum that You Won’t Believe

There is a secret that many charterholders do not tell candidates. A secret so terrifying that most candidates probably wouldn’t believe it even if we told you.

After struggling through upwards of 9,000 pages of the curriculum over the course of three years, the truth is nearly impossible to fathom.

But even after more than 900 hours of study and countless study problems…
Many charterholders still read their curriculum.

Keep Your Curriculum Books!

Over the three years I studied for the CFA exams, I couldn’t stand the sight of my growing stack of curriculum books. The journey begins innocently enough with your Level 1 books. You may even be excited when that big box arrives in the mail.

But it doesn’t take long for that excitement to turn to despair and loathing as you toil through thousands of pages while your friends and family go out on the weekends.

Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic but the fact is that most candidates avoid the CFA curriculum like the plague while studying for the exams. They rely on condensed study guides to get all their information for the exams. Sometimes it works, other times the candidate is left repeating exams because the study guides didn’t include all the detail needed to pass.

After the final Level 3 exam, the candidate breathes a huge sigh of relief and burns his curriculum books in effigy.

And then something odd happens. It happened to me and I can almost guarantee it will happen to you as well. I found myself referring back to the official curriculum in my professional career as an analyst. It starts like this, you will be looking at a company or sector and thinking how a fundamental difference in the group affects its valuation. Maybe the industry typically carries an especially high amount of goodwill on the books or maybe an accounting convention within the industry is different from other industries. It depends on where you work and the exact duties in your role but maybe you do not regularly account for that kind of detail in your analysis.

Then you remember, there was a whole section in the CFA curriculum about just such a practice! You scramble to the nearest library (because you burned your books, remember) to thumb through the curriculum. You read through the section and add it to your analysis.

This isn’t a wild story or something that will only happen to you on rare occasions. Your time spent studying for the CFA will commit to memory the basic idea of the readings even if you do not exactly remember the details. While your job as an analyst will involve going beyond the curriculum’s detail in some sections, there are some sections that you may not use or will only use broader estimates.

For example, while the curriculum goes into great depth and detail to adjust the financial statements in a number of different accounts (i.e. pensions, long-lived assets, inventories and intercorporate investments) you will likely not go into so much detail in your valuation models. That is not to say that your models will not be robust but maybe the level of detail just isn’t always needed. Until that day when you see a particular deal announced or a news release and think, “maybe this changes things and I need to look further into the details.” When you do look into the details, and it produces some real value for your firm, you will be generously rewarded.

The curriculum is your friend, you just don’t know it yet

I know it is tough to imagine how reading 3,000 pages of curriculum is a better option that relying on a 1,500 page study guide. You’ll just have to trust that all the time spent reading through the detail will pay off down the road.

This industry is full of highly intelligent and committed people. Every one of them has a cash flow model and has spent hours (more like years) studying how to analyze companies in their industry. You will only be able to compete if you can find the details that others miss. Reading the whole CFA curriculum when many candidates avoid it may just be your chance to uncover those details.

…and keep the books. It will save you a trip to the library later.

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:26 pm

Life and the CFA Professional

We finished up our series on career management last week and candidates still have upwards of six months until the study season begins for next year’s exam. It is usually this time of year that I am urging candidates to stay active professionally and academically, but let’s get real here… you busted your butt to prepare for the CFA exam and many of you did it while juggling family and a job.

You deserve a break.

Give the numbers a break

A friend recently confessed to me that he has focused solely on his professional life for so long that he is having trouble disconnecting and just having fun. For the last ten years, he has been singularly driven to improve himself as a professional analyst.

He spends upwards of 50 or 60 hours a week working as an analyst in a Chicago commodities firm, usually spending a few hours at home each night to finish up on some reading. The books he reads during his free-time are usually somehow related to work, i.e. financial history, commodities and other concepts in investing. He goes out once or twice a week but much of the time it is to networking or other professional social events. His life has become so limited that, when he does go out with friends, the only thing they talk about is work.

I can sympathize with his plight and can see a lot of myself in the story. The industry is extremely demanding and sometimes being successful means sacrificing other parts of our lives but it should not become your life 24/7 and 365 days. Maybe the biggest challenge many of us face is limiting the time spent working or in professionally-related activities during those periods of the year where we can have some real free-time.

You need a hobby

There are a million-and-one hobbies and things you can do to take your mind off of the industry. If you’re having trouble thinking of an activity or hobby, try a web search for bucket lists. These lists of things people want to do before they die can be a great resource for one-time events or things you can do on a regular basis.

