Just four weeks left to the big day for December candidates and I am remembering my own Level I exam with fondness. I took the exam in June 2009 and did fairly well but there were still a few things I wish I had taken care of before the test. Most of these scattered within older posts on the blog but I thought I would compile them here so you don’t have to search.
Do at least 900 practice problems
I can’t think of a better way to prepare for the exam than by doing exam-type questions. From my own experience, along with talking to candidates, 900 practice problems seem to be a pretty good target for understanding the curriculum. Do at least 360 of these in 180-question blocks to simulate a full exam. Make sure you are tracking your performance within the topic areas as well as across the curriculum.
Don’t let the Ethics material surprise you
Ok, this is more of a goal than a checklist item but it is more important than you know. Everyone thinks they know ethics until they take the test. The Institute is legendary for writing questions and answer choices that have you second-guessing yourself. The material is worth 15% of your score and a big part of the other exams so you need to master the topic. The end-of-chapter questions are a good example of how the exam questions will go. If possible, I would recommend getting other year’s texts and doing the questions in those as well (ask other candidates or your local society who might have the books).
Studying financial reporting will pay off now and in future
This section and the one on Ethics account for more than a third (35%) of your total score and a big chunk of the other two exams. As a financial analyst, does it surprise you that the topic of Financial Statement Analysis would be a big part of the test? More than just passing the Level I exam, you need to master this basic material to be able to handle the Level II and III material.
Think breadth not depth
Candidates rightly say that the Level I exam is a mile wide and an inch deep while the Level II exam is an inch wide and a mile deep. The exam surprised me for its breadth of material but was actually fairly easing on detail. You really need to master the two sections above, but I would focus on quantity rather than quality for the rest of the curriculum. Make absolutely sure you have a good understanding of all the definitions and the larger concepts.
Note that this changes in Level II where I feel the focus is on a detailed understanding of less breadth.
Check those docs and your test route
How much would it suck to do all that studying and then not be able to take the exam? Nobody believes they will have a problem on test-day but there are always candidates at every site that arrive late or do not have the correct documents. I put together a test-day checklist in a previous post and found here, that includes Institute policies and suggestions for that all important day.
Not a complete to-do list but I think it will get you 80% of the way. Please let us know your own list in the comments below so we can pass them along.
‘til next time, good luck in December.
Joseph Hogue, CFA