A popular question this time of year is whether it is possible, or recommended, to take the Level I exam in December and then the Level II in June.
The short answer is that it is definitely possible, but whether you should or not depends on your own situation.
Reasons not to take the CFA Program exams consecutively December-June
Probably the biggest reason to forgo the December exam is the amount of stress that each exam entails.
The curriculum, and the amount of commensurate studying, is intense and will drain you physically and mentally. Candidates spend, on average, 300 hours studying for each exam.
That means between 15 to 30 weeks of studying, depending on how much time you are able to devote each week.
Taking the December and June exams means around eight months of a tough work-study schedule with almost no breaks.
Depending on your work schedule, taking the December exam may not be realistic.
Many in the financial community see their workload increase significantly towards year-end and would find it difficult to manage the extra 15 hours of studying on top of a 60 hour work week.
Pile this on top of holidays and any family commitments and the December exam just isn’t going to happen for many candidates.
The final reason to skip December’s exam is the simple fact that you really do not need to rush the process.
Even passing the December and June exams is only going to get you the charter one year sooner, at most.
This is especially relevant if you will not have the necessary experience required for the charter by the time you pass the third exam.
Reasons to follow Level I in December with a Level II June
The biggest benefit to following a December exam with the second exam in June is that you will not have to re-learn the level I concepts for the level II curriculum.
The topics do no change much across the three exams, what does change is the level of depth and difficulty in each topic.
The Institute does a good job of making the progression from the more conceptual ideas in Level I to analytical problems in the second level and through to the practical application in the final exam.
Studying for the level II exam after a six-month hiatus from the previous exam means that you are going to spend some time re-learning the concepts from the first exam.
Passing the first exam in December may be important for those graduating college the following May.
Results for the December exam usually come out around the last week of January, meaning May graduates will be able to apply for jobs with an extra boost to their resume.
The most obvious benefit of taking the level I exam in December is the opportunity to earn your charter in less time. As mentioned above, having your charter a year earlier may not be all that important but it will be enough to motivate some into the quicker process.
Is it Worth it?
Since you will not know your December results until late January, you will miss the early bird registration deadline for the June exam.
Registering for June will cost a little more, but it is possible.
Do not delay though because the final deadline for June registration is usually in March.
Given some of the costs of taking the exams back-to-back, I would probably opt not to take the December exam.
My year-end work schedule is significantly more intense and I would have a hard time fitting in the necessary study time.
Mostly though, I started studying for each level around 7-8 months ahead of the exam and this wouldn’t be possible taking the first and second exam just six months apart.
This isn’t to say that it cannot be done.
Many candidates accomplish the task each year and the benefit not having to re-learn the level I concepts for the second exam is a strong plus.
The most important thing is to know the challenges and be ready to confront them.
Know that you will get burnt out and tired and be ready to motivate yourself to push on through to June.
Whatever your decision, we will be here to help with quality resources and tips for the exams.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Joseph Hogue, CFA