We’ve already covered the top five things you should know about the CFA Level I and Level II Exams, along with the exams in general. After the Level II exam, I enjoyed the final exam of the series though it presents its own challenges. If you approach it wisely, following these five points, the Level III exam can be just as enjoyable when you take it.
- It’s all about the Essays
The essay portion of the exam terrifies many candidates and for good reason. Not only are you asked to come up with your own answers, much more difficult that picking it out of three options, but the essays present a physical challenge as well. When is the last time you spent almost three hours straight writing by hand? The post-exam party is filled with more than a few horror stories about muscle cramps and aching hands. You must physically prepare yourself by doing consecutive essay problems and writing for hours or you will not make it through the morning section.
Most of the topic areas are fair game for essay questions. The first two questions will always be on individual and institutional wealth management so being ready for those two topics can give you a huge confidence boost for the rest of the test. Corporate Finance, Financial Reporting, Quantitative Methods and Alternative Investments are the least likely to show up as essay questions but will be in the afternoon section. I covered the essay section in more detail in a prior post linked here.
- The only exam with prior year’s available
Ok, this one is about the essays as well but I thought it merited its own bullet. The Institute releases the essay section, along with guideline answers, for the last three years. This is huge and I don’t think most candidates take advantage of it. Working through these essay questions not only helps you study the material and practice writing for an extended period, it also helps you write more efficiently and get a feel for the types of information for which the Institute is scoring.
We worked through several essay questions last year from prior years, click here and scroll through last year’s study plan. While only the last three years’ exams are available, you should be able to get prior years’ essays from members of your local society. Ask around to see if anyone has the pdf copies. It is well worth the effort to have a couple more sets of practice essays, especially in the all-important wealth management topic area. Make sure you check for LOS changes between the test year and the current year for material that has been dropped or changed.
- Don’t get overconfident
You’ve made it through two of the hardest exams of your academic life and notice that the pass rate for the CFA Level III exam is above that of the other two. Sounds like it is time to sit back and ease through to your charter, right?
You have put in too much work to get lazy now. While the pass rate on the Level III exam, 49% in 2013, is higher than that of the other exams it is still incredibly difficult. Think about it, every CFA Level III candidate has had the perseverance and has put in the effort to pass the other two exams but less than half will make it through the exam this year.
Put in just as much time and work for this final exam as you did for the other two levels. Not only will you be rewarded with a passing score, but mastering the essay section will give you the ability to talk through these topics in your job.
- Harder to ‘game’ the topic areas
You could clearly see in the other two exams which topic areas were most important and where you should focus your studying. The topic weights don’t help much on the CFA Level III exam. Ethics and the asset classes are weighted but the investment tool topic areas are wrapped up in portfolio management. This uncertainty throws some candidates for a loop and leads to inefficient use of study time.
Fortunately, by studying the prior essay sections, you can get a good idea of topic area importance. Look through the prior three years’ morning sections and you will see that the two portfolio management topics are always considered (with each historically above 10% of total exam points).
Again, studying these previous morning sections can give you nearly everything you need.
- Do not wait until you pass the exam to start thinking about the charter
You will not immediately be granted the charter after passing the Level III exam. You first need to fill out an application for membership and acquire two sponsors that will answer questions on your experience. One of these will need to be your current supervisor, the other needs to be a charterholder from the local society. Now is the time to start talking to society members and establishing a sponsor. In my own experience, it is frustrating when a candidate comes out of nowhere and asks for a sponsor when you have never talked or really know what they do.
You will also need to complete the requirement for 48 months of professional experience. This is the sticking point for a lot of candidates and many have to wait years until they can use the designation. There is not much you can do if you are taking the exam this year and do not have the necessary experience. Review the work experience guidelines established by the Institute, linked here. If your current responsibilities do not qualify, you need to start looking at your options. Consider talking to your supervisor to add some responsibilities to your role that might help qualify.
As a level III candidate, you are almost there and the anticipation building up to the exam can be unbearable. Take a step back and realize that you still have one hurdle to jump. Study just as hard for the final exam as you did for the other two, maybe harder, and go into that first Saturday of June with the confidence to pass.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA