CFA Study Tips

CFA L3 Volume 5A frequently asked question in discussion groups relates to how to study for the CFA. Having taken all three levels, I would like to share my perspective.

I enjoy learning, and I don’t mind taking the time I need to understand the material. A bowl of gourmet ice cream is to be enjoyed before it melts, but slowly enough to avoid brain freeze.

When I study for the CFA exam, my objectives are to:

  • Achieve a high level of confidence of scoring 70% on the exam 1
  • Deepen and broaden my knowledge of the field
  • Enjoy the learning process

Strategy:

The learning outcome statements (LOS) are an important tool to scoring well on the exam. Consider the following excerpts from the CFA Institute article, The CFA Program Our Fifth Decade 2 .

“The purpose of the LOS is to enhance candidate learning while guiding examination writers…which helps candidates prepare for the exacting standards of the investment profession.” p 5

“The [exam teams] write examination questions and guideline answers within the bounds of the LOS. The COE views the LOS as a contract with the candidates: If candidates can do what LOS indicate, they should be well prepared for the examinations.” p 5

“To be included on the CFA examination, a question must relate directly to one or more curriculum LOS.” p 7


Taking Notes:

Given these insights, CFA L3 LOS 36.Q Yellow NotesI begin by downloading a list of all learning outcome statements for my current level. At the beginning of a reading, I cut and paste each individual LOS onto one sheet of loose leaf paper. As I work through the reading, I note the answers I find to each LOS on its own sheet until I have finished the reading.

These initial loose-leaf notes are somewhat sloppy, disorganized, and hard to read especially later at final review. So, I reorganize and consolidate them into a permanently bound notebook, no more than one notebook for each curriculum volume. This process of transcribe the original notes doubles as my first review of the reading.CFA L3 LOS 36.Q White Notes

I then begin to work the reading’s practice problems with my notes open, supplementing them where necessary. The practice serves as my second review, and tests whether my notes are adequate for the final review later. You can’t review what you don’t understand, so I want to be sure that I understood the reading before moving on to the next one.

After completing all the readings and practice problems, I take a few days to review all my notes again. Then I rework all the practice problems, but this time with notes closed. I grade my answers and review my notes where needed. I am shooting for 80% or better on each reading. It is time for the final review.

The Final Review:

With less than two months remaining to exam day, I turn my attention to building speed, endurance, and familiarity while testing my retention. I simulate test conditions as much as possible, even to the extent of using a similar table and chair as in the actual exam: narrow, rickety, and uncomfortable.

I pull out the mock exams which I have been accumulating from various sources. At first, I will complete just one 3-hour exam at a sitting. Over the next day or two I grade the exam, review my notes, and rework practice problems where I am still having trouble. I keep track of time and score, but I allow myself more than three hours as needed.

Then with only a few weeks left, I begin to take two full 3-hour exams at a sitting, simulating test day. I then grade, review, and rework practice problems as before. My focus changes to scoring well within the time allotted, and refining my test-taking strategy and technique.

My ultimate goal is to achieve a 90% confidence level of scoring at least 70% overall with 15 minutes to spare in each 3-hour session. Believe me, it takes practice. While the process accelerates as test day approaches, the ideal aim is to peak on test day.

T-Minus-One:

I do not study the day before the exam as this only increases anxiety at a time when confidence is crucial. I drive the route to my exam location to make sure there are no surprises, and I eat lunch where I will eat on test day. I gather everything I will need into a brief case and put it in my car. All systems are “Go“. I relax and enjoy the day; the long months of study are over!

Exam Day:

It is time to put my game face on. I have done everything possible to learn the material. I have a simple strategy to attack the test — it will never know what hit it. I am well prepared for a day of fun competition!

If you have tips which you would like to share, your comments are welcomed.


Footnotes:

  1. Why not put the CFA level-1 quant to use from the start!
  2. Robert R. Johnson, PhD, CFA; Jan R. Squires, DBA, CFA; Peter B. Mackey, CFA; Bobby Lamy, PhD, CFA; The CFA Program Our Fifth Decade. http://www.cfainstitute.org/cfaprogram/Documents/the_cfa_program_our_fifth_decade.pdf

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