One of the most detailed bucket lists I’ve found is at:

http://bucketlistjourney.net/2012/01/543-bucket-list-ideas/

I like to exercise as one of the things to take my mind off of work. I know a lot of analysts that become extremely competitive in their sport or activity, almost taking it to the professional level. Even if you don’t push yourself to the limit, challenging yourself physically can really take your mind off of everything else.

Cooking is another hobby I’ve tried to pick up. In our hectic lives where time is money, it can be too easy to order out every night. It’s nice to relax and take the time to create a truly amazing dinner.

Your hobby doesn’t have to be something mainstream or recurring, just something that you might enjoy doing in any particular week. Make a point to spend some time with friends or family. Visit the local museum or a park every once in a while.

‘til next time, relax.
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Turning the last week before the CFA exam into big points

We’re coming down to the wire with just five weeks left to the June CFA exams. Hopefully you are almost through with your study plan. You should be through the curriculum at least once and have started taking practice exams. If you are not scoring around 70% or better on test bank and practice problems, you may need to kick your schedule into a higher gear.

I always took the last week before the exam off from work and swear by it to get those last few points to put you into a passing score. Whether you go to an intensive boot camp program or just stay close to home to study, the week can be a huge help in wrapping up your studying.

Is this really a vacation?

For me, that last week of study was always pretty enjoyable. Was it as nice as spending the week with an Emperor’s Package at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas…umm, not even close but it was a break from my day-to-day as an economist.

My own schedule would start each day with a three-hour test bank exam using the topic weights from the exam. The results from these mini-exams are extremely valuable in planning where you need more studying. If you are scoring under 70% in any of the high-value topics, this is where you need to spend your time.

Don’t feel like you have to cover the entire curriculum over the week. Review flash cards and notes in less important topics or in the areas where you are scoring well. I always tried covering a couple of study sessions completely each day and maybe hitting the important points in another one or two study sessions.

Spending 8 -10 hours a day studying means you’re probably going to need to mix it up with different resources to keep from getting bored. Spend some time reviewing flash cards and end-of-chapter questions to take the monotony off of just reading all day.

Three options for your last week vacation

You’ve got three options when planning your last week study plan if you decide to take the week off of work. If you stay home, you really do need to get out of the house to study. Go to the library or another quiet place where you can limit distractions. If you stay home, you are going to be tempted by the television, food and a number of time-killers. Turn off your cell phone and fight the urge to check your email while you are out. This week is still work, it’s just not your normal work but you need to set a 9-5 schedule and follow it. Avoid the temptation to stay out late with friends and pushing your morning study to later in the day.

My favorite plan comes from a friend in Chicago. He would plan a trip, usually to San Diego, for the week. Mornings would start early with a quick run on the beach and studying by 8am. His day still included at least 8-10 hours of studying but it would be done at the beach or the park. You may even ask the hotel to remove the television from the room. The trips gave him a real opportunity to relax but still devote some serious time to getting exam points. It also gets you away from your usual distractions and can re-energize your studying with new surroundings.

You also have the option of going to an intensive boot camp study program like the one offered by Creighton University. These are usually three or four days of intensive lecture on the curriculum. They can be a new perspective on the material and some great advice on how to approach the exam.

Take the Friday before the exam off from studying. You’ve put in the work and deserve a break. Spend the day relaxing and making sure you have your materials to take to the test center. If you are not familiar with where the test center is located, I would spend a little time looking online for routes to the test. Even better, connect with a candidate that lives near the test center for directions and possible road closures in town.

The end is in sight, stay focused.

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

Donald Sterling and the CFA as the Great Equalizer

Last week reminded me of an often overlooked benefit of the CFA exams and the designation itself.

First we saw the blowup by Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, in a taped conversation with his mistress. I won’t repeat the racist remarks by Mr. Sterling that led to his lifetime ban from the NBA and will mean the forced sell of the Clippers basketball team. The tirade still shows the amount of prejudice and unwarranted hate that many harbor for another simply because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

Income inequality seemed to be a theme in the news last week as well. Whether it was universal or just related to other things I was looking at on the internet, I was struck by the number of studies and news reports I saw about income disparity around the world. The gap between the richest and poorest earners seems to be widening and its not only in the United States or other developed countries. I read studies on Latin America, China and for income inequality in Africa and they all seem to point to a widening gap.

Lady Justice and the CFA

It all reminded me of a benefit to the CFA program that most overlook and one of the things I respect most of the program and its charterholders. Like Lady Justice, standing blindfolded to judge right and wrong, the CFA program does not care if you were born with a trust fund or if all you have are the people you trust.

