10 Ways to Relax on CFA Exam Day

Learn how to relax on CFA exam day to help unlock everything you’ve worked so hard to learn

OK, so it’s six weeks left to the CFA exams and the last thing you want to think about is exam day. You want to hear all the secrets to getting every last point and how to master the material, right?
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CFA Results – It Doesn’t Matter! It really doesn’t!

Here we are more than a month after the CFA results and the elation hasn’t worn off for those that passed. Nor has the disappointment gotten any better for the candidates that did not make the cut.
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CFA Level 1 Jobs – How to get the perfect job

It’s a jungle out there! I get emails every week from candidates that continue frustrated in their job search, even after passing one or more levels of the CFA exam.
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Rounding Up the Best Ways to Prepare for the CFA Exam

Use these 8 articles on preparing for the last month before the CFA exam to get everything in order

There’s just six weeks to the June 2016 CFA exam and candidates are feverishly preparing their last month study plans. One of the biggest pitfalls that catch CFA candidates is all this time meta-studying, or studying about studying. All the time you spend finding resources, asking other candidates and putting together your study plan is time you could be spending on the curriculum and getting those last few points you need to earn the CFA designation.

To help speed up the task of meta-studying  and build out your last month study plan, we highlight the best articles on preparing for the CFA exam as well as checklists you can use to make sure you’re on track. Use the articles below as your guide to plan out your CFA study schedule as well as prepare for the big day.

Best CFA Advice on Studying

This last month CFA study plan includes the tools and resources you’ll want to use to get through the material one last time before the exam. You won’t be able to read the curriculum again but these resources will help you cover as much as possible to make sure you’ve mastered the topic areas. The article also includes a strategy on how to use practice tests to guide your study plan to focus your time where it’s needed most. Includes a six-day study schedule that you can customize with your available time.

A big hurdle to effective studying is the uncertainty around whether you’ve studied enough. Candidates freak out and scramble for ideas and input on how much is enough and what more they can do. I put together this CFA study checklist to help you know that you’re on the right track or to point out some milestones you need to reach for confidence on the exam. How many times do you need to read the curriculum and other sources? How many practice problems should you do?

The last week before the CFA exam was always my favorite. In this last week CFA schedule, I talk about how to use the time as a study-vacation and how to get the most from your time. The post also includes exam day materials and a link to some important Institute pages.

Best CFA Advice on Preparing for the Big Day

This CFA exam day checklist includes everything you need to prepare for the big day. You’ll find links to a review of the typical exam day, a list of testing centers and the CFA testing center policy. This is information directly from the CFA Institute so make sure you know it.

This post on 10 ways to relax on CFA exam day has been one of our most popular this year. The chemicals released when you’re nervous won’t help you remember the curriculum or pass the exam. One of the best things you can do to get a passing score is just to relax and have the confidence that you’ve done all you could…and that it will be enough. There’s ten great ideas here so definitely a few for everyone.

Most people carry an emergency road kit in their car but do you have your CFA exam day emergency kit ready? The post includes a list of things you’ll want to put together to have on exam day. The list includes required exam materials like your passport, admission ticket, pencils and calculator. It also includes the just-in-case materials that can mean the difference between passing the exam or ending up in one of the fail bands.

This is your CFA exam day strategy, a replay of the big day starting with the night before and running all the way through the afternoon. You’ll get advice on what to eat for breakfast and important considerations for getting to the exam. I cover what happens as the exam starts and how to spend your lunch to relax and set yourself up for a successful afternoon session.

What to do after the exam isn’t something candidates usually think about but you’ll want to check out this post-CFA exam checklist. It will get you started on making next year’s exam a success by setting an email reminder and reflecting on what worked for this year’s study plan.

The important idea here is to get what you need to put your last month study plan together and then get back to studying. Don’t spend time preparing to study at the expense of actual studying and the points you need to pass the CFA exam.

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

 

Don’t forget your Free CFA Mock Exam!

Learn to use mock exams and CFA practice tests to guide your study plan and pass the exams

The CFA mock exams are now available on the CFA Institute website for registered candidates. If you are registered for the June exam, you have access to a free mock exam and topic tests. Both of these can be critical in guiding your study plan over the last two months and getting the most out of your time.

The CFA mock exam is designed to mimic the exam day experience with timed sections and structured along the exam topic weights. The Level 1 and Level 2 CFA mock exams include a morning and afternoon section of multiple choice questions. The Level 3 CFA mock exam does not include a section for the morning essay questions but does test you on the afternoon vignette format. The exams include the correct answers, a brief explanation of each and reference the curriculum on each question.

The CFA Institute recommends you take the mock exam towards the end of your exam preparation and most third-party mock exams take place well into May.  There’s good reason you may want to consider taking your mock exam much earlier than this to get the most from the experience.

How to Get the Most of Your CFA Mock Exam

I always thought it was odd that CFA mock exams were not held until mid-May at most local societies or third-party providers. I remember taking one mock exam on the 18th of May, just over two weeks before the June exam.

At this point, what is the mock exam going to do for you? You’ve got little time to rearrange your study plan. If you do poorly on the mock exam at this late in the game, it makes for a very stressful few weeks before the actual exam.

Getting the most out of your CFA mock exam means doing it early and in an environment that will simulate the actual test.

Ask your local society to organize a mock exam day in April or as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take weeks of planning, just reach out to candidates by email to see how many are interested and reserve a room at the library that can accommodate the group. Ask candidates to print off their mock exams and bring them to the event.

