I took an informal survey of my CFA candidate contacts recently and was pretty happy with the outcome. Of the nine candidates I talked to, most had started studying for the CFA exams sometime between late January and early March.
Candidates reported spending around 10 or 15 hours of studying and had just over 200 hours total on the CFA curriculum.
There were a few outliers in the group. One candidate had started studying in December and had been over the curriculum for more than 400 hours so far. She was very confident she wouldn’t have a problem on the exam.
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Another candidate though was not as confident. He was one of those starting later and had not devoted as much time. He estimated that he had only spent about 150 hours studying and wasn’t quite through the entire curriculum yet.
Asked if I thought he could still pass, I told him that I would not feel confident going into the CFA exams without at least upwards of 250 hours of studying under my belt. To which he replied, “How do I get 100 hours of studying in just three weeks?”
CFA Study-thon Weeks One and Two
Studying 100 hours for the CFA exams, or even more, in three weeks may not be a problem for some candidates. If you can put other classes or responsibilities aside for a few weeks while you cram for the exams, then it doesn’t even amount to a full-time schedule.
Other candidates are not as fortunate. Devoting all your time to the CFA exam isn’t possible when you have a full-time job, a family or a full schedule of college courses.
But you can still get in another 100 hours of studying before the exams, picking up a ton of additional points and maybe putting you over the pass-no pass level.
Many candidates are expecting to take the last week before the exams off to study but would find it hard to take the whole three weeks off work. It is still possible to spend around four hours a day studying over six days a week. This would accumulate 48 hours of study time over the next two weeks.
I wouldn’t recommend you study all seven days of the week. You need time to relax and studying every single day is just going to leave you strained and not retaining information. I would take one of the weekend days off from studying. It may be tempting to take a workday off from studying but it is much more relaxing if you have one day where you don’t have to work or study. You’ll come back to your schedule much more recovered.
We’ve talked about ways to find more time to study for the CFA exams here on the blog before. With just a few weeks left, you will need to find more time and use that time as efficiently as possible.
Start your week with a full-length mock exam or a full set of questions, hitting every topic area from the curriculum. After working through the questions you missed, remember to review the ones where you got lucky guessing, you will review the percentage score in each topic to guide your studying over the week.
If you are consistently scoring less than 50% on any topic area, you will need to go back to the curriculum or summary sheets to review. Even on the non-core topics, scoring less than half of the points available will severely drag your overall score down.
For those topics in which you consistently score above 80%, I would review a one-page summary once or twice a week just to keep the material fresh.
In those topics where you are scoring between 50% and 80%, you will want to work out a schedule of flash cards, summary sheets and practice problems. Time spent on these three resources is about as effective and efficient as you are going to find. Use all three resources and cover a topic area each day, finishing up with a small set of practice problems. Do another set of practice problems on the following day, before you start the new topic area, to make sure you retained the information.
You might have to stretch it a little and get a little less sleep, but studying four hours a day should not be impossible for most people.
Your CFA Last Week Study Plan
Longtime readers of the blog will know that the last week before the exam was my favorite time of the year when I was a candidate. Not only is the excitement of the upcoming test like chugging a keg of coffee, but really devoting the week to the curriculum is a lot like being a professional analyst.
You are going to be spending around half your time as an analyst researching and reading information about your coverage universe. Really digging into the curriculum and studying for eight or ten hours a day is a lot like that and you may be surprised how excited you feel to get started every day.
I’ve covered study schedules for the last week before the CFA exam as well. There are really two key points you want to build into your schedule.
- First, treat your study schedule like a job. If you can take the time off work for that last week then the CFA exam will become your job. Put in at least an eight-hour workday, stopping for a five minute break each hour and half an hour for lunch.
- Second, don’t stay home to study. There are too many distractions at home and you need a more test-like environment. The public library is usually a good place to study since it is fairly quite but has some background noise that will simulate the actual exam noise.
Start each day with an hour or so of practice problems. Too many candidates put practice problems off until later in the day and end up either not having the time or are too tired to really do their best. Do a few sets of practice problems early to review the previous day’s information and to make sure you get them in.
You retain much more information when you use active learnings strategies and practice problems are some of the best.
The rest of the day’s studying will be a lot like your previous schedule, just at a longer interval. Try hitting one or two topics in detail each day and review another one or two topics. You don’t necessarily have to review every study session over that last week but should cover at least 12 to 15 of the sessions.
If you studied for four hours a day, six days a week during the previous two weeks then you’ll need about 52 hours to meet your 100-hour study mark over the week to the exam. That amounts to just under nine hours a day over six days. These will be long days, especially towards the end of each day but you have to stay focused. Just keep telling yourself that it is only a few days to one of the biggest exams of your life.
This is only an example of what you might do to prepare for the 2015 CFA exams over the next three weeks. Your own plan may differ and you may find it easier to do more or less studying. Spending 300 hours isn’t a formal rule for the CFA exams, just an average we’ve seen across successful candidates.
More important than the total time you spend is how well you do on practice and mock exams, so use them as a guide.
The countdown is on! Good Luck!
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA