CFA Exams: What Could You Have Done Differently?

This week’s blog post comes in the form of a question rather than my usual ranting monologue. After having made it through another arduous study season, fighting fatigue and frustration at every turn, what would you have done differently if given the chance?

Right now, when the tension over exam scores is at its highest and candidates are biting their fingernails down in anticipation, hindsight may be even more acute than 20/20. Asked the question, many will give the standard response of starting earlier or staying on schedule. Candidates often wish they had paid more attention to specific sections or formulas.

But what else could you have done? Is there a way you could have used the process to help your chances getting a job later? Is there a way you could have studied that would have helped retention?

For my part, I passed the Level 3 CFA exam in 2011 but can still remember the long hours spent at the library and away from family and friends. I usually started studying in the fall of the prior year, around September or October, and would start with a fairly relaxed five hours a week studying. This meant that I could get through the curriculum once before January but really didn’t have to worry much about burnout or a schedule. Because I started so early, I was usually able to get through the curriculum multiple times (whether the official curriculum, study guides or other resources) so I always felt prepared for the exam.

Embrace burnout

As with many candidates, I did face burnout towards the end of each study season, usually around March or April. One thing I wish I had done was have a plan for it rather than struggle through my schedule. I think most candidates plan an extremely tough schedule, more than 10-15 hours a week, without planning for any rest through the exam. The CFA exams are tough and you need to study, but planning on taking a few days or a week removed from the curriculum can help keep your focus and return stronger than ever.

Use the process as a networking tool

I wish I had used the process to better get to know other candidates and professionals in the industry. I was active on the internet forums and volunteered for the local CFA society but did not build as many connections as I would have liked. Talk with other candidates, preferably local, about studying and how they are doing. You might also try talking to local charterholders about how they approached the exams. At minimum, they might be able to offer some good advice on the exams but they also might be able to offer help getting a job as well.

What are one or two things that you wish you had done differently?

‘til next time,
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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