If your society cannot hold a mock exam day, you can still simulate the exam day experience by going to a semi-quiet public place. It shouldn’t be completely quiet like a solitary room but some place like the library with ambient noise.

Testing yourself in this exam day-type environment is going to test your concentration. If you find it difficult to concentrate on the exam with background noise, you’ll know to take earplugs to the actual exam in June. Testing yourself on three-hour sections will also help you see how your mental and physical stamina holds up. If you find yourself getting tired before time runs out, you should consider exercising ahead of the exam with more three-hour testing sessions.

More than anything, taking the CFA mock exam early is going to help you focus your study plan. It’s one thing to remember answers when taking short topic tests on material you’ve just studied that week. It’s another thing entirely to remember answers to all 18 study sessions all at once.

While taking the mock exam, you might want to mark the number on questions where you are unsure of the answer. This will help you review the questions that you happen to guess correctly but might need more study in the topic. Review the answers to these and any incorrect answers after the exam. Once you’re done, you’ll have an idea of how well prepared you are in each topic area. You can use this to rearrange your study plan over the last month to focus on those areas in which you need more work.

Don’t Just take One CFA Mock Exam

Also available and free to registered CFA candidates is a series of shorter topic tests. Download these from the CFA Institute website and use them for more practice.

Mock and practice exams are hugely beneficial and you should try doing more than one. Six hours is a long time to put pencil to paper and you need to train your body to not get tired. Without training over at least a few mock exams, you may not even realize how tired you’re getting and how much it’s affecting your score.

Taking multiple mock exams is also a great way to fine-tune your studying. Your first few months of studying were all about getting through the curriculum and touching on everything. Your last few weeks of studying should be about making sure you have a good understanding of everything but also making sure you get every last point where it counts.

I would recommend doing at least one mock exam every two weeks and a three-hour exam every other weekend. Try doing these in a semi-public place to get used to the noise and testing environment. You can use question banks to randomize the questions or take them in topic-order. Do this for the last month or few weeks leading up to the exam and you’ll be more confident and prepared for June.

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

10 Weeks and 10 Goals for the CFA Exams

Ten weeks left to the 2015 CFA exam and it is time to start really defining what you are going to do to get there. As CFA candidates, most of us are driven and goal-focused people so I thought I would set a challenge for you. Give yourself 10 goals to accomplish over the next 10 weeks to make sure you pass the CFA exam.

Study Goals

1) Read through the six most difficult study sessions of the curriculum, one last time. You may not have time to hit every page of the curriculum again, but you should try to cover your sticking points. Candidates typically do really well on a third of the material, o.k. on another third and then not so well on another third of the curriculum. Figure out where you are having trouble and really hit it hard so you can get at least some of these points.

2) Read the study notes one last time. You should be able to get through the condensed study notes one last time to review all the study sessions. This is going to keep everything fresh so you don’t go into the exams with a long lag between the test and covering any specific material.

5) Master 10 concepts or problems with which you’ve really struggled. Even if you’ve avoided them, you know which parts of the curriculum are giving you real problems. These are the problems or LOS that you have basically given up on and that you’re just hoping do not come up on the exam. Pick one a week to finally master.

6) Do 2,000 more practice problems. Whether from the end of chapter sets or from a question bank, practice problems are one of the best ways to study for the exam. Make sure you really read through the answer to make sure you didn’t just guess correctly and really understand the material.

7) Take at least 6 mock exams. Sit down for a practice run at least six times, using either test bank questions or actual mock exams. Building an average across the six mock exams will help to see where you are on each topic area. Besides helping you learn the material this is really going to put you in shape for the real exam. Sitting for a six-hour exam can be physically taxing and you need to be prepared.

8) Spend a week super-studying! Believe it or not, this was always one of my favorite weeks within the CFA study schedule. Spend a whole week devoted only to the CFA exam. Go somewhere on a study vacation for the best vacation you ever had, something I detailed in a prior post.

2) Spend less time worrying about the exam and know you will pass. The stress leading up to the exam is a killer. Resolve to worry less about passing the exam. Whenever you feel the anxiety building or find yourself questioning how you’ll do, just take a deep breath and relax. Remind yourself all the hard work you’ve put in studying and know that you will pass the exam.

8) Put all your test materials together a week before the exam and check your route to the testing facility days before the exam. Being prepared for the exam doesn’t just mean knowing the material. Have everything ready and know your way to the testing site well before exam day. It’s rare but there are candidates every year that miss the CFA exam because they were late or couldn’t find their identification.

Networking Goals

Anyone that has read the blog for a while knows that I am a big advocate of networking and using the CFA exams to reach out to the rest of the financial community. You can pass all the exams but if you’ve been in a shell for three years, you’re still going to have trouble getting a job if you don’t know anyone.

9) Answer at least 10 questions from other CFA candidates. Getting help when you need it is about being ready to give someone else a hand when they need it. The CFA exams are a great time to help out your fellow candidates.

10) Attend at least one local CFA society event or CFA Institute event. These last few months before the exam are a great time to network because the local societies get a little more active with events and people are still sticking with their resolution to be more active in the community. Attend at least one event and get to know a few of your colleagues.

Don’t stop at just 10 goals. Set mini-goals each week that you can achieve if you push yourself just a little harder. Set larger goals for the year that you can really reach for and make a bigger difference. Don’t get frustrated if you miss a goal, just learn from it and push on.

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:49 pm

Go Old School for Real CFA Benefits

Reviewing the trend to WhatsApp groups to study for the CFA exams in last week’s post brought up something really interesting. Looking through the posts on the LinkedIn CFA Candidates’ Forum, I noticed an almost complete lack of requests for live study groups.

