CFA Level 3- Five points to enjoy the exam

CFA Level 3 experience

After CFA Level 2 exam, I enjoyed the final exam of the series though it presents its own challenges. If you approach it wisely, following these five points, CFA Level 3 exam can be just as enjoyable when you take it.

CFA Level 3 – 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.

CFA Level 3 – Essay questions topics

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. I covered the essay section in more detail in a prior post linked here.

CFA Level 3 – 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 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.

CFA Level 3 High Pass Rate – 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, 54% in 2016, 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.

CFA Level 3 – 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 CFA Level III exam to start thinking about the charter

You will not immediately be granted the charter after passing CFA 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 charter holder 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.

CFA Level 3 – Work requirements

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.

CFA Level 3 – Study as hard as you did for the other two

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

Last updated: October 7, 2016 at 3:34 am

CFA Level 3 Examination Tips

On CFA Level 3 exam, a candidate has two sessions, one comprising of 10 item-set questions (afternoon session) and the other comprising of 9-15 essay questions (morning session). The afternoon session is quite similar to CFA Level 2 exam and therefore, should be handled in the same manner as the CFA level 2 questions. However, the format of the morning session is unique to this level. The morning session constitutes 9-15 essay questions, with each composed of 1-5 sub-parts. Following are some tips for preparing and attempting CFA Level 3 examination.

Preparation for CFA Level 3 Exam

  • Most candidates believe that CFA Level 3 exam is easy and much less demanding than CFA Level 2 exam. They, therefore, take their preparations slow and easy. This is a grave misconception! Start early and spend at least 10-12 hours a week studying FinQuiz curriculum notes.
  • In item sets, a student is provided with three options, one of which is correct. However, in essay questions, the student has to come up with the exact correct answer himself. Hence, it is imperative that you know, and are able to retain and recall, every important concept, formula and relationship.
  • Analyze and identify the areas having a higher probability of being tested as essay questions. Examples of such areas would include behavioral finance, individual IPS, institutional IPS, fixed income and equity.
  • Portfolio management is an area that carries the largest weight. Make sure you know this area inside out and can attempt questions presented from every angle and perspective.

Reading the material for CFA Level 3 Exam

While reading the material to prepare for such questions, use the following tips:

  • After understanding a concept, try to memorize all important points related to it. A helpful way of doing this would be to box the important details while reading. You can also number the points by underlining them and writing superscripts 1, 2, 3 and so on for every topic. This way it will be easier to learn and retain the points.
  • Reviewing the material as you progress is especially essential for essay questions. Have a proper review plan in place and follow it religiously.
  • Know how one topic relates with the other. Flowcharts and similar graphical depictions can help in understanding relationships and are effective means of retention. FinQuiz Smart Summaries are excellent source for this.

Practice for CFA Level 3 Exam

  • A great deal of practice will not only help familiarize you with the format of such questions, but will also illustrate how to approach them.
  • Remember to review each practice test carefully after attempting it and determine what information was required and how it is graded. Analyze your mistakes and weaknesses. You would notice that, sometimes, you missed out on writing needed information even though you knew it and instead, wrote something that was not required. As you practice further, you will get better at attempting such questions.
  • The only way to avoid leaving points during the final exam is to do practice essay questions under a time constraint over and over and over again.  There is no substitute for intense essay practice.

Attempting CFA Level 3 Exam

  • When attempting essay questions read the question first and then read the case. Try to keep in mind what is needed when you are going through the vignette.
  • Apply your time management skills for this exam. Go through the exam once and answer the questions that come easy to you first. This will prevent you from failing to answer all the questions.
  • Answer questions by focusing on key words in the vignette. If you don’t know the complete solution, answer with what you know since CFA Institute grants partial marks.
  • Don’t miss easy points by assuming that they must be something the examiner would know. Remember, every point is important.
  • Answer each sub-part using clear, precise and relevant statements. Remember, your answers are your only communication with the examiner—try to tell him/her that you know what you are talking about. Be as relevant as possible; writing unnecessary details will leave a bad impression on the examiner and will be a waste of your precious time.
  • An appropriate format of attempting essay questions is to use bullet points.
  • Space your words and sentences so that they are easy to read.
  • Do not write lengthy answers; try to be as concise and accurate as possible and explain the answer in just a few lines or so. Knowing how answers are graded will illustrate how objective you have to be when answering; writing long, unnecessary stories will give you no extra points.
  • When answering numerical questions, start by writing the data and the formula. Show your calculations and write the final answer prominently. Remember, there are marks for each important step of the calculation.
  • No matter how poorly you have done in the morning session, don’t lose hope. The afternoon session carries equal weightage and is as critical to passing the exam as is the morning session. Try to relax during the mid-break and focus on the item sets in the afternoon. For many candidates, the afternoon session scores have been central to passing the exam.

You should review yesterday’s post CFA Level 3 – How to Pass as well.

Last updated: August 3, 2016 at 3:48 am

CFA Level 3 Emergency Preparation

What if you were dramatically unprepared for the CFA Level 3 exam and needed to focus on the most important information for the upcoming test. What would you study over the next nine days?

Whatever the reason, many candidates find themselves unprepared at this point whether it be real for a lack of studying or imagined from simple anxiety. While I wouldn’t think it’s possible to do all your studying in just the next week and a half, there are some sections you can focus on to get the most points and have a chance at passing the exam.

