Just few weeks remain to the December CFA level 1 exam and that pounding noise you hear is the sound of your heart beating.
Ok, maybe it’s not so dramatic as that but I certainly had a few sleepless nights heading into the first exam.
The last month before the CFA level 1 exam does not have to be a stressful time.
If you have followed our Level 1 basic strategy and have done the readings then there is only a few things you need to do to prepare.
If you have not yet made it through all the readings at least once, there is still plenty of time to prepare but you’ll have to kick it into high gear.
Must have tools and resources
Instead of measuring your preparedness by the time you have spent studying, you really need to know where you are at in terms of practice problems and mock exams.
Three- or six-hour long practice tests will be your most powerful tool over the next month.
The easiest way to take these is through question banks but you can also make your own through practice problems at the end of the chapters.
I recommend taking at least one six-hour practice test a week, either in one or two sittings.
Even if you have scored pretty well taking tests of individual topic areas, combining all the topics into an exam will help you to measure how well you are retaining the curriculum as a whole.
Your performance on these tests every week will help you plan how much studying you need to do and in which topics.
Remember, you should be targeting at least 70% on each topic area and I would target at least 75% before I set any topic aside to focus on others.
Since time is a factor now, you will also want to focus on notes and other resources. Flash cards are invaluable at this point for getting those last tricky formulas.
I recommend making your own flashcards which will help you remember by writing the material as well as working the problem.
Make sure you write the problem out like it is done in the end of chapter problems, in a short vignette.
Carry your flash cards everywhere and work through as many as you can throughout the day.
FinQuiz study notes are also a good resource to use for getting the most information in a limited amount of time.
The notes are designed to be used in conjunction with the curriculum, so make sure you have read through the curriculum.
One month study plan | Week 1-3
I usually tried to study between 15 to 20 hours a week over the last month.
I worked a full-time job but did not have kids when I was a candidate so your own schedule may differ. I tried to fit studying in six days a week, usually taking one of the weekdays off so I could just relax for a night.
The week would begin with a practice test on Saturday morning with topic area weights according to the Institute.
Pay special attention to your score in core topic areas like: Ethics, Financial Reporting & Analysis, and Equity Investments.
These three topics alone are nearly half your total score and you must do well if you want to pass.
Sunday was spent reviewing one or two topic areas where I needed the most work.
If you work a full day during the week, you are going to be tired during your weekday study so you really need to take advantage of Sundays.
Monday through Thursday studying would involve some curriculum reading but most of my time spent was on condensed study notes, flash cards and practice problems.
When you are working practice problems, it is absolutely imperative that you work through the solutions to the ones you missed and the ones on which you weren’t sure.
Guessing correctly on a practice problem does not mean you will be as lucky on the actual test.
Over the three weeks, I would cover all 18 study sessions.
Pick six study sessions each week, three that you score really well on the practice tests and the three that are giving you the most problem.
This will help balance easy subjects with difficult subjects. You don’t necessarily have to spend an equal amount of time on each study session.
I would spend about 75% of my time on the three difficult ones and 25% on the easier ones.
CFA Exam Preparation | Week 4
I always took the last week off from work to fully commit to the exam.
The CFA curriculum is your job this week and you need to spend a full 40 hours or more.
Plan on taking the Friday before the exam off to relax so you need to fit your study time in the remaining days.
Each day starts with a practice exam, these can be shorter two-hour exams but you should aim for 120 questions.
You can either make the test a mix of all the topic areas or make it a mix of the topic areas you studied the day before.
I usually made my tests a mix of the topics I studied on the previous day or the day before. This is a good way to remind yourself of the information and helps commit it to memory.
After the practice test, I would spend the rest of the day really focusing on the topics where I was having the most difficulty.
You do not have to cover every study session or every topic in the last week.
If you are scoring above 80% in a topic on practice exams then you can probably set it aside and work on another topic.
Mix the day’s study up between practice problems, study notes, flash cards and maybe a little curriculum reading.
Trying to study from one resource all day is just going to put you to sleep and you won’t remember as much as from a more dynamic approach.
Nearly half of the candidates fail their exam each year. That doesn’t mean you have to be one of them.
Using your time wisely over the last month before the exam can mean the difference between passing to the Level 2 exam or ending up in one of the fail bands.
Stay strong, just a few more weeks. Good luck.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA