January brings the unofficial start of the study season for the June CFA exams and every year I am reminded of Aesop’s timeless fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Boasting about his great speed, the hare challenges the tortoise to a race. As the tortoise moves slowly to the finish line, the hare procrastinates setting off with a series of distractions. He sleeps, he eats, he catches the rerun episode of The Simpsons on tv. When he finally gets started, it is too late and the tortoise wins the race.
As incredible as it seems, come April and May, there will still be posts coming up on the forums wondering if it is too late to start studying for the exam. Whether procrastination or just other priorities, there will always be candidates that cannot seem to start studying until late in the year.
While the odds are against the late starters, some people work better under pressure while others prefer a slow-and-steady approach. We’ll present two study plans here, one for the tortoise and one for the hare. Both plans assume close to 300 hours necessary to pass the exams and an unlimited supply of coffee.
Time to exam: 20 weeks
Study time per week: 15 hours
The slow and steady approach, the one we’ll be following for our blog study plan, involves studying one study session each week for 18 weeks. This leaves two weeks before the exam for an intensive review and mock exams. It’s up to you how you divide the 15 hours of studying but it should probably be at least spread over three days. In my own experiment (sample of 1) studying longer than six hours at a time greatly decreases material retention.
In my own study plans, I would usually spend a day or two to read through the curriculum working through a quick set of practice problems at the end of each reading. Then I would read through a condensed study guide on the reading, again working through practice problems. At the end of the week, I would take a longer test using a question bank or a set of practice problems to gauge overall retention. Throwing in other study resources (occasionally, but probably not part of the core) like flashcards, videos and study groups can help keep from getting bored with the routine.
Mock exams are extremely important as a way to test your exam endurance and your ability to recall all the material together. Many candidates simply rely on practice problems after reading each study session and then wonder why they can’t recall the material on the exam. I would start doing at least one six-hour exam each week four weeks before the exam. This helps to get enough mock exams done to get a good idea of how well you are doing within any particular topic area.
The last two weeks are for an intensive review. At this point, you will probably need to work through study guides, practice problems and other condensed resources. There won’t be much time left for reading through the official curriculum.
Time to exam: 9 weeks
Study time per week: 30 hours
With about two months left to the exam, you will need to cover more than two study sessions per week. This will leave the last week for an intensive review and exam prep. You’ll need to study at least five days every week, but should probably try stretching it over six days. The condensed schedule means you have no time for distractions. I would find a 24-hour diner or somewhere you can sit without being bothered for six hours at a time. With this schedule, studying for the exam is your new part-time job and you need to treat it as such.
Other than the time spent per week, there isn’t a great deal different from the other plan. You may want to just skim the official curriculum or skip it all together in favor of condensed study guides. You’ll still want to do all the practice problems and blue-box examples in the curriculum but you don’t have time to wade through 3000+ pages of material. Again, other resources can be used to supplement the core plan but don’t use them as an excuse not to do the reading and practice problems.
The obvious warning here is that we all know what happened to the hare in the fable. It is certainly possible to start later in the season and still do well on the exams, but the schedule leaves little room for error and unforeseen obstacles. Just be careful that you don’t fall asleep before the finish line.
Click here for the FinQuiz Basic Strategy for the CFA Exams.
‘til next week, happy studyin’.
Joseph Hogue, CFA