Of the few requests on the page, most got few responses and nowhere near the thousands of comments received on the calls for WhatsApp study groups.

One candidate posting for a local CFA study group even changed course after receiving no responses, saying he could start a WhatsApp group.

Have CFA candidates completely abandoned live study groups and real human interaction???

Why you still need live study groups

I grudgingly accepted live study groups when I was a candidate. We didn’t have as much choice but there were a few online options as well. Live study groups seemed terribly inefficient at times but there are still some important reasons to seek out other candidates for live groups.

Maybe I’m just an old-timer but live study groups just seem easier and more natural. The conversation is more focused rather than a bunch of people posting different questions at once. I’ve participated in a few WhatsApp groups and sometimes it can seem like everyone is talking at once. With live study groups, you establish a formal start and stop time and can get a little better focus.

With live study groups you get an immediate answer to your question and don’t have to worry about it getting lost in the streaming feed of questions and answers. You can also get a sense of who in the group has done their reading and which candidate’s answers might not be exactly correct. Every year that I would join a live study group, there was always at least one candidate that wasn’t prepared and his answers did more harm than good.

The most important benefit to a live CFA study group will always be networking. These are going to be your peers right in your local market. Unless you plan on moving to another state after you pass the CFA exams, you are going to want to know these people throughout your career. Even if you move away, many of these people will continue to be great contacts.

How to blend the old and the new

As with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Technology can really help to make things easier but don’t forget the benefits of face-to-face interactions.

Take advantage of the ease of WhatsApp study groups but consider a short meetup of a few local candidates in the group. Use this time in a live study group to go over more difficult sections and review any questionable answers you got from the WhatsApp group.

If you can’t put together a live meetup of local candidates, the next best thing is Skype or other video conferencing option. The idea here is to limit the number of candidates to less than seven candidates so everyone gets the chance to participate.

I would love to hear from some of the millennials in the group about their view on live study groups and WhatsApp. Maybe I just haven’t been exposed to WhatsApp groups enough to really get a feel for them. Have you found them easier to manage that live study groups? How about the advantages and disadvantages of each?

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

Getting a Job Before or After the CFA Exams

With just 14 weeks before the exam, most candidates are getting started on their study schedule. Looking over the massive stack of books and study notes, it’s easy to get discouraged so I thought I would address one of the top issues on everyone’s mind: Will the CFA get me a job?

We’ve covered the question a couple of times in the past from different angles but it always helps to refresh the information and remind candidates that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Turns out, there may be light inside the tunnel as well. That’s because just studying for the CFA exams helps show employers that you value continuing education and professionalism, that you’re not afraid to sacrifice a little time to be a better analyst.

I am not going to lie and tell you that the CFA designation is your ticket to any job you want. It will help but you’ll still have to show that you’re qualified and compete against sometimes hundreds of other jobseekers. The CFA is primarily going to help you in three ways:

  • Improve the way you are perceived by employers. Few think that the designation is an easy stamp on your resume and analysts generally have a good reputation in the industry. Studying for the exams is going to help show your dedication and potential. Don’t get overconfident but build that sense of dedication into your pitch. Let people know that you aren’t afraid to put in the work to be an asset to your employer.
  • Improve your skill set. So many focus on the reputational benefits of the designation that a lot of candidates overlook the fact that they are learning some great material. If you are not currently working in the industry, use the material in the curriculum to develop your own sample reports. Put in the time to make them professional quality and have a mentor look it over for critique. If you can’t get formal experience from a previous job, it’s the next best thing.
  • Offer networking opportunities. Be active in your local CFA society and the job opportunities will come. You first need to know what kind of job you want and how your qualifications stack up but once you’ve got this down you can really start targeting contacts. Before rushing into a conversation about a specific job, talk to people about a related topic. Demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the topic through the conversation. More often than not, if the person is aware of the job opening, they will bring the subject up themselves. If they don’t, send an email afterwards thanking them for the conversation and saying that you would like to talk about an opportunity you found with their company.

Know What You Want and Your Qualifications

It all starts with knowing exactly what type of job you want, in which asset class and in which sector or industry. Your answer can be a little more general starting out but you do need a clear vision for your future. Employers want someone with focus and that will bust their butt to achieve a vision.

Don’t just assume you know what you want. Talk to different people within your professional network, preferably people with that job. This is going to do two things, help you really decide if it is the job for you and help you establish a connection with someone that might be able to help.

Honestly evaluate your qualifications for a position. Just because you are working towards the CFA designation does not mean you are above experience requirements for a job. Again, if you have no experience then you need to put in the time to develop informal experience through your own projects.

Persistence

Getting the right job should take months and should not be easy, unless you have already built up a stellar network and credentials. Spend some time to understand the different roles within the industry and the jobs in which you might be happy. You are going to be spending a lot of time doing this job, upwards of 50 – 70 hours a week in the beginning, so you need to be happy doing it just as much as you need to be good at it.

It isn’t quite as hard to get a job in the industry as it was a few years ago but it is still competitive. Don’t be discouraged if the first few interviews do not land you an offer. It may turn out that taking an earlier offer means you wouldn’t have gotten that dream job that you land in the following week.

Good luck with the job hunt and with your CFA studies.

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

The Ultimate Guide to the CFA Exam

I talked to a candidate the other day that was a big fan of the Finquiz blog but had one complaint…there is just so much posted that it’s difficult for new readers to look at everything.

