What to do if you fall behind in studying for the CFA exams

A question I start getting a lot this time of year is what should a candidate do if they fall behind in their CFA exam study schedule. There are now eight weeks before the June exam and time is running out to put in the average 300 hours most candidates need to prepare.

Whether you started with plenty of time but ran into challenges or whether you just procrastinated starting your CFA study plan, you may be questioning whether it is worth it to continue from here.

The answer: YES! Keep going!

We’ll hit on a couple of reasons why you should push through even if you don’t think you’ve got a chance of passing the exam. Then I’ll try to suggest some ways to change up your schedule and possibly still pass the exam.

Never stop studying for the CFA exam

The biggest reason to keep studying for the CFA exam, even if you don’t think you’ll pass? Because you are not REALLY studying for an exam, you are studying to be a better analyst and a better professional. You are not going to stop studying once the exams are over. You’ll still need to keep yourself updated on how to analyze and manage assets, it’s just that after the exams you’ll call it “professional development.” The material in the CFA exam curriculum is some of the best you’ll find in the industry. There is no such thing as wasted time studying your curriculum books.

Another reason to keep studying is that you never know how well you will do on the exam. I have seen a lot of candidates struggle and then rationalize putting the books away because they, “probably won’t pass anyway.” This is one-part fear and one-part laziness. If I have to play the part of tough love here I will, “get your butt back in there and keep studying!”

How to change up your CFA study schedule to make up for lost time

So what do you do if you’ve lost some valuable time studying for the exam? First, don’t assume that you can’t still hit that 300-hour study target. With eight weeks left, you could start now and spend six hours a day, six days a week and still make it. Even if you cannot devote that much time every day, you could easily put in 50 or 60 hours in one week if you took it off from work.

Don’t let the time crunch be an excuse to study less or to only hit certain sections.

If you truly can’t get in the time between now and that first Saturday of June, there are still some ways to try getting enough points to pass the exam. The most obvious strategy is to focus on the topics that will get you the most points on your respective CFA exam.

The graphic shows the new CFA topic weights on each exam, updated last July. Topic weights leveled out a little so a few topics no longer dominate the tests but there are still places where you should spend more time.

Ethics is still extremely important because it is basically the same across all three exams. Master it on the first exam and you’ll save study time later. It is also used by the CFA Institute to determine a pass decision for candidates that are close to the minimum passing score. Don’t assume you know ethics, make sure you study the questions at the end of the chapter and get a feel for how questions will be asked on the exam.

Balance your time between the “core” topic areas and everything else. Do not completely neglect secondary topics but you should be aiming for at least a 75% pass rate on questions within the core topics. Make use of question banks and chapter questions to gauge how well you are doing. If you haven’t been doing many problem sets yet, you really need to get on it and use these to help guide your study plan.

Besides concentrating on core topic areas, shift your studying to active learning-type activities. They are harder than passive activities like reading or watching a video but you will remember much more of the material that you cover doing problem sets and writing things out.

Designate one day a week as your hardcore study day where you will do nothing but study. Go to a secluded spot, maybe the library, early in the morning and study for at least 10 hours. You can take 5 to 10 minutes off each hour to rest and 30 minutes for lunch. Turn off your phone and the wifi connection on any devices. This will get you upwards of 60 hours of actual studying over the next eight weeks (excluding break time). Putting in another two or three hours for each of five days will get you upwards of another 80 hours. As long as you’re not starting from scratch, that should get you close to the 300 hours.

Remember, 300 hours isn’t a hard and fast rule that you must achieve to pass the CFA exams. It’s just an average amount of time candidates report spending. The important thing is to put in the effort to learn the material. If you master the curriculum, you will pass the exam whether this year or next.
Evaluate why you’re running behind, change up your schedule if you need to and go pass that exam!
Good luck.

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

 

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