The fact that you pull up to the exam center in a shiny new Jaguar F-Type convertible or ride up on a donkey matters little to your score on the test. In fact, the Institute spent nearly $4 million in the twelve-months to August 2013 on needs- and merit-based scholarships to the program. While some of the wealthiest people in our industry hold the charter, i.e. Bill Gross and Mario Gabelli, it is not because they were able to buy the designation. They had to work for it just like everyone else.

The CFA exam is the same wherever you take it, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. There are 137 CFA societies in 59 countries and charterholders in every corner of the map. Growth of candidate enrollment in Asia and Africa has been running in the double-digits for several years as growth in the United States and Europe slows. The curriculum does not care about the color of your skin or the ethnicity you claim.

With all those prayers of passing the exams, organized religion may owe a debt of gratitude to the CFA program but the program itself doesn’t care if you pray to one God or many. It doesn’t care if you spend your Sundays reading a religious book or the five books covering the curriculum.

The CFA charter is the great equalizer in our industry. I am not saying that no one in the industry harbors the same prejudices and faults that are found in the general population but the designation is a standard that we can all reach to as just and fair. Earning the designation is a badge of your hard work and professionalism, something that people will notice immediately when they meet you. It is the scale by which all are judged not by the strength of their pocketbook but by the strength of their studying.

Less than five weeks to the exams. We are coming up to the point for which you’ve worked so hard these last couple of months. Stay strong and study hard.

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

Think you are ready for the CFA Exams? Think again.

With just six weeks to the CFA Exam, you might be feeling pretty confident about your preparation so far and ready to coast through to the June test. You are doing well on question bank problems and are sure you will be able to pass the exam.

Don’t take your focus off of the finish line! This is the time you need to double your efforts and finish strong for several reasons.

Surprised every year

Everyone knows that nearly half of the candidates taking an exam will not pass their level this year yet the statistics are always the same. While the Institue shifts the passing score from year to year, we should see pass rates increase if more candidates were getting at least a 70% or better across all topics. Even after experiencing the exams, candidates continue to underestimate the challenge.

While you may have already put in hundreds of hours in preparation, know that it may take another hundred hours or more to cement your place at the top of the pack. I put in a fairly tough schedule usually from September or October all the way through May each year I was a candidate and was still surprised every year when I went into the exams.

Put in that little extra time and you’ll be rewarded with a huge sigh of relief in June.

Exam, what exam?

One thing I have tried to stress on the blog is the fact that professional development is an enormous part of our industry. Not only is the competition among analyst jobs so fierce but trying to find the best investments in a fairly efficient market among a sea of investors seems impossible at times.

You need every tool at your disposal and the CFA material is the best toolbox around. Try to not think of studying for the exams so much as a one-and-done event but a continuous process in your new career as a true professional.

Obviously, this is tough to do when you are singularly focused on passing your next exam. I understand because I was in the exact same spot just three to five years ago. Keep focused and confident that you will pass the exam but keep the studying in perspective. Don’t stop when you think you are safe to pass the exam. Only stop when you feel you have mastered the material.

Putting it into perspective

While you might feel that the exams are consuming your life right now, putting the time spent in perspective might help a little. That 300+ hours studying for each CFA exam is insignificant over a lifetime.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Americans 15 years and older spend approximately 7.5 years in front of the television. That’s nearly three hours a day on sit-coms and reality TV.

Surfing the internet takes up nearly as much time with 10,000 hours or about 5 years of our lives. Some of it is time well spent connecting with friends and family or other worthwhile sites but there has got to be a few pointless hours within that total.

Thinking about some of the time wasted throughout the day makes a few hours of professional improvement a little easier. If you spend 300 hours on each exam, that’s just 37.5 days and a little over 11 hours a week over six months. Find that quality time with your family, make sure you get enough time where it counts and then get to work!

Good luck. You’re almost there and I know you can do it.

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

Your Most Frequent Questions on the CFA Exams

It’s always around this time that I see an increase in questions from candidates. Six weeks to the exam and everyone is second-guessing their readiness to face that 6-hour marathon. I decided to use this post to review five of the most frequent questions I get and some previous posts to address them. Click through the text to be redirected to specific posts on the topics.

If you’ve been a regular follower of the blog, you might have seen some of the posts before but it might help to refresh on the ideas or suggestions. I’m always open to hearing your recommendations and thoughts so use the comment section below if you think I missed anything.

Five most common questions by candidates

Basic strategies for each of the exams is always a popular subject. The format for each exam varies a little and you need to go into the test knowing what to expect. Besides insight on the format, our basic strategies cover the relative point importance on the topic areas and strategies for studying.