I heard him loud and clear and decided to post this roundup of some of the best posts we’ve ever written on the blog. Some of the posts are specific to different levels of the exams but most will apply to all candidates. The posts cover the range of things you’ll need to be successful on the exams from basic strategy to general how-to and motivational.

Where to Start

Our basic strategy posts are always a good start when first coming to the blog. I usually update these posts every couple of years but the basic strategy for passing each of the exams does not change much. I posted a basic strategy for passing the exams in general that is a great overview to get you started.

For passing specific levels of the CFA exams, check out our strategy on passing:

Our most popular posts over the last year have been those detailing the changes to the 2015 CFA curriculum. This year, the curriculum has undergone the most drastic changes I’ve ever seen in more than six years. Not only have readings been added, deleted and modified but the topic weights in the exams have changed. Different topic weights mean a different study strategy because you’re more likely to see questions from different topics than you saw in previous years.

Check out the changes to the 2015 CFA Level I Curriculum
Check out the changes to the 2015 CFA Level II Curriculum
Check out the changes to the 2015 CFA Level III Curriculum

Most Common Candidate Questions

There are some questions that every candidate has and they are the most often we get here at FinQuiz. Below are some of the posts I’ve written to address your most common questions about the CFA.

Probably the most popular question surrounds the idea of using the CFA designation to get a job. A lot of candidates incorrectly assume that the exams and the designation is a golden ticket to any job they want. Nearly 11,000 candidates have viewed our post, “I’ve passed the CFA Level 1 Exam, Why don’t I have a job?” You can certainly leverage your CFA progress into getting a job and it will help but you have to follow traditional steps like networking and outreach.

Candidates are always asking which CFA exam is the most difficult. I fully understand the question since I asked it myself but does it really matter? You have to take all three exams anyway but I guess it helps to know what is coming in each exam. For me, it was the second exam but many have more difficulty with the third exam.

After the exams each year, I often get a lot of questions about the passing score. The CFA Institute does not publish the minimum passing score needed but there are guidelines you can use. There is also one key trick that I use to work my scores into a personalized study strategy.

General Advice on How to Pass the Exams

Many of our most popular posts are those that offer general advice that covers passing all three exams. Many of these posts address emotional and mental roadblocks to passing the CFA exams.

I showed candidates how to remember 90% of what they studied in one of our very first posts, viewed by nearly 8,000 candidates. Active learning techniques are not as easy as passively reading the curriculum but they are an absolute must for your exam prep. Another post on active learning included some specific action steps that you can follow to pass the exams.

Read this if you absolutely must pass the CFA exams! This was a short post but included four of the most important points to passing the exams and sums up the key things to remember.

Another of our first posts revealed the person that is most likely to keep you from passing the CFA exams. Resist the temptation to second-guess your commitment to being a better professional and follow these steps to stay on the right path.

I offered a tortoise and hare study plan for passing the exams a couple of years ago and candidates really appreciated the two different perspectives. I prefer the slow-and-steady approach to studying but some like a short-and-sweet approach.

Motivational

Some of the posts that I have had the most fun writing are those where I talk directly to candidates about the exams and help them get through this tough challenge.

Having passed the CFA Level III exam more than three years ago, there are things I wish I could do differently and things I wish I knew before starting the CFA exams.

Easily my favorite post was written when proctoring a mock exam in 2012. I realized that there is an overlooked benefit to the CFA exams that most people don’t realize. The CFA exams are truly the great equalizer in our industry and give everyone the opportunity to succeed.

If you’re looking for a specific topic or idea, remember that you can use the search box at the top-right of the screen to find posts. Check out the Popular Posts on the right-side of the screen for more of our most recommended articles.

Just a few weeks until the 2015 CFA Exam Study Season kicks into full gear, get ready!

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

Your Most Frequent Questions on the CFA Exams

It’s always around this time that I see an increase in questions from candidates. Six weeks to the exam and everyone is second-guessing their readiness to face that 6-hour marathon. I decided to use this post to review five of the most frequent questions I get and some previous posts to address them. Click through the text to be redirected to specific posts on the topics.

If you’ve been a regular follower of the blog, you might have seen some of the posts before but it might help to refresh on the ideas or suggestions. I’m always open to hearing your recommendations and thoughts so use the comment section below if you think I missed anything.

Five most common questions by candidates

Basic strategies for each of the exams is always a popular subject. The format for each exam varies a little and you need to go into the test knowing what to expect. Besides insight on the format, our basic strategies cover the relative point importance on the topic areas and strategies for studying.

Click on the links below for basic strategy on each exam. The posts were written ahead of the 2012 exam but the formats and strategy have not changed. There are a few changes to the actual curriculum but that won’t change how you approach the tests.

CFA Level 1 Basic Strategy
CFA Level 2 Basic Strategy
CFA Level 3 Basic Strategy

The intense quantity and complexity of formulas is always a sticking point for candidates, especially on the second exam. While the formulas on each exam vary, the way you study for them is consistent. One of the most popular posts on the blog explains the difference between active and passive learning. It may not be as easy as sitting back and reading through the material but actively working through problems and flashcards is the best way to learn the material.

Speaking of flashcards, a recent post on how (and why) to make your own flashcards offers good insight on remembering the formulas. Flashcards were a core resource when I was studying for the exams. They can be carried anywhere and you can use them when you’ve just got a couple of minutes free. Absolutely essential for learning the tough formulas and processes.

