Another Year and What Have We Learned?

Every good analyst should make it a habit to regularly assess performance and performance attribution. I know, you just got the results of your exam last week and the last thing you want to think about is performance attribution, but it shouldn’t take much time and its best to do it while everything is still fresh in your mind. Not knowing exactly what you owe your performance to, whether your study program or just plain luck, could set you up for hard times next year.
In your review, you need to be thinking about two things: process and resources. Process is the method or schedule you used to study for the exam. Resources are those materials you used, whether from the Institute or a 3rd party, to learn the curriculum. Below are questions about process and resources that I asked myself after each of the first two exams.
Process

  • How early in the year did I start studying? How intense did I initially plan my schedule (how many hours per week)? Was I able to keep to my schedule and how prepared did I feel approaching the test?
    • I always started extremely early, around October/November, and planned on working through the curriculum at least 4-6 times using different resources. This will seem too early for most but it allows you to take it slow and you won’t  be thrown off when something happens and you can’t study for a week or two. That said, I did often feel burnt out around February so would plan       a vacation for a week to relax.
    • With starting early and spending between 10-15 hours per week studying, I never really feared failing the exam. I knew that I had prepared enough and this helped to alleviate any test anxiety. Do whatever you need to do to go into the test confident in your ability, it will help immensely.
    • I always used a system of read, practice, review, practice. Each week would start with reading the curriculum followed by practice problems done the same day. The next day I would do more practice problems to see what I had retained. I would then review the study guide paying extra attention to sections I had missed in practice. Towards the end of the week I completed another set of practice problems to cement the concepts in my memory.
    • I found that alternating different media worked well. Just reading all the time sets you up to get bored with the material. Using videos, flash cards, and study groups along with readings helps to make the process more dynamic and interesting.
    • Candidates passing their exam report spending about 313 hours studying, slightly more than the 292 study hours reported by those failing the exam. Almost 50% of candidates that sign up for the exam but that end up not sitting for the test say they did so for lack of study time, well above the next highest reason (20%) for health reasons.

Resources

  • How much of the Institute’s curriculum did I use? Was it an efficient use of time?
    • The candidate survey,  conducted each year by the Institute, asks candidates what percentage of  total time was spend on each of the resources. In 2011, candidates reported  spending about 25% of their time reading the official curriculum and almost 30% of their time reading study guides. I probably used the curriculum more than 25% of my total study time, mostly because it is so  much longer than other sources. One problem I saw was that using study guides and the curriculum was difficult because of the length of both. The curriculum is about 3000 pages and some 3rd party study guides are upwards of 1600 pages. This makes it extremely tough to get  through both. The problem is, many candidates rely exclusively on the study guides and miss key points.  FinQuiz provides a good solution to this with their study guides. Just over 400 pages, it supplements the curriculum instead of trying to replace it. This way, candidates get the core information directly from the Institute and refine the important ideas through the study guides.
    • Personally, I always tried to use the official curriculum as much as possible. The blue-box  problems are good practice and fairly close to the level of difficulty on  the exams and the end-of-chapter questions offer a good quantity of  practice. I felt the curriculum flowed more naturally and was easier to understand than some of the LOS-based study guides that jump around a lot. This is why the FinQuiz study guides were designed around the structure of the curriculum, for better readability and to follow the       curriculum more closely.
  • How much time did I spend on 3rd party materials? Were they effective?
    • Candidates are asked which resources were used to prepare for the exam (Institute curriculum, curriculum end-of-chapter problems, Institute mock and sample exams, 3rd party practice exams, 3rd party study guides or review       courses). The survey also asks how well candidates believe that each       resource did to prepare them for the exam. While usage of different       resources varies from about 80% using the Institute mock exam to less       than 10% of candidates forming study groups, the effectiveness of the       resources is scored roughly equally between 75% to 90%.
    • Some people are visual learners while others learn more by hearing the material. Once you understand the environment in which you learn best, you can use those resources as primary methods and other resources as supplemental.

The important thing is to be honest with yourself. Not reviewing your performance or taking a passing score to mean that your preparation was perfect risks repeating bad habits and possibly failing the next level. After reviewing your process and the resources used, make the adjustments needed. Set your goals high but achievable.
Just 10 months until next year’s exam!!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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