Click on the links below for basic strategy on each exam. The posts were written ahead of the 2012 exam but the formats and strategy have not changed. There are a few changes to the actual curriculum but that won’t change how you approach the tests.

CFA Level 1 Basic Strategy
CFA Level 2 Basic Strategy
CFA Level 3 Basic Strategy

The intense quantity and complexity of formulas is always a sticking point for candidates, especially on the second exam. While the formulas on each exam vary, the way you study for them is consistent. One of the most popular posts on the blog explains the difference between active and passive learning. It may not be as easy as sitting back and reading through the material but actively working through problems and flashcards is the best way to learn the material.

Speaking of flashcards, a recent post on how (and why) to make your own flashcards offers good insight on remembering the formulas. Flashcards were a core resource when I was studying for the exams. They can be carried anywhere and you can use them when you’ve just got a couple of minutes free. Absolutely essential for learning the tough formulas and processes.

No matter what you are doing in life, there never seems to be enough time. Studying for the CFA exams is no different and time management is one of the top questions by candidates. Whether you are a full-time student or have a family and a 9-to-5 job, you’ll need to find ways to effectively use limited time.

Part of this comes from effective time management and moving your schedule around to find blocks of study time but another important idea is using your time responsibly and prioritizing.

The most exam specific question I get is how to approach the level 3 essay section. I loved the morning section when I took the third exam because it is the only group of questions where the Institute actually gives you the questions and answers to previous exams. The morning essays can be extremely easy points if you work through prior exams, or they can be a frustrating mess of lost confidence if you don’t.

We have worked through 14 prior essay questions going all the way back to the 2009 exam. The individual and institutional portfolio questions usually have similar formats across years so be sure to study those and how to approach them. The post linked here is our review of last year’s individual portfolio management question. Click on “Level III” at the top of the blog and scroll through to review the posts on the other essay questions.

Getting a job after earning the designation or even while you are studying is always a top concern for candidates. While I explain in one post that the designation will NOT get you a job by itself, it is an important step in your career as a professional. Instead of relying on the charter to get you a job, follow the advice in another post on how to stand out from the other applicants and get the job you really want.

Have a question about the exams? Send me an email or use the comment section below.

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

The CFA versus an MBA, an answer to the unsolvable question

An article from CNBC’s Stephanie Landsman hit the net recently comparing the CFA designation with an MBA in a time-honored assessment that just won’t die. With less than three months to the June exams, the last thing candidates need to be asking themselves is an unsolvable question.

I say unsolvable because it is not whether the CFA designation is better than an MBA, the question should be whether the CFA designation is better for YOU than an MBA.

If you have to ask, you’ll never know

The question whether you should pursue the CFA designation or an MBA is one that should be asked before you begin either process and with the conviction to see it through to the end. While the two may seem to lead to comparable careers, they are in fact extremely different and you need to make a clear and definitive choice.

A study by Georgetown University shows that unemployment for recent business grads is still relatively high at 7.6% while finance grads were not much better off with a 5.9% unemployment rate. In the frustratingly sluggish jobs rebound, a post-grad education that doesn’t suit your job search may do more harm than good.

While you can specialize in certain fields, the MBA is a general business designation. If your goal is to be a c-suite superstar then you will probably need an MBA somewhere along the way. Granted, there are plenty of people in corporate finance or other areas of the corporate world with the CFA designation but the curriculum really isn’t designed to manage a company or a corporate division.

Perhaps some of the confusion comes from the title, chartered financial analyst. The CFA curriculum will not prepare you to be a corporate financial analyst. In fact, a role in corporate finance may not even be approved for the required work experience to be awarded the charter. The CFA curriculum is an investment analysis and asset manager education. If you have a passion for the art of the deal and forming asset valuations, then the designation may be right for you.

Studying for the CFA designation takes an immense amount of work and dedication. With only about half the candidates passing their exam in any given year, you need to be fully committed to the profession of investment analysis and asset management. Without this focus, you will always be second guessing your motivation and it will make passing the exams nearly impossible.

I don’t say this to discourage anyone from pursuing the designation or an MBA. Some people, whether they enjoy learning or just love the punishment, do pursue both. The question is a valid one but one that only you can answer and must not let it be a distraction after you’ve come to a decision.

Just 11 weeks to the June exam. Right about now you are probably deep in the curriculum and feeling a little overwhelmed. Stay strong. Have some coffee, go for a jog, whatever you do to refocus because the finish line is coming up. I know you can do it.

