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Advice for Passing Level III - from a 3-time taker!

I have lurked on AF for a while and want to caputure some additional information for those who will be taking the Level III exam next June.  I’ve looked at a lot of advice given about what to study and even how to study, and I think there is too much emphasis on tactics, such as which prep providers to use and th volume of studying required, but not enough about developing a comprehensive strategy.

For some personal history, it took me three tries to pass LIII.  This level of the exam is different than L1 and L2.  It’s one thing to say this, but to understand it fully took me a few tries.  In 2010 and 2011 I failed with band 4 and band 3, respectively.  This year I did fairly well and passed.   

Here is my take on what it takes to pass.  

You need to acheive complete mastery of a sufficient number of exam components to pass so that on exam date you can demonstrate a knowledge of the topics you will be tested on.  Before I get into that, a couple of quick points:

–  No one cares how MUCH you study.  What ultimately matters is whether you can demonstrate an nderstanding the key topics that will be tested on the exam, which is a factor of HOW you study.  This is a difficult premise for someone to accept when retaking the exam, because it requires the person to realize that a mistake has been made and a tremendous amount of time has been wasted.

–  The CFA exam is what it is.  The CFA is not on trial here, you are.  Tens of thousands of individuals get their charters each year, so clearly it is possible to pass the exam.  You just have to know how.

Note that none of the information below is taken from any particular exam, but is a general impression of the types of questions that are asked, which you can obtain from past AM sessions and mock exams.  This same post could have been written by someone who has never taken LIII.

The most important piece of advice I’d like to impart is that you absolutely have to understand how the exam is structured in order to pass.  Some call this “gaming” the exam.  You can call it what you want, but the end result is the same: you need to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of a particular topic area to pass.

–  CFAI will not randomly sample questions from each study session in the curriculum.  Instead, the questions are carefully crafted to probe how well you understand the material.  And this means that you can expect the questions on the exam to be MUCH harder than the average question for that particular study session in the curriculum. Here is an example from the Ethics section.  You should not expect to be asked whether it is a violation to take someone else’s model, modify it slightly, and publish it as your own.  99% of the candidates would get this question right. Instead, you should expect to be asked whether it’s a violation for someone to discuss material non-public information in a setting when other employees might overhear him, and then whether announcing the information on an analyst call makes it public information.  That is not an obvious answer and the only way to know it is to have thoroughly read the curriculum and internalized the knowledge.  

–  As an extension of the above, you could score 80%+ on various mock exams and EOC questions but still completely fail the Ethics section on the exam.  Why?  Because the 80% of the material that you do know cold is not where the exam questions will come from. This is why a lot of the Schweser and Qbank practice questions are either worthless or will give you a false hope of success.  

–  It is better to have complete mastery of 14 out of 18 study sessions and virtually no knowledge of the other four sessions, rather than have an okay/pretty good understanding of all 18 sessions.  In the first case, you’ll ace the topic areas that you do know and bomb the ones you don’t, and will likely pass.  In the second case, you’ll fail most of the topic areas and you won’t pass.

–  250 hours of studying is plenty for you to pass.  You just need to be smart about how you do it and you need to make these hours count.  You need to think about your time as a currency that you have to invest for maximum yield.  Sure, we would all love to dedicate 750 hours to passing the exam and learn every minute detail of the curriculum.  But that won’t happen because most of us have jobs, families, and hobbies, so you need to be judicious.

–  Evaluate your own strengths and interests.  I find the Ethics section fun and I like Equities, Individual Portfolio Management, and some aspects of Fixed Income analysis.  I don’t care much for GIPS, commodities, and I never liked derivatives (the math is opaque and the minutiae of portfolio adjustments with options just seem really boring to me, but to each his own).  So, right there, I already know where I’ll get the highest rate of return on my time.  If I study the sections that interest me, I’ll be in a good mood, I’ll engage the curriculum, and it will take me less time to gain mastery of these areas.  I will enjoy it as much as one can enjoy studying.  I will also continue to think about these topics when not studying, and that will reinforce these concepts.  On the other hand, the areas that I don’t like I will find to be a chore, will have to take frequent brakes, will get frustrated, and no matter how much I study I probably won’t ever be fully comfortable with them.