The topic weights for the CFA Level 3 exam doesn’t really help like it may for the other two exams. We see that each of the asset classes are worth between 5% and 15%, with the exception of fixed income which is weighted a little more heavily. Beyond these four topics, we’re only told that the rest of the exam, between 45% and 55%, is wrapped up into portfolio management.

We do know that the exam is divided into an essay section in the morning and a item-set section in the afternoon. Since the afternoon item-set section isn’t really any different than that seen in the CFA Level 2 exam, the best use of your time might be to focus on the morning essay section.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there is a lot that goes into the morning section that just knowing the material. You need to be able to write for upward of three hours without getting tired and knowing the format of the exam helps a lot. Some questions can be answered directly under the problem while others are answered in a special template box.

Another reason to focus on the morning section for your last minute studying is that your performance on the essays can really help set the tone for your mood in the afternoon. Don’t underestimate the confidence boost from getting max points on the essays, in particular the first couple of portfolio management essay questions.

Fortunately, practicing the morning section is made easier by the Institute. You’ll find the last three years’ worth of essay questions along with guideline answers on the CFA Institute website. Using these helps to get a sense of what you might see on this year’s exam as well as how to approach it. Studying the last few years can also give you a sense of the topics that most frequently show up on the morning section, discussed in a previous post here.

If I had just one week to study for the Level 3 exam, I would focus first on the individual and institutional management questions in the last three years’ exams. These will be the first questions you get in the morning.

Remember, there are two primary types of return questions you will get for individual portfolio management, a single-period return calculation or a required return (multi-period) calculation. We’ve worked both of these in previous posts here on the blog. You also need to know the five portfolio constraints for the IPS and how they relate to the risk tolerance and return objectives.

We’ve reviewed each study session and several of the previous years’ essay questions in our 21-week study program, so you might want to start there as a quick review. If you do decide to just focus on the prior essay questions, you may want to review some material from the topics that do not typically appear in the morning section like: Financial Reporting & Analysis, Corporate Finance, and Quantitative Methods.

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

CFA Level 3 Essay #9 2012

The material on derivatives is worth between 5% and 15% of your overall score and last year (2012) was the first time in four years that it appeared in the morning section. This might have thrown some candidates if they were not expecting an essay question, so I thought I would go over one of the questions in this week’s post.

The essay questions, along with the guideline answers, are available on the Institute’s website for your practice.

Together, questions #8 and #9 were worth 25 points or about 7% of the overall exam. Problem #8 covered the use of equity futures in changing a portfolio’s beta, using equity and bond futures to adjust portfolio allocation, and pre-investing with futures. Problem #9 covered options with delta hedging and some conceptual material on how gamma changes closer to expiration. These are formula intensive sections but the calculations really are not that hard once you work through them.

The first thing you should notice when starting #9 is that the three parts (A,B,C) are worth 12 points. Unless you have saved some time elsewhere in the morning, you should try to get through these in no more than 10-15 minutes. Don’t spend 30 minutes on a question that is only worth 12 points! Use your time wisely.

You may want to underline or highlight key figures as you’re reading to make it easier to pick out data when you come to questions. Here things that jump out to me are 2,000 shares of equity, x-price of 1,300 Euros, premium of E19.09, etc.

  1. A put is a right to sell while a call is a right to buy, so being on the other side of the transaction (the writer of the option) would be the obligation to do the reverse (i.e. put is obligation to buy while call is obligation to sell). Knowing your ultimate exposure, you can figure out how to hedge it through an equity position. In this case you need to create an offsetting short position so you take the number of shares times the option delta times the current price.
  2. You need more in-depth knowledge of how options price here with the convex relationship between price and the underlying. You’ve seen this concept with mortgage-backed securities in the fixed income topic area so it shouldn’t be totally new. Remember, delta is the change in option price relative to stock price while gamma is the change in delta relative to the underlying. Long options (calls) have positive gamma (change in price is less for a decrease in underlying than the change for an increase in the underlying) while short options (puts) have negative gamma (change in option price will be greater for a decrease in underlying equity relative to the change from an increase in the underlying).
  3. The toughest part here is continuous compounding and the fact that you need to do six calculations for just five points. Don’t stare at the problem too long if you do not know it. Just get something down and move on to make sure you get the easy points in the exam. You will get partial credit if you hit on some of the points for which the graders are looking, so write something down!
    1. First, start with the trader’s net cash position which is the number of shares long times the price, minus the premium collected for the options sold.
    2. Even if you can’t remember how to do the continuous compounding, do the equation anyway and move on to the next steps. You can still get credit for doing the remaining calculations even if the result is off because of a prior mistake (and here the difference between continuous compounding is only $0.05).
    3. From here it’s just a matter of subtracting the short call position from the long equity position and finding the relative return.

 Of the 12 total points, you could have gotten 6 or 7 easily by just knowing the conceptual material and working through the equations quickly. The remaining points would have been a little harder and may have taken more time than they were worth if you really didn’t know the material. This is a great example of making sure you get the easy points and not spending too much time where it’s not going to pay off.

If you know that you don’t know something or it’s going to take a while to figure it out, move on and come back to it if you have time.

Two more weeks to the exam. Make sure you are ready for the first two questions (individual and institutional portfolio management) and get a few mock exams done.

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