No matter what you are doing in life, there never seems to be enough time. Studying for the CFA exams is no different and time management is one of the top questions by candidates. Whether you are a full-time student or have a family and a 9-to-5 job, you’ll need to find ways to effectively use limited time.

Part of this comes from effective time management and moving your schedule around to find blocks of study time but another important idea is using your time responsibly and prioritizing.

The most exam specific question I get is how to approach the level 3 essay section. I loved the morning section when I took the third exam because it is the only group of questions where the Institute actually gives you the questions and answers to previous exams. The morning essays can be extremely easy points if you work through prior exams, or they can be a frustrating mess of lost confidence if you don’t.

We have worked through 14 prior essay questions going all the way back to the 2009 exam. The individual and institutional portfolio questions usually have similar formats across years so be sure to study those and how to approach them. The post linked here is our review of last year’s individual portfolio management question. Click on “Level III” at the top of the blog and scroll through to review the posts on the other essay questions.

Getting a job after earning the designation or even while you are studying is always a top concern for candidates. While I explain in one post that the designation will NOT get you a job by itself, it is an important step in your career as a professional. Instead of relying on the charter to get you a job, follow the advice in another post on how to stand out from the other applicants and get the job you really want.

Have a question about the exams? Send me an email or use the comment section below.

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

Making Flashcards for CFA Success

Every year while I was studying for the CFA exams, I would see candidates at the mock exams and at study groups pulling out their shiny new flashcards. The cards were impressive, detailed with problems and answers and professionally done by prep providers. And every year I saw candidates continue to struggle with the concepts written on their cards because they did not understand them.

One of the best resources for CFA exam preparation is flash cards but not the ones prepared for you. For real exam success, follow the process below to make your own cards.

Your fourth-grade teacher had a secret

Remember getting in trouble in grade school and having to write repetitive sentences on the chalkboard? Ok, maybe many of you don’t but I got in trouble a lot and was perpetually doing math problems and grammar exercises out after class.

Years later, I realized getting in trouble so much actually helped me succeed academically. Writing out about a million math problems over the course of a couple of years virtually guaranteed that I could do those problems from memory years later. Our brains are wired to learn by repetition. Writing something repetitively makes new neural connections and commits information to memory.

And this is why those prepared flash cards will never be as great a resource as writing your own cards. Writing out a problem that covers a Learning Outcome Statement is a long way to memorizing the material.

Making your flashcards is pretty easy but there are a few things to remember. I would try to work through the curriculum once before composing any flash cards. On the second time through, you will have a better sense for the difficult topics and where you need more work. Putting flashcards together on the first read through the curriculum is going to eat up a lot of time on material that you would have gotten without the cards.

Writing your cards, do not simply write out an equation to solve. Cards should be like mini-exam questions with information on a specific scenario. Write out a short story with data that will be needed to solve a problem. You might even try putting in unnecessary information as will be done on the exams. Then on the reverse side of the card, work through the problem completely. Write out every step and every calculation. That will help you learn off your cards instead of constantly referring back to the curriculum if you are confused on how the solution came out.

Don’t think your flash cards are a static learning tool. As you progress, you may want to put some aside that you’ve mastered or make more cards on other topics. After several runs through your cards, you may even try re-writing the ones that are still giving you problems for a little repetitive exercise.

Flash cards cannot be your only resource ahead of the exams but you certainly cannot neglect them. Not only will the cards help you focus on tough material and are a good source of repetitive-type learning, they are a great resource for time management. You can carry your cards with you and run through them anytime you have a couple of free minutes. Those extra few study sessions can add up to a lot of extra time every week.

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:12 pm

Your Nine Week Study Plan to Pass the CFA Exams

Just two months are left to study for the 2014 CFA exam and most of you are probably wondering where the time went. Even starting early, an impending sense of dread always came over me about this time of year when I was taking the exams. Whether you have 300 hours or just 30 hours under your belt by now, these last two months are the time you need to focus your time and make sure you’re ready for June 7th.

From Quantity to Quality

Most of us are die-hard numbers people so it easier to put things in quantitative terms. We talk about 300 hours or 70% needed to pass. While this may be convenient, it isn’t necessarily the only way to prepare for the exam.

All the time spent studying won’t help you if you are not comfortable with the material going into the exam. Candidates get so focused on scoring high enough to pass the exams that they forget the reason for the exams in the first place, to master the material. Instead of placing some arbitrary amount of time on study, focus on trying to be able to explain the material in your own words and how it applies to analysis and asset management.

Where your time counts

We’ve talked a lot about core topics to the exams but they are even more important as the exam draws near.  While you can’t afford to neglect any part of the curriculum, there are some topic areas that will make or break your score.

Ethics, Financial Reporting & Analysis, Equity Investments and Fixed Income account for a strong share of the points across all three exams. The four topics may account for between a third and 80% of your exam score. Beyond that, you will need a strong concept of the material in the four topics to be able to understand more detailed material in later exams.

Getting max points in these core topics means a lot of wiggle room across the other six topics.

cfa topic weights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An important note here is that if you are going to be spending a lot of time on these four topics, you need to do it with different resources. Reading the same thing over and over again is just going to lead to burnout.

Resources for the finish line

When I talk about different resources, I mean ways to study the curriculum whether different media or different sources. These might include the curriculum, condensed study notes, flash cards, question banks, videos or your own personal notes.

  • Using different resources helps avoid burnout by not repeating the exact same material.
  • Using different resources also helps to find the one with which you learn best.
  • Different resources can help provide different perspectives on the material.

