A Schedule for the Last Month before the CFA Exams

There are so many variables to figure out a schedule, I hesitate to post this but I’m getting a lot of emails asking about what might work so I’ll try to get the basic idea down.

If you have been studying for a few months and are fairly confident of your preparation, you may not need to change anything this last month.

Just remember to work those practice exams, preferably at least one per week, to see in which topic areas you need more studying.

Coming down to the wire, it’s easy to let fear get the upper hand and sabotage your chances. We looked at how fear and our own anxiety can sabotage candidates in a previous post.

Many candidates get nervous and think they need to change up their schedule this last month and end up getting burned out.

If you’ve been studying responsibly, don’t freak out, just stay on the path.
If you haven’t spent as much time studying as you should, you may need to pick it up a bit over the next four weeks. If there is any way you can take time off work, you may want to do so over the last week before the exam.

I posted a ‘last week’ schedule about a month ago that describes what I did before each exam.

More than time spent studying, the important measure for exam preparation is practice tests and the number of times you have been through the material.

Few people can commit material to long-term memory with just one or two reviews. I always tried to get through the curriculum a minimum of four or five times before the CFA exams.

This doesn’t necessarily mean reading the official CFA Institute books or even provider study guides more than a couple of times.

Try reading the material at least twice but other ‘reviews’ can be accomplished through videos, flash card construction and practice, and summary sheets.

That said, below I will map out the schedule for my last month of studying for the three years I took the CFA exams.

Since I usually started well over six months before the exam, I am going to tweak the schedule a little for someone that may have started later, maybe around February.

This would mean an average of around 160 hours studying (assuming 12.5 hours per week for 13 weeks) and enough time to reach that 250 hours of total studying (an amount I consider an absolute minimum of preparation).

The schedule below is for about 20-35 hours during the first three weeks and a little over 40 hours during the last week. This would get you a little closer to 300 hours of study time, which is the average reported by candidates.

Depending on how quickly you can read or work practice problems, you may need more or less time studying to get through the material a few times.

Week 1-3:
I would try for a minimum of 20 hours each of these three weeks. Each Saturday, I would start the morning with a full practice exam with topic area weighting consistent with the exams.

These are going to show you in which areas you need to study. We’ve covered the ‘core’ material for the exams in prior posts. You need to be scoring a minimum of 80% in these to be confident going into the exam.

If you are not doing well in areas like Ethics, Financial Reporting & Analysis, and Equities (as well as a few others specific to each level), I would concentrate my time here.

Level III candidates absolutely must study and practice the old essay questions, of which we have worked eight on this blog.

Sunday was usually spent reviewing the videos for two or three topic areas, which usually meant around 5 hours.

Though videos are a form of passive learning, and not as effective as practice problems, they are a good way to get the material from a different perspective.

Monday through Thursday usually meant studying summary sheets through lunch each day.

After work, I would spend another three hours reading the study guides and doing end of chapter problems from the official curriculum.

You need to make sure you have worked through all end of chapter and ‘blue-box’ problems in the books. These problems are the most closely related to those you’ll see on the exams.

With 18 study sessions, I usually try covering at least three per week (choosing those ‘core’ areas and those in which I scored lower on the practice exams, hopefully having been scoring high enough on at least 6 study sessions that I could put them aside).

Week 4:
This week, I would always take off from work and study approximately 40-50 hours for the week. Each day would start off with a three-hour practice exam.

After that I would spend another three hours reviewing study guides and doing practice problems for the respective study session. The last two hours or so was usually spent reviewing flash cards or making new cards if I found a particular area or formula in which I needed help.

Each year, about 50% of candidates do not pass their respective exam and this year will be no different.

If you have not prepared sufficiently, you can still avoid showing up in one of those fail bands, but you will need to concentrate and make some sacrifices.

An excess of 100 hours spent studying over the last month may seem like a lot, but spending that time now will save you from having to do it next year.

Wednesday, we’ll look at some of the dividend discount models for the level II CFA exam and question #5 from last year’s level III morning section of the exam.

‘til then, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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