The, “OMG, I haven’t started studying yet and the Level I exam is in 39 days,” Study Plan

Six weeks left to the CFA exam and you’re still wondering if it would be too early to start studying.
While it wouldn’t be impossible to start studying at this point and still pass the exam, it may be pretty improbable. Most candidates generally need around 300 hours of studying to learn enough of the curriculum to pass the exams. That means 50 hours for each of the next six weeks.
A traditional study plan is out. Instead, we’ll focus on the getting the most points for the time left before the exam. FinQuiz offers the advice below and a 50% discount on study materials with the discount code, “DEC50”
Top Topics
While there is no official minimum score needed to pass, no one with a score of 70% or above has ever failed the exam. Our condensed study schedule means studying the right topics to get to that 70% in the least amount of time.
Ethics, Financial Reporting & Analysis, Equity Investments and Fixed Income make up half of the 18 study sessions (and just over 28 of the 67 readings) but account for 57% of the total points on the exam. If you can focus your studying on these four topics, mastering up to 80% of the curriculum, then you can get by with just over half of the points from the rest of the topic areas.  Further, these topics are generally the focus of the other two levels so establishing a good base in the first exam will make the other two easier.
I would spend about a third of my total study time on the other topics, so for every six hours of studying the core topics you spend three hours studying the other nine study sessions. Corporate Finance, Economics and Alternative Investments are fairly conceptual. Understand the process and reasoning behind the key concepts. Quantitative Methods and Derivatives are a little more quantitative so you need to know the formulas.
We’ve already discussed how to approach the topics in a prior post so just click here for the link. What is important is that you need to hit these four topics constantly and from different perspectives. Reading the curriculum alone isn’t going to do it at this point. Trying to read through the curriculum readings for these four topics enough times to master the curriculum is just going to lead to burnout.  For a well-rounded, last-minute study plan you are going to need to look at the different resources available.
Readers of the blog will know that I like to categorize resources into active versus passive learning. Passive learning resources, where you take in the information through sensory perception like reading or watching, can be a big part of the study plan but the retention is very low. Active learning is where you take a role in the process through doing problems, writing or teaching someone else and has a much higher retention level.
Most study plans can afford to mix passive and active resources about 50/50. You do not have enough time for this though. I would suggest using condensed study guides, a passive learning resource, to get the basic understanding in each topic then spend the majority of studying on active learning resources.
Practice problems and mock exams will be key to passing the exam. First, you need to be able to apply the material to a problem. Second, you need to train your brain to handle the 6-hour exercise. Do not think that the exam is just a test of your knowledge. It will also be a test of your mental stamina.
A mock exam is available on the Institute’s website and is included in your registration. Three practice exams are also available on the FinQuiz site.
I’ve always liked flash cards as a good resource for active learning as well. Make your own cards so you learn while writing them as well as when studying.
A rough plan
You need to construct your study plan around the theme of getting the most points from the least amount of work. This will come from focusing on core topic areas and active learning techniques. Putting together a plan really depends on how much time you can devote. A rough outline might look something like:
Sunday: Read Ethics and do one hour of practice problems
Monday: Read FRA and do one hour of practice problems, plus one half hour of Ethics problems
Tuesday: Read Equity Investments and do an hour of problems, plus ½ hour of Ethics and FRA problems
Wednesday: Read Fixed Income and do an hour of problems, plus ½ hour of problems in previous topics
Thursday: Skim Corp. Finance, Economics and Quant Methods with ½ hour of problems for each
Friday: Read Alternative Investments and Derivatives with ½ hour of problems for each
Saturday: relax, you earned it
After about two or three weeks of this, you should be able to substitute a lot of the reading for just skimming the sections and devote more time to practice problems. Make up a set of flash cards for the concepts and formulas that are giving you difficulty. After the first week, you should be sitting down to at least one mock exam per week to track your progress.
Don’t worry if you haven’t started or haven’t really gotten into the swing of studying yet. You can still pass the exam but will need to dedicate the next six weeks to learning the curriculum.
Don’t give up and good luck,
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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