Reviewing two study sessions a week

Covering two study sessions a week means you can cover nearly every topic and still have a week left for an intensive review. There are two ways to approach this, you can either cover 16 separate study sessions or you can cover some of the core topics multiple times. It really depends on how comfortable you are with some of the secondary topics and how well you know the core topics.

I always liked alternating study sessions when I did my two per week reviews. Using Ethics and FRA as an example, a week might look something like:

Sunday: Read through condensed notes for the Ethics material and spend an hour on practice problems

Monday: Read through condensed notes for FRA and spend an hour on practice problems

Tuesday: Review each LOS for Ethics, highlighting key concepts and re-reading the sections in which I haven’t quite mastered

Wednesday: Review each LOS for FRA, highlighting key concepts and re-reading the sections in which I haven’t quite mastered

Thursday: Review flash cards for Ethics and spend two hours on practice problems

Friday: Review flash cards for FRA and spend two hours on practice problems

It’s a pretty intense schedule but can be flexible for the number of days and hours you have available. Alternating study sessions helped me avoid burnout trying to cram consecutive days on one topic. Notice I also use different resources through the week so I am getting different perspectives on the material. Practice problems are an extremely effective resource at this point so I tried to include them nearly every day.

Do this up to the last week and then do an intensive review of the curriculum as a review. Plan on giving yourself a day or two to relax before the exam and plan your test day.

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:10 pm

Three Reasons Why You Don’t Have Time to Study

There are just 13 weeks left to the CFA exam and candidates everywhere are getting frantic. Sometimes no matter how early you start or how well you plan out your studies, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. How many times have you gotten to the end of the week and realized there was no way you were going to get through as much material as you hoped?

Now, another question, how many times have you checked the news, email or stock quotes while you were studying?

While the title of this post claims five reasons why you don’t seem to have enough study time, it really comes down to one – distractions. If you study like I did when I was a candidate, probably spend about half the time devoted to studying as you think you do. The rest of your ‘study schedule’ is filled with digressions and meaningless tasks as a way to procrastinate.

With that in mind, on to the four biggest problems to your study schedule and how you can solve them.

  • Disable your internet connection and unplug the television

This was the biggest distraction for me. Most of my studying was through study notes and question banks, available on my computer. It was just too easy to click over to news, blog sites, email or a hundred other things whenever the inclination hit. You start off justifying this as, “Oh, I have studied for an hour and I need a short break,” but you end up spending way more time surfing the net than originally intended. Worse yet, you end up taking these ‘study breaks’ more frequently.

The television is just as bad. Do you study with the TV on? I did occasionally and rarely met my study goals when I did. The material in the CFA curriculum can be extremely complex and detailed. Do you really think you can master the curriculum and still follow what is happening on that episode of 24? Your eyes are drawn to movement, it is just how we are wired and any kind of peripheral movement is going to distract you.

  • Turn off your cell phone

Unless you are on-call for your job or expecting to hear from the lottery commission that you won $10 million dollars, you really need to turn off the cell phone. With text messages, internet and phone calls (yes, phones are still actually used for talking as well) these things easily take the number two spot for biggest distraction. You can tell yourself that you won’t answer your texts and set it on silent all you want but the temptation is still going to be there. You’ll peak once and then will be drawn into 30 minutes of ridiculous emoticons and chatting.

  • Do something nice for the family, and yourself

My respect goes out to all the candidates with kids. It’s tough and you’re probably just going to have to resolve not to sleep for the next three years. If you are studying at home, then you are not really studying. You are trying to study between tying shoe-laces, cooking lunch, kissing boo-boos and resolving fights over who is kicking whom.

Once a week, offer a fun day at the water park/mall/museum/fill-in-the-blank. It may cost a little more but your time is money and you are just wasting time if you think you can study while there are three other people demanding your attention. Juggling family and studying for the CFA is one of the most difficult problems for many. Put it in perspective, it is only 4-5 months a year for three years.

  • Start a diet

This was another tough one for me. Not being on a diet but the constant temptation to break from studying to go get a snack. It doesn’t matter that you are not hungry and like other distractions, that small snack becomes a 30-minute or more digression and you don’t know where the time went.

The easiest answer to distractions is to go somewhere private to study. Most libraries usually have private study rooms though it may be difficult to reserve one for more than a couple of hours. Besides having to spend the travel time to get to the library, or another private location, is that it just isn’t always possible to go somewhere else to study.

When you can’t get out of the house to study, remember the major sources of distractions and do everything you can to avoid them.

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

Last updated: January 23, 2017 at 8:29 am

Your 2014 CFA Study Plan

This is it! January is upon us and I can hear the pencils sharpening in preparation for the 2014 CFA exams. Ok, probably not pencils but I hear the laptops whirring to life and we’ve just five short months left to test day.

We won’t be posting a weekly review of the study sessions like we did last year but most are still relevant for this year’s exam. The study session reviews covered each topic over 18 weeks starting in January and starting with the ethics material.

Make sure you check our post on changes to the Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) for each exam so you can focus on the material that could appear on this year’s exams. We posted the changes to the CFA Level I and Level III exam in August and the changes to the CFA Level II exam in September.

22 Weeks of Good Fun Studyin’

You might be tempted to give yourself another couple of weeks vacation and start studying with a nice round number like twenty weeks, but you’ll need every hour if you are going to pass one of the hardest professional exams out there. Spending about 300 hours over 22 weeks means you’ll still have to dedicate between 13 and 14 hours a week.

