Your greatest hurdle preparing for the CFA exams is not going to be your new job, your newborn that wants 100% of your attention, or giving up any semblance of a social life. As cliche as it may be, your biggest challenge for passing the exams is YOU.
You are going to get in the way of earning the charter by being lazy and by letting fear keep you from doing what needs to be done.
Did He Just Call Me Lazy??
By lazy I don’t mean everyone is slothful vagrants, sitting around doing nothing. I mean that it is easy to lose focus and your commitment to the process. We’ve already talked about the effectiveness of active learning and doing practice problems but many will still choose the easy route of simply reading through the curriculum or watching a few videos on the topics. I know because I caught myself doing it every year and had to make myself take the harder route. It’s much easier to relax during the week and ‘plan’ on studying over the weekend.
We’ll talk more about ways to keep your focus in future posts. For now, just remember three years is a miniscule amount of time compared to the big picture. You’ve already chosen the road less traveled, now stick with it and push through to your reward. It’s a tough choice and will get tougher, but it is all worth it!
Stepping on Your own Foot
The subject here is letting your fear keep you from succeeding. Over the three years of studying for the CFA exams, I spent hours on internet forums or wondering to myself if it was worth it to pursue the designation. I’m a fairly confident man and aware of my abilities but every once in a while that self-doubt would creep in and make me question whether to continue. Fortunately, what I discovered early is that this is just my mind playing tricks on me. It’s a tough process and the fear of failure is going to try to keep you down. The cruel irony is that if candidates spent the time studying instead of worrying and searching for ‘is it worth it’ type questions, more would pass the exams.
The important thing is to recognize when this self-doubt is happening. It won’t always come in the form of fear about your preparedness but could be thoughts like:
- Is the CFA designation even worth the trouble?
- When am I ever going to use… (fill in the blank: bond pricing, Black-Scholes, APT, etc.)
- It’s too late this year, I’ll get to it next year.
- I’m too old for the charter.
I’m not saying that pursuing the Chartered Financial Analyst designation is an easy decision or that everyone should do it, but you need to understand the difference between objectively analyzing the cost-benefit of the charter versus fear and self-doubt holding you back. Just understand that these questions are not legitimate reasons for not finishing but just fear manifesting itself. Make the decision to pass the exams and collect your charter, then do not let anything stand in your way!
A few suggestions to wrap it up:
- Surround yourself with a strong support system- Let your friends and family know how difficult the exams are and how important they are to you. When times get tough, their encouragement will help guide you.
- Stay active in study groups and forums- Surrounding yourself with others working toward the same goal helps immensely. There’s strength in numbers!
- Start early- Poor preparation and not having a plan is the quickest way to self doubt. Write down a rigorous study program and stick to it, leaving yourself time for those what-if scenarios.
- Repetition- Knowing that you’ve been through the material a couple of times and can summarize the important points will boost your confidence. While this might be tough to do with the entire curriculum, there are options for condensed versions. FinQuiz offers both a curriculum-based study guide and topic summaries to help you move through the material multiple times and grasp the important stuff.
All for today. As always, I look forward to seeing your comments, suggestions, gripes and grievances.
Joe Hogue, CFA
As an added bonus for reading through my ramblings, I thought the quote below was especially relevant. Any time you can fit in a quote from Rocky has gotta be a good day!
“Your best friend is a guy named Frankie Fear. You see Fear is a fighters best friend you know, it aint nothin to be ashamed of, you see Fear keeps you sharp, it keeps you awake you know what I mean it makes you want to survive, you know what I mean. But the thing is you gotta learn how to control it alright, cause Fear is like this fire alright, and it’s burning deep inside, now if you control it, it’s gonna make you hot! Or if you see if this thing here controls you… it’s going to burn you and everything around you up!”
Rocky Balboa, Rocky V