–  Translate your strengths and interests into a study strategy. In addition to the areas that interest me, I would pick a few more areas that I felt I could master sufficiently to give myself a chance of passing.  This past year, I gave up on GIPS and derivatives completely.  I skimmed both of these sections on the off-chance that I’d find something easy to remember or interesting.  But I knew that there was just way too much to learn in both sections and too much math in the derivatives section to be able to master it completely.  My fear was that I would get killed studying for these sections and still not ace these sections.  I accepted that if these topics showed up on the exam, I would be guessing and would most likely fail this portion.  Instead, I focused on the other areas that weren’t my favorites but were still likely to be well-represented on the exam.  I then studied hard to make sure I understood these areas as completely as possible.

–  Spend most of your time reading and taking detailed notes of the CFAI books.  Take your time with each chapter.  Read each study session carefully and make sure you can describe what you just learned in your words by putting it into notes.  Then, create a separate study question out of the material you just learned and record it on a separate sheet of paper.  Example: have in your notes a description of what the Yardeni model is and then record a few questions that you might be asked about it.  In the Ethics section, I studied from a 15-page document that was a collection of questions and answers about all the possible things that could be asked.  If I came across an EOC question I didn’t know, I added the answer to the list.

–  Leave the EOC questions for the end of each chapter, after you truly feel like you have mastered a particular reading.  These are your out-of-sample data points, which will allow you to test how well you understand the reading and can apply the knowledge to situations you haven’t seen.
 Be fair to yourself when doing these problems, don’t look back at your notes while doing them.  Practice the problems you get wrong over and over until you know them.

–  Speed is of the essence.  The exam should be a sampling of concepts and questions you have seen before. You will not have time to think about a concept and reason it through on the exam.  You’ll have to look at the material, reference what you have learned previously, and write it down or pick the right answer.  If you are asked to list three characteristics of a suitable benchmark, you need to be able to list these out quickly.

I am sure there are other things that one could think of but this is all I have for now.
 
Good luck to everyone.

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wow, one of the best posts out there. 

question: when you say “Leave the EOC questions for the end of each chapter, after you truly feel like you have mastered a particular reading.” do you mean do EOC after reading each individual reading, or only once you’ve  gone thru the entire curriculum. i’m sure both approaches are valid, just curious about your thoughts.

Thanks for that. Appreciate your insight.

Did you have a strategy for using CFAI command words, or otherwise explicitly structuring your AM answers using methodology from the CFAI texts?


I was a 5 time L3 taker (passed on try 5 and KILLED it after a band 6 on time 4), so I will add my two cents as well. First the do’s then the don’ts.

This worked for me, I don’t know if it will work for you. All I know is after 13 years and 11 total tries (some of which I knew I would fail, some of them I was pissed off to fail)  and  5 of them at level III, I am done and can finally watch a guilt free Indianapolis 500 and maybe catch a trout before the first week of June…..

Things to do:

1) Don’t get hung up on the Schweser notes - they are there for support not for study or focus

2) Do every single blue box example. in year 4 (fail) I read the blue boxes, and did most EOCs, but this year I did every blue box and when it was a tough one, I use the framework of the question and then created my own questions in addition, so I was extremely familiar with the format

3) Take your notes from the CFAI textbook. Then, and only then, review schweser or stalla to get overview and extra questions. CFAI says they don’t, but I am convinced that they look for esoterica in the book and include that to weed out the Schweser

4) Take the online Schweser class if Marc Lefebvre is teaching it, and if he isn’t, go to Omaha. Period.  They should put that guy’s name on my charter, that’s how insightful he was for me. Windsor didn’t work for me, probably because I had WAY too much fun drinking beer and hanging out (hence the 5 trips to level III)

5) Print out the Ethics and GIPs PDF’s from the CFA website. Break each into 21 bite sized chunks, and separate them each into 1 week sets (7 of each for 7 days). Every day, (in the AM for me) read one ethics piece and one gips piece. Do this for a minimum set of 4 3 week segments, finishing in mid may. 