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

Last updated: July 19, 2016 at 11:33 am

The Internet and Three other Reasons Why You Don’t Have Time to Study

There are just 13 weeks left to the CFA exam and candidates everywhere are getting frantic. Sometimes no matter how early you start or how well you plan out your studies, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. How many times have you gotten to the end of the week and realized there was no way you were going to get through as much material as you hoped?

Now, another question, how many times have you checked the news, email or stock quotes while you were studying?

While the title of this post claims five reasons why you don’t seem to have enough study time, it really comes down to one – distractions. If you study like I did when I was a candidate, probably spend about half the time devoted to studying as you think you do. The rest of your ‘study schedule’ is filled with digressions and meaningless tasks as a way to procrastinate.

With that in mind, on to the four biggest problems to your study schedule and how you can solve them.

  • Disable your internet connection and unplug the television

This was the biggest distraction for me. Most of my studying was through study notes and question banks, available on my computer. It was just too easy to click over to news, blog sites, email or a hundred other things whenever the inclination hit. You start off justifying this as, “Oh, I have studied for an hour and I need a short break,” but you end up spending way more time surfing the net than originally intended. Worse yet, you end up taking these ‘study breaks’ more frequently.

The television is just as bad. Do you study with the TV on? I did occasionally and rarely met my study goals when I did. The material in the CFA curriculum can be extremely complex and detailed. Do you really think you can master the curriculum and still follow what is happening on that episode of 24? Your eyes are drawn to movement, it is just how we are wired and any kind of peripheral movement is going to distract you.

  • Turn off your cell phone

Unless you are on-call for your job or expecting to hear from the lottery commission that you won $10 million dollars, you really need to turn off the cell phone. With text messages, internet and phone calls (yes, phones are still actually used for talking as well) these things easily take the number two spot for biggest distraction. You can tell yourself that you won’t answer your texts and set it on silent all you want but the temptation is still going to be there. You’ll peak once and then will be drawn into 30 minutes of ridiculous emoticons and chatting.

  • Do something nice for the family, and yourself

My respect goes out to all the candidates with kids. It’s tough and you’re probably just going to have to resolve not to sleep for the next three years. If you are studying at home, then you are not really studying. You are trying to study between tying shoe-laces, cooking lunch, kissing boo-boos and resolving fights over who is kicking whom.

Once a week, offer a fun day at the water park/mall/museum/fill-in-the-blank. It may cost a little more but your time is money and you are just wasting time if you think you can study while there are three other people demanding your attention. Juggling family and studying for the CFA is one of the most difficult problems for many. Put it in perspective, it is only 4-5 months a year for three years.

  • Start a diet

This was another tough one for me. Not being on a diet but the constant temptation to break from studying to go get a snack. It doesn’t matter that you are not hungry and like other distractions, that small snack becomes a 30-minute or more digression and you don’t know where the time went.

The easiest answer to distractions is to go somewhere private to study. Most libraries usually have private study rooms though it may be difficult to reserve one for more than a couple of hours. Besides having to spend the travel time to get to the library, or another private location, is that it just isn’t always possible to go somewhere else to study.

When you can’t get out of the house to study, remember the major sources of distractions and do everything you can to avoid them.

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

CFA Study vs. Family

The title above is the title from a recent forum post on the LinkedIn group. While the underlying subject of juggling a personal life and family with the CFA exams is a constant topic, I thought the title was interesting and brought back memories of managing my own social life with exam preparation.

I thought the forum title was interesting because it is how many candidates feel about studying for the exams and…well, everything else. It seems that preparing for that 6-hour monster in June puts you at odds with everything else; your family, your friends, anything you previously enjoyed.

It’s tough to get in the necessary study time, for everyone but even more so for those with families. I was married while studying for the exams but was able to finish before we had any kids. The problem is, when you start to think of studying for the exams as, “this and nothing else,” you set yourself up for questioning whether it is worth it and end up postponing the designation.

Studying for the CFA exams shouldn’t be a this-or-that scenario but just needs to be integrated into your daily routine. Hundreds of thousands of candidates have done it and you can as well.

