If you’re waiting for your results, in case you haven’t heard, they’re out on the 24th of July (Level I & II) and 7th August (Level III). But if you’re sitting for the December exam, hopefully you’ve already started your first study session - you still have a decent lead time to exam day, this is prime time to start.
Here are 8 serious mistakes that CFA candidates tend to make - most relevant for Level I candidates but candidates at subsequent levels can be guilty of these as well.
Mistake #1 - Starting prep too late.
Most common among Level I candidates, this is mainly due to underestimating the amount of work needed. Too often I see candidates leaving it till the last month to get started. It’s not that it’s not possible - it’s perfectly possible to start with one month to go and pass Level I. However it either requires a fairly good grounding in finance either by education or work experience or having a very well-advised study plan.
Mistake #2 - Studying too slowly.
When going through the topics, pacing is important. Whenever you start, you should be aiming to complete your first read through the entire syllabus by the time you’re halfway towards the exam date. A common fault is spending too much time with through and detailed note-taking - there is nothing wrong with being thorough but spending adequate time in all areas is essential. If not you’ll find yourself having a very good grounding on your early topics and a rushed, sloppy understanding of others without enough practice questions under your belt.
Mistake #3 - Skipping topics.
When either pressed for time or struggling to understand certain concepts, many candidates are tempted to just skip the topic altogether and hope it doesn’t get too focused on during the exam. This is a mistake for 2 reasons.
You’re quite likely to get a fair weighting in Level I due to the volume of questions in the exam (so actually you’re safest with topic-skipping in Level I from that perspective), but in Levels II and III you can get stuck with a full item-set focusing on a particular concept. If that happens to be a topic you skipped, then woe is you. Woe to the max.
As mentioned in the previous point it’s safest to skip topics in Level I. However I still strongly discourage it as Level I lays the foundation for Level II and III. You need a good understanding of all topics in Level I or your topic-skipping problems will be compounded in the subsequent levels.
Mistake #4 - Not enough practice exams.
Some candidates I know have gone into the exam hall having only managed to do 1 or 2 practice exams. As you may know a significant focus of your preparation should be spent on practice exams - you need to understand the format, type and number of questions you’re up against in order to properly prepare against actual exam questions. I recommend a minimum of 4 practice exams before exam day - well-prepared candidates should be doing 5-6 at least.
Mistake #5 - Not acclimatizing to CFA Institute questions.
Also essential to prep is ensuring you have a good idea of exactly how the tone and focus of questions set by CFA Institute will be like. This means you need to mix in practice questions obtained from CFA Institute - not just your study provider. With exam registration you already get the end-of-chapter (EOC) questions at the end of each reading in the CFA Institute curriculum, as well as 1 mock exam. Utilize them well - get a feel for how CFA Institute questions are like early in your prep process.
Mistake #6 - Not preparing for the actual day.
After months of studying, many candidates in all levels proceed to screw it all up by not preparing logistically for exam day. Do take some time as the exam day approaches to get a full list of exactly what to bring, figure out transportation and make sure you arrive early. Failure to adequately prepare for any of these can have catastrophic consequences on your exam performance.
Mistake #7 - Not managing exam time properly.
In every level, time-management is different. Candidates underestimate the volume of questions in Level I, the item-set format in Level II and the essay section in Level III. In each case this leads to candidates thinking they have more time than they actually will have, leading to hurried responses towards the end of the exam or unfinished sections.
Mistake #8 - Getting your exam invalidated.
Perhaps the easiest mistake to make (and the most devastating!) is to give a reason for a proctor to report suspicious behavior on your part during the exam. Looking around, speaking before, after and during the exams, writing after the exam has ended and writing on your exam ticket are common examples. This will raise a disciplinary case with the Professional Conduct Program (PCP) and if found that you had the appearance of cheating (note that you needn’t be found cheating, just having the appearance of doing so), your exam is invalidated and you may further receive a ban from taking the exam for several years. The CFA Institute is prosecutor and judge on this - their word is final. Proctor strictness varies across test centres, but be on the safe side and don’t give them a reason to report you.
usj2 is a CFA charterholder and has dabbled in financial services, advertising and technology. When he’s not messing about with those, he writes on various aspects of the CFA qualification at 300 Hours.