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How I Passed Level 1

This post is for anybody who is considering taking the exam (or who has and failed previously) but is strapped for time, has a family, demanding job, etc. I recently passed Level 1 in December of 2019 and started seriously studying in August. To say that I was intimidated by the demands required to pass is an understatement. I was < 1 year removed from transitioning out of the Army and into a role at Goldman, with 3 young children and a wife who works full-time. Wasn’t sure that I would be able to find 2-3 hours/day to devote to the program. But here’s how I was able to do it, and do it right the first time:

(1) Support System, both personally and professionally. If you’re married/in a relationship, speak with your significant other and ask them for their support during the process, it will help tremendously! I sought out professional perks that would incentivize me to not only take the exam, but take it and pass on the first try. And even absent the work assistance, remember that you’re making an investment in YOURSELF! Take a look at the IRR or Net Present Value formula… if you assume your future cash flows will never recoup the initial cash outlay, you’ve got zero confidence in your future potential!

(2) That brings me to point #2: don’t cheap out on a good study provider! Like any investment, you get what you pay for. Understand and identify your specific learning style (i.e. visual, verbal, combo) and tailor your choice of provider to that. More importantly, ASK SUCCESSFUL people who have actually PASSED the exam whom they recommend. For me, I spent more money than most because I didn’t initially identify by learning style. I utilized Chalk & Board (w/ Nathan Ronen) based on personal research and referrals. Ultimately over the course of studying I found that Nathan’s program was extremely beneficial for me, as the on-demand videos made it possible to study whenever and wherever I could; including my 90-minute commute to work, after bedtime for the kiddos, and from any cafe/Starbucks spot with free WiFi. The weekly “Where You Should Be in Your Studies” emails helped me stay on track, which was crucial in backwards planning. Kaplan’s Q-Bank was also helpful, as was the “Secret Sauce” book for the last month of studying (to refresh and highlight topics from a high level). Which leads me to point #3…

(3) Avoid memorizing! You’ll have to do it with some topics (Ethics for example), but I did NOT go into Exam Day with a list of formulas. Instead I took the advice of my instructors (in this case Nathan) and took extra time to understand the material rather than memorizing Q-Bank answers. I’ve always been a memorization type of guy, so this part was hard for me. But through a more personalized provider this uncertainty quickly faded. 

(4) Get through the material and get comfortable with failure via practice exams! Don’t get hung up on Quant (which I almost did) or going down a rabbit hole with nuances of topics like Deferred Tax Liabilities/Assets. I thought Nathan was nuts when he said to do at least 10 practice exams… where would I ever find the time for that?? Here’s what I did: purchased 8 total exams between Chalk & BoardKaplan, and Wiley, then had 3 from CFA Institute website. For my study plan I made sure I got through the material by mid-October and then devoted the next 6 weeks to full-length exams. I got to work twice/week at 5:30am and knocked out a 3-hour portion, then stayed after work and did the ‘afternoon session’. Between the exams and constant phone calls with Chalk and Board (Nathan), I felt mentally prepared for the exam. 

If any of this doesn’t make sense or I can help clarify, please let me know. I hope this helps get you to the start line, but more importantly over the finish line!

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You can’t claim to be a Level II candidate until you have registered for the exam.  If you passed LI in December, registration for June is closed until Feb 5.  Check the ethics section on reference to CFA Institute, the CFA designation, and the CFA Program.



P.s. I hope you didn’t think Level I was hard.  Level II will eat you alive if so.