It is just a matter of making time where there was none before,

  • Lunchtime study – This doesn’t necessarily have to be cloistering yourself off to some remote part of the building and avoiding co-workers. A quick run through your flash cards while talking to co-workers can be a little less intrusive and still help you get some extra points.
  • Travel time – If there is any way you can take public transportation to and from work, this can be a huge boost to your study time. Sure, it may be a little inconvenient but shifting that hour or two of studying each day to the bus or train means more time with your family.
  • No rest for the wicked – This is the most common I hear but it has its limits. I concentrate better at night so it was no problem for me to stay up until midnight or later and study while others slept. You can get buy on five or six hours of sleep but don’t try to do it immediately. Try studying just a half hour more per night an increase it gradually so you don’t crash at work.
  • More efficient study – While the average time candidates take to study for the exam is 300 hours, it can be done on less but you need to spend your time where it counts the most. You will not be able to get through the curriculum multiple times. Spend more time on condensed study notes and working practice problems. For the first two levels, devote the majority of your time on the topic areas where you will see the most points.
  • Start earlier – I am still amazed that many of the same candidates that question how to juggle life with exam prep are the same ones that do not start studying until February or later. Three hundred hours divided by 26 weeks is a lot easier to handle than when it is crammed into 12 weeks or fewer. In fact, there is nothing that says you need to wait for the new curriculum to come out before you begin studying. Borrow the previous year’s curriculum from a local candidate and start working through it in July or August. Starting 40 weeks before the exam means you only have to study about 7.5 hours a week. That’s doable for even the busiest schedules.

It will be tough but will also be worth it. Not only will you be able to use one of the most respected and professional designations in the industry but you will also be able to say that you were able to complete something that few others could.

Families are forever, the CFA exams are only three years. Stay strong and push through it.

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

The Number One Rule to Break While Studying for the CFA Exams

Answering weekly emails I get from candidates, common themes tend to come up frequently. Candidates always want to know how the upcoming year is different from the last, what score they need and if passing the exams will get them a job.

Another common theme is rules they should follow for passing the exams. Everyone loves lists and being able to check off a couple of rules to help pass the exams is something everyone would appreciate.

We’ve covered lots of lists here on the blog, things to do and what to look for but there is one rule you might just want to break. It’s not my rule but it is one commonly held by many candidates.

The rule is that you should use the official CFA curriculum as the core to your studying for the exams.

I have advised candidates to read the curriculum and always tried to get through the books myself. The exams come directly from the curriculum so it stands to reason that the books should be your best bet for a passing score.

But the reality is that your time is just too precious and reading through the curriculum enough to commit the material to memory just takes too long. Candidates feel like the curriculum is the sacred text of the Institute and that memorizing every word will ensure them a passing score. I have seen too many candidates get burned out or not even make it through the curriculum once, and subsequently fail the exam.

I am not just saying this because Finquiz sells condensed study notes and I agree that you still need to use the official curriculum, just not as your core material and probably not in the way you were expecting.

Condensed study notes, by their definition, are going to leave some details out. The idea is that you can still master the LOS without all the examples and explanations but this will not be the case for every section of the material. To make up for this short-coming, you still need to use the curriculum.

While most candidates start with the curriculum and then study the condensed notes, I propose a different plan. Start with the study notes. Work through the study guides, working problem sets to make sure you understand the material.

Then read through the curriculum. Having already picked up the core concepts, you should be able to read at a faster speed. This will help you read through for any stray questions you might still have but will take much less time than if you had tried reading the curriculum first.

You might even try working through the study notes twice before going through the curriculum, depending on how quickly you can work through the condensed notes. Notice that you still need to work through practice problems and this more time-efficient method does not mean you can wait until March to start studying.

You still need to put in your 300 hours, this method will just allow you to go through the entire curriculum multiple times. Most people learn best by repetition and it is said that you need to repeat a task approximately seven times to commit it to long-term memory. You may not have time to go through the material seven times, but focusing your time on condensed study materials is a good way to get through the content faster and more efficiently.

Have another commonly-held rule that you should break? Email me or use the comment section below.

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

Your 2014 CFA Study Plan

This is it! January is upon us and I can hear the pencils sharpening in preparation for the 2014 CFA exams. Ok, probably not pencils but I hear the laptops whirring to life and we’ve just five short months left to test day.

We won’t be posting a weekly review of the study sessions like we did last year but most are still relevant for this year’s exam. The study session reviews covered each topic over 18 weeks starting in January and starting with the ethics material.

Make sure you check our post on changes to the Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) for each exam so you can focus on the material that could appear on this year’s exams. We posted the changes to the CFA Level I and Level III exam in August and the changes to the CFA Level II exam in September.

22 Weeks of Good Fun Studyin’

You might be tempted to give yourself another couple of weeks vacation and start studying with a nice round number like twenty weeks, but you’ll need every hour if you are going to pass one of the hardest professional exams out there. Spending about 300 hours over 22 weeks means you’ll still have to dedicate between 13 and 14 hours a week.