I get a lot of questions each year about how to study the curriculum to prepare for the exams. My best answer is…yes, study! It’s not quite the answer expected but the simplest answer could also be the best. We’ve gone through different methods of studying here on the blog, looked at the difference between active and passive studying and talked about the topic weights on the exams. The most overlooked tip though is that candidates need to worry less about how to study and get to studying. Studying the curriculum does not mean putting a plan together that gets you through the material once before exam day, you need to be prepared and that means committing the material to long-term memory.

Committing the material to long-term memory means reviewing it multiple times and in multiple forms. Since we still want to finish early enough to review the more important topics and focus on mock exams, you’ll need to start as soon as possible. The plan below isn’t complicated but it is intense. It’ll be tough but you’ll review the material enough times that it will be seared into your brain well after the test has come and gone.

The plan begins each week with reading the curriculum for the next study session (1-18) and completing all the blue-box and end-of-chapter questions.

The following week, you read the curriculum for a new study session and review the previous study session through the use of condensed study notes. Beyond reviewing the study guide for the previous session, you need to do some testbank practice problems to reinforce the material.

In the third week, review the individual LOS for the study session and write up flash cards for the concepts that you still haven’t mastered. After 20 weeks, you will have reviewed each study session three weeks each and done several rounds of practice problems. Reading the curriculum for a new study session each week will take the majority of your time but try to fit in the reviews and problems as well.

Starting in week 18, try to complete two full-size practice exams each week. Whether formal mock exams or just a 120 questions from test banks, try to do these in the approximate percentages for each topic area. This should give you a good idea of the topic areas in which you need more work.

By week 21, you are going to be tired of anything CFA-related and will deserve a break. You won’t have the luxury of completely relaxing but just review your flash cards for an hour each day.

Your final week is an intensive review. Take the week off from work if you can and treat studying like it was your full-time occupation. Eight hours a day should give you enough time to review two study sessions a day and work a full-length exam.

By now, the practice exams are only partially to clue you in on your weak points but also help to get you into the mental preparedness of handling a six-hour exam. Complete them as you would the actual exam, in two 3-hour segments and in a relatively quite setting.

Go over the curriculum that many times and I have no doubt you will go into the exam fully confident in your mastery of the material. Make sure you follow our last minute checklist for preparing for the exam, available by clicking here.

And good luck on the exam, it’ll be here before you know it.

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

Top 5 CFA Exam Posts from 2013

As we wind up another year on the blog, I thought I would run through the most popular posts over the last twelve months. Most popular does not necessarily mean best or most useful, I’ll need your help in finding those. I would like to think that the most popular are such because they were passed around and read frequently, a result of them being useful as well.

While the three posts describing LOS changes to each exam were all very well read, I’ve excluded them from the list. It doesn’t do us much good to review what LOS changes were made last year but we’ll get the list of next year’s changes out soon.

February 8th Are you ready for the June CFA exam, have you started yet?

I did a quick poll on LinkedIn to see where candidates were at in their study schedule. As of early February, 16% of candidates had finished at least 60% of the curriculum while 56% had not seen more than 20% of the material. It was an informal poll and there were questions unanswered but there were some lessons to be learned. Don’t count on being able to skim through the material once and do well on the exam, most brains just don’t work like that. Most need to see something several times before it is committed to long-term memory.

December 2ndThe passing score on the CFA exams and how to use it

The actual score or percentage needed to pass the exams is never released but it remains a popular topic for candidates. We know that no candidate has ever failed with a score of 70% or above, so that has always served as a good target. We also know that nearly half of all candidates fail their exam in any given year, which can help to gauge your own progress anecdotally against the rest of the herd.

The 70% target also offers a sober reminder that the exams are more than just a set of multiple-choice questions or essays, it is a gauge of your professional knowledge. Would you trust someone that scored less than two-thirds on their professional exams to handle your money?

January 4thThe Tortoise and the Hare study plan for the CFA exams

I’m always amazed how late some candidates choose to start studying for the exam. While I prefer a slow-and-steady approach to studying, I recognize that some work better under pressure and prefer a later start. In this post, I present two study plans – one for the tortoise and one for the hare.

Even the tortoise study plan, with 20 weeks and 15 hours per week, may be too demanding and I normally started much earlier than this. Still, I think it provides a realistic goal of one study session per week and two weeks of review.

The hare’s study plan is only for those that can clear their schedule completely and devote 30 hours a week over the last nine weeks before the exams. This would be nearly impossible for most candidates but maybe just the right amount of pressure for some.

May 17thAre the actual exam questions easier or harder than mock exams or practice problems

As important as the practice problems are to passing the exam, I am not surprised that this post was widely read. Doing hours of practice problems is probably not your preferred choice of study method but it is probably the best way to spend your time. It helps to gauge your understanding of the curriculum and gets you ready to handle the 6-hour marathon that is the CFA exam.

Whether the practice problems or mocks are easier or harder than the actual exams, you need to do enough of them to build a confidence interval around your score. This allows you to guide your studying until your interval range encompasses that all-important 70% score.

May 28thI’ve passed the CFA Level 1, why don’t I have a job

Using the designation to get a job is easily the most popular forum topic, so it’s given that this would be the most popular post of the year. Whether you’ve already got a job and are looking to move up or you think the exams will get your foot in the door, it can be equally frustrating when it doesn’t all fall into place.

I can tell you that the CFA designation and the knowledge you will gain from the curriculum will help you succeed in the industry. It is one of the strongest and most respected bodies of knowledge in the industry and your perseverance does count for something. I can also tell you that you will still have to fight for the job you want. Use the same perseverance and hard work you put into the curriculum to get your foot in the door and you will not be disappointed.

