Last Week to the CFA Exam, Welcome to the Club

Just one more week to the December level 1 CFA exam, can you believe it? The time seemed to fly by every year I was a candidate and as much as I wanted to get through the exams, I always wished for just one more week of preparation.

But win, lose or draw next Saturday you’ve already shown the heart and discipline to make yourself a better professional. For that, I say, “Welcome to the club of CFA Candidates and Charterholders!”

You see, being a CFA charterholder isn’t about passing a couple of tests. It isn’t even about just being able to put those three little letters after your name. Being a charterholder is about being a true professional and being part of a network of professionals.

Through the CFA Institute and your network of other candidates or charterholders, you’ve got access to some of the best minds and information in the industry. Asset management gurus like Bill Gross, Abby Joseph Cohen and Ben Graham, all charterholders!

The Institue also offers a knowledge library on the website filled with some of the best published material and media in the industry. It’s easy to forget so set a regular reminder to check in on the site for new information and professional development. The website is pretty user-friendly. You can browse research by topic or by area of work. There are also some marketing templates for brochures, pitchbooks and mailers that you can use for your job.

Many of you are just starting your careers and will want to login to the Institute’s Jobline. Through the portal, you’ll find nearly 900 current listings from more than 200 employers all looking for CFA charterholders or candidates.

I got an email invitation last week to be a judge in next year’s CFA Institute Research Challenge, an annual global competition in equity analysis. The research challenge is a great way to get that initial experience into equity research and feedback from professionals. At events like this or one of the many networking events through your local society, you’ll find all the opportunity you need for professional development and to advance your career.

I am going to level with you. Your #1 goal in life may seem to be passing that exam on Saturday but at this point, it really doesn’t mean as much as you think. You have taken the first step to becoming a true professional in the field and your score on one test will not change that.

So take the rest of the week to kick it into high gear and get those last few points you’re going to need to pass the exam on Saturday. After Saturday, login to the CFA Institute’s website or your local society’s website and start looking around. You’ve got at least a month before you need to start thinking about the June exam. Use that time to develop your network and really get to know what it means to be a part of this club of finance professionals.

Good luck on Saturday candidates!

‘til next time, happy testing!
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

A CFA Blog! How long has this been here?

Now that you are firmly focused on studying and passing the CFA exam in June, let me digress and ruin your concentration. Sorry, I just came across the CFA blog managed by the Institute and was so impressed that I wanted to bring it to your attention.

Where have I been?


In our hectic daily routines, it can be tough to find new sources of information. It certainly doesn’t help that there are more than 350 million registered domains, an increase from virtual nonexistence only two decades ago. I have 11 sites bookmarked to my navigation panel (Federal Reserve FRED, Bloomberg, Morningstar, along with email accounts and a few other finance sites) and probably only use a handful of others on a daily basis.

I am plastered to my screen between eight and ten hours a day, sometimes including weekends, and just do not have time to hunt around the web for great new sources of information. I generally try to keep up with things the CFA Institute is doing, especially the newer ideas but this obviously wasn’t the case with the new blog.

I have to give credit to Josh Armstrong, CFA for posting one of the Institute’s blog posts on the forum group. I regularly read the Financial Analysts Journal and other publications sent out by the Institute, along with other research posted on the Institute’s site. When I found the blog site, the material was familiar but offered an ease of reading that was great.

Across the blog’s navigation bar is six categories of posts along with nine other categories from the CFA topic areas and a link for About Us and Authors. Clicking on each category will take you to posts specific to it but the site does not include a dated directory so finding a specific post can be a little difficult. It is also nearly impossible (or at least impossible without loosing your sanity) to find the original posting date of the site since you have to scroll down and click, ‘older posts’ continuously.

The posts run the gamut of research, polls, book reviews and advice. Twenty-eight posts were written in December, pretty impressive considering most people are more focused on their holiday weight gain than on financial writing during the month.

As blog posts, the content comes across as more conversational and easier to read than some of the Institute’s other publications. While this may not be as welcome to some of the hard-core researchers out there, I enjoyed being able to make it through an article without taking a master’s level course in stats. Posts include links to other publications and other helpful sites.

If you can find a couple of hours in your busy weekly schedule of work and study to visit the blog, your time will be well-rewarded. The blog does a good job of highlighting important material from the Institute’s site as well as some new stuff. You probably won’t read all of it but it will offer a quick way to keep up-to-date on some important ideas in the industry. I have bookmarked the site and will probably go back at least a couple of times a week.

Always on the lookout of good sites for market information and data. Any ideas?

Ok, digression over. Back to studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

The Do’s and Don’ts of using your CFA Charter

Before you tune out saying, “I already know what the Code and Standards say about using my charter,” this is not about how you should technically use the designation.

This post is all about getting the most out of your charter. You worked hard for it. Those 900 plus hours and three years should get you something, right?

1)     Do use the charter! I see a lot of people on the internet and have talked with people at conferences who you would never know they were a charterholder. Now I am not saying you monogram all your shirts with CFA, but it should go on your professional nameplates (i.e. business cards, professional social media profiles, nametags at conferences). Presumably you wanted something more from the designation than just the knowledge you got from the curriculum. It’s going to be hard to reap those benefits unless you let people know.

2)     Don’t be a CFA-ist. I’ve seen this before and came close to doing it myself. You are talking with a group at a conference or professional event and the conversation comes around to designations and qualifications. Naturally you want to talk up the grueling study needed to pass the CFA exams, so you gush about how it is so much harder than other designations and it is the only real investment-related qualification. That’s when you find out that several people in the group have other designations (i.e. CFP, CPA, etc). Then you find out they know a lot more than you and have more distinguished careers.

There is some overlap in the markets for the designations but mostly they serve different purposes. Feel free to talk up the charter but understand that the measure of a designation’s worth is what you do with it, not by just having it.

3)     Do take advantage of ALL the benefits. When is the last time you went to a local CFA society event? When was the last time you logged into the Institute’s website and looked around, maybe looking at some of the published research? Clawing your way through the exams and paying your membership dues (yes, along with signing your annual ethics statement) provides you with a range of benefits well beyond just using those three little letters after your name. The charter puts you in a network of some of the best and brightest in the field.

I’m not saying that Bill Gross, CFA is going to start taking your calls but reach out to other charterholders in your network. The research published and available on the Institute’s website, combined with the insight from others all around the world, will make you a rockstar in your sector.

4)     Don’t forget the connections you made as a candidate. A lot of candidate groups form some great bonds while helping each other through the three-year war that is the CFA exams, then they go their separate ways into different sectors. Keep those friendships alive and help each other out.

There cannot be just four do’s and don’ts for using the CFA designation! What are your own musts for after you earn the charter? Any mistakes you’ve already made?

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