I get a lot of questions each year about how to study the curriculum to prepare for the exams. My best answer is…yes, study! It’s not quite the answer expected but the simplest answer could also be the best. We’ve gone through different methods of studying here on the blog, looked at the difference between active and passive studying and talked about the topic weights on the exams. The most overlooked tip though is that candidates need to worry less about how to study and get to studying. Studying the curriculum does not mean putting a plan together that gets you through the material once before exam day, you need to be prepared and that means committing the material to long-term memory.

Committing the material to long-term memory means reviewing it multiple times and in multiple forms. Since we still want to finish early enough to review the more important topics and focus on mock exams, you’ll need to start as soon as possible. The plan below isn’t complicated but it is intense. It’ll be tough but you’ll review the material enough times that it will be seared into your brain well after the test has come and gone.

The plan begins each week with reading the curriculum for the next study session (1-18) and completing all the blue-box and end-of-chapter questions.

The following week, you read the curriculum for a new study session and review the previous study session through the use of condensed study notes. Beyond reviewing the study guide for the previous session, you need to do some testbank practice problems to reinforce the material.

In the third week, review the individual LOS for the study session and write up flash cards for the concepts that you still haven’t mastered. After 20 weeks, you will have reviewed each study session three weeks each and done several rounds of practice problems. Reading the curriculum for a new study session each week will take the majority of your time but try to fit in the reviews and problems as well.

Starting in week 18, try to complete two full-size practice exams each week. Whether formal mock exams or just a 120 questions from test banks, try to do these in the approximate percentages for each topic area. This should give you a good idea of the topic areas in which you need more work.

By week 21, you are going to be tired of anything CFA-related and will deserve a break. You won’t have the luxury of completely relaxing but just review your flash cards for an hour each day.

Your final week is an intensive review. Take the week off from work if you can and treat studying like it was your full-time occupation. Eight hours a day should give you enough time to review two study sessions a day and work a full-length exam.

By now, the practice exams are only partially to clue you in on your weak points but also help to get you into the mental preparedness of handling a six-hour exam. Complete them as you would the actual exam, in two 3-hour segments and in a relatively quite setting.

Go over the curriculum that many times and I have no doubt you will go into the exam fully confident in your mastery of the material. Make sure you follow our last minute checklist for preparing for the exam, available by clicking here.

And good luck on the exam, it’ll be here before you know it.

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

Top 5 CFA Exam Posts from 2013

As we wind up another year on the blog, I thought I would run through the most popular posts over the last twelve months. Most popular does not necessarily mean best or most useful, I’ll need your help in finding those. I would like to think that the most popular are such because they were passed around and read frequently, a result of them being useful as well.

While the three posts describing LOS changes to each exam were all very well read, I’ve excluded them from the list. It doesn’t do us much good to review what LOS changes were made last year but we’ll get the list of next year’s changes out soon.

February 8th Are you ready for the June CFA exam, have you started yet?

I did a quick poll on LinkedIn to see where candidates were at in their study schedule. As of early February, 16% of candidates had finished at least 60% of the curriculum while 56% had not seen more than 20% of the material. It was an informal poll and there were questions unanswered but there were some lessons to be learned. Don’t count on being able to skim through the material once and do well on the exam, most brains just don’t work like that. Most need to see something several times before it is committed to long-term memory.

December 2ndThe passing score on the CFA exams and how to use it

The actual score or percentage needed to pass the exams is never released but it remains a popular topic for candidates. We know that no candidate has ever failed with a score of 70% or above, so that has always served as a good target. We also know that nearly half of all candidates fail their exam in any given year, which can help to gauge your own progress anecdotally against the rest of the herd.

The 70% target also offers a sober reminder that the exams are more than just a set of multiple-choice questions or essays, it is a gauge of your professional knowledge. Would you trust someone that scored less than two-thirds on their professional exams to handle your money?

January 4thThe Tortoise and the Hare study plan for the CFA exams

I’m always amazed how late some candidates choose to start studying for the exam. While I prefer a slow-and-steady approach to studying, I recognize that some work better under pressure and prefer a later start. In this post, I present two study plans – one for the tortoise and one for the hare.

Even the tortoise study plan, with 20 weeks and 15 hours per week, may be too demanding and I normally started much earlier than this. Still, I think it provides a realistic goal of one study session per week and two weeks of review.

The hare’s study plan is only for those that can clear their schedule completely and devote 30 hours a week over the last nine weeks before the exams. This would be nearly impossible for most candidates but maybe just the right amount of pressure for some.