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

Last updated: January 23, 2017 at 8:28 am

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

The Great CFA Problem Set Challenge

Each year, thousands of candidates take the CFA exams and I get a lot of emails from those with good outcomes and those with outcomes that were not so great. One thing always seems to separate the passing candidates from those in one of the fail bands, practice problems.

Now it felt like I did a million practice problems and problem sets every year that I took the exam but the average I get from most passing candidates seems to be around 900 problems. Yes, of the candidates that tell me they passed, the average number of practice problems completed is around 900. Of those in the fail bands, it seems the average is just under 500 problems.

Not a formal study and probably some biases in the data (you tell me which ones), but there is definitely a difference. It doesn’t take any leap of imagination to figure it out. Practice makes perfect, right? 900 practice problems is about five full exams worth of problems. If you can do this many practice problems, learning from your mistakes, then you should have picked up enough to get more than two-thirds on the actual exam. Of course, learning from your mistakes is important. Sitting there getting 30% on each round of practice problems without reviewing the answers isn’t going to help anyone, but that’s another topic.

Your challenge for the next exam!


My challenge to you is this, for the next exam, do 1,440 practice problems. That’s about 8 full-length tests and more than 1.5 times the average number reported to me by successful candidates. It may seem like a lot but its still less than half the number of practice problems in the Finquiz Web-based Test Banks. For the first four, do not worry too much about your score. Do the practice problems and review any incorrect answers. Make sure you review the questions that you guessed correctly as well because you may not be as lucky the next time around.

After your first four exams, start keeping track of your overall score and your percentage score within each topic area. Plan out your study schedule so you finish the last set of practice problems approximately two weeks before the exam.

If you finish the last problems with an average score of at least 75% over the last 360 questions (2 full exams), then you can relax and just do some maintenance studying up to the exam. I hesitate to talk about an alternative because if you have finished more than 1,400 problems and are not scoring very well then a few more hundred problems are probably not going to help.

You will want to check your average scores in the individual topic areas. If you are scoring less than 60% in any one area then you’ll need to work on it regardless of your overall score, but after 1,440 practice problems I have gotta believe that you are going to be golden for the exam.

I can’t give you any guarantees but if I wanted just one way to assure myself that I would pass the exam, it would be the 1,440 challenge. For you December testers, that’s about 40 problems a day with a week left to the exam. For June testers, you could start in February and do just 96 problems a week.

You will need to do the readings or at least read the study guides to be able to work the practice problems but achieving your 1,440 should be the goal.

That’s it. Seems easier when you can focus on just one goal rather than trying to elaborate on a lengthy and intricate study plan. Work those practice problems, meet your goal and you will not be disappointed!

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:41 pm

Changes to the CFA Level 1 Exam for 2014

The curriculum changes for 2014 CFA exams are now available on the Institute’s website. The changes are important, not only for repeating candidates but also for first-time testers as well.

Obviously, those repeating a level will need to know what material they will see again and what has changed. For the most part, you can use last year’s curriculum to keep the material fresh in your head until the new curriculum is delivered. You will want to check out the changes so you aren’t wasting your time on stuff that won’t appear on next year’s exam.

First-time testers will want to pay attention to changes as well. The Institute doesn’t talk about it but many believe that new readings or LOS have a better chance at showing up on the exam. Briefly skimming the LOS will also help you get an idea of what depth and material the Institute wants you to know.

A Tale of Two Changes
There are basically two types of changes in the LOS from year to year. There are always minor revisions to wording and some LOS may be split or combined. These aren’t a big deal and most candidates wouldn’t notice the change on the test itself.

The biggest changes are in the dropped or added LOS due to changes in the curriculum readings.

Every year presents some changes to the curriculum at all three levels, but rarely do they change a great deal. A complete list of LOS changes are available for each level of the CFA exams on the FinQuiz website. Looking through the list at least once is an absolute MUST for all candidates. Whether the Institute wants a different direction in a topic area or just wants to update the material, a change in readings is a big deal.

2014 Level 1 Changes
The level 1 curriculum and LOS didn’t change much from 2013 to 2014. There are the perennial wording changes with the readings remaining exactly the same.

The requirement to determining the business cycle phase based on an economic indicator has been removed from economics.

The LOS requiring candidates to describe DC and DB pension plans has been moved from reading 32 to reading 42.

LOS 34 has been added to: Describe reasons for investors to assess the quality of cash flow statements.

The biggest change in the coming year’s curriculum is to the fixed-income section. Readings by Frank Fabozzi CFA, a long-time contributor, have been replaced with new readings. The old readings 52-58 have been replaced with the new readings below:

Reading 52 Fixed- Income Securities: Defining Elements
Reading 53 Fixed-Income Markets: Issuance, Trading, and Funding
Reading 54 introduction to Fixed-Income Valuation
Reading 55 Understanding Fixed-Income Risk and Return

All the LOS associated with readings 52 through 59 from last year have changed along with the readings. The new Fixed-income material is covered in reading 52-56.

Reading 57, Derivatives Markets and Instruments has been revised but remains largely the same.

Reading 67, Investing in Commodities has been dropped from the Alternative Investments topic readings, leaving only the introduction material in study session 18.

Make sure you put in the time to cover the new fixed-income material. Not only will it help to set you up for the points in level 2 and 3, but it may be a focus in this year’s level 1 exam.

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

Last updated: July 18, 2016 at 16:25 pm