I was always impressed by fellow CFA candidates managing to study for the exams while also making time for their families. I worked throughout the three years, but was only married just after the level II exam. I didn’t have to face disappointed children each weekend when I would retreat to my office to study.
Then again, I was also a little jealous of the candidates still in college that seemingly had all the time in the world to study. The fact is, we all have social lives that are going to be vying for attention during the process. Some people have a greater demand from others (wife & kids), but we all need to find that happy medium.
Two issues are important though, one is being around someone who is going to be supportive of your goals and willing to sacrifice a little for what you need. Finding your ‘soulmate’ and keeping friendships is important, but those true friends or partners are going to be there through the tough times as well. If they expect you to put aside your goals for the sake of a little extra time now, expect to do that for the rest of your life and never achieve what you need.
The other, more important issue, is spending time with those that will support you and will sacrifice a little time for your needs. This doesn’t mean completely neglect them for the next three years while you are studying. Here, you are going to need to make sacrifices as well. Whereas before I was married, I could study for the exam any time of day, during the level III exam I rearranged my study hours to late night or early mornings on the weekend. Waking up at 7am on Saturday is no fun, but it can get you a couple of extra hours. You may also try starting the curriculum earlier in the year. Starting a couple of months earlier lets you spread your time out to maybe 5-10 hours per week instead of cramming everything into the last few months.
As I’ve recommended in a prior post, encouraging the family to get involved in their own extracurricular activities can grab another few hours of study time per week as well. You may also need to study somewhere other than home. A wife or friends can understand if you need a little quiet time to study, kids won’t. Little Johnny will understand that mommy is at work, but may not understand if she is at home but cannot play right now.
The old cliché of ‘quality’ time is important here. Just as spending time interacting with your friends and family in a meaningful way justifies fewer total hours with them, you need to be focusing your study time in a meaningful way. I know the ‘purist’ route is to rely on the official curriculum but, in my experience, it is just too long. I could work through study guides at least twice in the amount of time it usually took to get through the curriculum books. That, combined with the fact that the curriculum is extremely dry (academic) at points, and I never made it entirely through the curriculum books for any of the three levels.
Studying for the CFA exams does not mean the end of your social world. Even the most committed candidate probably doesn’t need more than about 15 hours a week studying. Juggling a social life and the CFA might be a little harder for some, but it just means keeping a strict schedule and using the best resources possible.
Wednesday, we’ll cover the capital market/portfolio management section of the level II and look at the economics essay question in last year’s level III exam. ‘til then, happy studyin’.
Joseph Hogue, CFA