The Best Vacation You Ever Had

With a little over a month left to the tests, I started to get nostalgic for the bygone days of last-minute cramming for the CFA exams. I always took the last week before the exam off from work to dedicate my time to studying. A 40-hour plus week of mock exams, flash cards and review sheets may not sound like a vacation, but it beats the normal 9-5 routine and the curriculum can be pretty interesting if you let it. My full schedule is described in a prior post and linked here.
Instead of rehashing my own schedule for the last week, I thought I would pass along an idea from a friend in Chicago on how he spent his last week before the exams. I’ve talked to others about their last-week plans, but his yearly ritual wins hands-down.
Instead of staying in Chicago and locking himself away at the library for the six days before the exam, my usual approach, he would hop a flight to San Diego for a real vacation. He still put in the 8-10 hours of studying but spent it relaxing in the park or at the beach. Mornings would start early with a run on the beach at 6am followed by breakfast and studying by 8am. He would study through the day to about 4-5pm, stopping an hour for lunch. After relaxing for a few hours, he would put in another hour or two studying before bed.
Talking through his daily routine, it struck me that it really wasn’t that different from others. Mock exams every other day help to fine-tune the review and focus on those topics where you need the most work. Flash cards and condensed summary sheets help to break up the monotony of practice problems and reading. There are a lot of advantages to going away on a trip though.
First, all your meals are prepared for you so that’s one less thing to worry about or on which to spend time. Your friends and family know you are away so they don’t expect you to go out and party (I had more than a few friends that couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to stay out later during a week off from work when I was studying). Finally, you’ve spent the last five months (more or less) studying in the same place. Spending that last week studying at home as well can be extremely boring.
Of course there are risks to the vacation plan. My friend said he did enjoy a drink or two at night but never gave in to temptation and drank too much. A couple of drinks isn’t going to kill too many brain cells but be careful not to stay out too late. Don’t spend too much time worrying about where you are going to study or what you want to see. Pay a little extra for a nice hotel that is well-centered on the places you want to go. One caveat is to plan on coming back home Thursday to make sure flight cancellations do not keep you from getting home on time.
The idea is to relax and have as much fun as possible over that last week while still hitting the curriculum hard for those last points to put you over. Going into the test with burnout and just ready to get it over with isn’t going to help you pass.
‘til next week, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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