May 17thAre the actual exam questions easier or harder than mock exams or practice problems

As important as the practice problems are to passing the exam, I am not surprised that this post was widely read. Doing hours of practice problems is probably not your preferred choice of study method but it is probably the best way to spend your time. It helps to gauge your understanding of the curriculum and gets you ready to handle the 6-hour marathon that is the CFA exam.

Whether the practice problems or mocks are easier or harder than the actual exams, you need to do enough of them to build a confidence interval around your score. This allows you to guide your studying until your interval range encompasses that all-important 70% score.

May 28thI’ve passed the CFA Level 1, why don’t I have a job

Using the designation to get a job is easily the most popular forum topic, so it’s given that this would be the most popular post of the year. Whether you’ve already got a job and are looking to move up or you think the exams will get your foot in the door, it can be equally frustrating when it doesn’t all fall into place.

I can tell you that the CFA designation and the knowledge you will gain from the curriculum will help you succeed in the industry. It is one of the strongest and most respected bodies of knowledge in the industry and your perseverance does count for something. I can also tell you that you will still have to fight for the job you want. Use the same perseverance and hard work you put into the curriculum to get your foot in the door and you will not be disappointed.

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

The Tortoise and the Hare Study Plan for the CFA Exams

January brings the unofficial start of the study season for the June CFA exams and every year I am reminded of Aesop’s timeless fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Boasting about his great speed, the hare challenges the tortoise to a race. As the tortoise moves slowly to the finish line, the hare procrastinates setting off with a series of distractions. He sleeps, he eats, he catches the rerun episode of The Simpsons on tv. When he finally gets started, it is too late and the tortoise wins the race.

As incredible as it seems, come April and May, there will still be posts coming up on the forums wondering if it is too late to start studying for the exam. Whether procrastination or just other priorities, there will always be candidates that cannot seem to start studying until late in the year.

While the odds are against the late starters, some people work better under pressure while others prefer a slow-and-steady approach. We’ll present two study plans here, one for the tortoise and one for the hare. Both plans assume close to 300 hours necessary to pass the exams and an unlimited supply of coffee.

The Tortoise
Time to exam: 20 weeks
Study time per week: 15 hours

The slow and steady approach, the one we’ll be following for our blog study plan, involves studying one study session each week for 18 weeks. This leaves two weeks before the exam for an intensive review and mock exams. It’s up to you how you divide the 15 hours of studying but it should probably be at least spread over three days. In my own experiment (sample of 1) studying longer than six hours at a time greatly decreases material retention.

In my own study plans, I would usually spend a day or two to read through the curriculum working through a quick set of practice problems at the end of each reading. Then I would read through a condensed study guide on the reading, again working through practice problems. At the end of the week, I would take a longer test using a question bank or a set of practice problems to gauge overall retention. Throwing in other study resources (occasionally, but probably not part of the core) like flashcards, videos and study groups can help keep from getting bored with the routine.

Mock exams are extremely important as a way to test your exam endurance and your ability to recall all the material together. Many candidates simply rely on practice problems after reading each study session and then wonder why they can’t recall the material on the exam. I would start doing at least one six-hour exam each week four weeks before the exam. This helps to get enough mock exams done to get a good idea of how well you are doing within any particular topic area.

The last two weeks are for an intensive review. At this point, you will probably need to work through study guides, practice problems and other condensed resources. There won’t be much time left for reading through the official curriculum.

The Hare
Time to exam: 9 weeks
Study time per week: 30 hours

With about two months left to the exam, you will need to cover more than two study sessions per week. This will leave the last week for an intensive review and exam prep. You’ll need to study at least five days every week, but should probably try stretching it over six days. The condensed schedule means you have no time for distractions. I would find a 24-hour diner or somewhere you can sit without being bothered for six hours at a time. With this schedule, studying for the exam is your new part-time job and you need to treat it as such.

Other than the time spent per week, there isn’t a great deal different from the other plan. You may want to just skim the official curriculum or skip it all together in favor of condensed study guides. You’ll still want to do all the practice problems and blue-box examples in the curriculum but you don’t have time to wade through 3000+ pages of material. Again, other resources can be used to supplement the core plan but don’t use them as an excuse not to do the reading and practice problems.

The obvious warning here is that we all know what happened to the hare in the fable. It is certainly possible to start later in the season and still do well on the exams, but the schedule leaves little room for error and unforeseen obstacles. Just be careful that you don’t fall asleep before the finish line.

Click here for the FinQuiz Basic Strategy for the CFA Exams.

‘til next week, happy studyin’.
Joseph Hogue, CFA