6) In late March, convince yourself that it is late April, and get suitably freaked out that the exam is near. I think a key factor thus year was the warm weather in the NE tricked my body into thinking it was later in the spring than it was. I woke up every warm day in March and April convinced  that the exam was VERY VERY SOON. This focused me on studying. And in reality, the exam WAS very soon, given the volume.

7) If you have a schedule or a class weekly, don’t miss it. 

8) At the beginning of April, start arriving at work an hour before everyone else. Use that to study or to read. The daily thing was a new one for me this year and it really helped. 

9) Try and go through about a thousand flash cards. Make them yourself and keep them simple (three points, or one formula, or one definition, etc.)

10) Download every practice exam you can. Buy the CFAI ones, (multiple times if you have to because you failed them) and get the Boston exam. Start doing AM practice exams in March. If you see a question you haven’t studied when you do that, skip it. My bugaboo was writing, so I needed this a lot. 
 
11) Recognize the toll that this test takes on everyone who loves you. Without a supportive wife and kids, I would never have been able to continue. When I started my 19 year old son was in grade 3. My oldest son who is now himself an investment banker was in grade 5.  As he pointed out Tuesday, I have been doing this more than half his life. It’s been a constant spring shadow in our house. My first thought on passing was to recognize that this was as much their accomplishment as mine. 
 

DON’Ts

1) Don’t freak out when you fail a practice - just redo the questions a few times. 

2) Don’t rely on any study provider. The exam comes from the notes. You have no guarantee that the person writing study notes thinks like you do. Study notes are great for review and airplane rides and to flip through while watching a hockey game, but that’s it. 

3) Don’t quit. Once you pass level II you go from being someone who wants the CFA to someone who will one day get it. This thought kept me going when I failed band 9 (try 3) and band 3 (try 2) and even band 6 (try 4). 

4) if you don’t get the time to study or work/life  interferes with your plans, don’t waste money and think a one week review class in Windsor or Omaha will save you. It won’t (try #1 - failed band 7). 

5) Don’t buy the Stalla practice exams.Unless your idea of a good investment is spending almost 200$ on a bound version of old exam questions reshuffled (questions that the CFAI will let you download for free). Man that one pissed me off. I kept the book to remind me never to buy anything from them again…. Jerks. 

I spent more time lurking on this site than posting. It was always entertaining and sometimes useful, so this is my farewell to you all. The stuff above worked for me, it may not work for you. Except the Stalla note. You’re throwing money away of you buy that exam book……that’s for everyone. 

Hope to see you soon on top of the mountain….frankly all I feel is relief……..


Lemiman  -  My suggestion is to leave the end-of-chapter problems until you feel like you have mastered that particular chapter’s information.  So you could study the notes, then do the EOC problems.  The reason for this suggestion is that in previous attempts I would read the chapter, have an okay idea of the problems, then do the problems, get half of them right, check the answers, say to myself “okay, so I was close on the ones I missed,” and move on.  Then, when I went back to review, throughout some of the difficult questions I would remember the right answer and that would re-inforce the approach I was taking to answering the question.  Of course, on exam day, you won’t have that luxury. 

Another reason to leave questions as an actual test of your knowledge is that sometimes the EOC questions have a certain “WTF?!!” flavor to them.  I distinctly remember chapters where I would read the chapter thoroughly, then get an EOC question where my initial thought was “how does this relate to what I just read?!!”  You want to be as prepared for these questions as possible because they are a good example of what the exam day experience will be like.

dapoopa  –  no particular advice on command words.  They are defined in the curriculum.  I think more importantly than understanding command words, practice giving short and correct answers on the AM session.

Also, as a general note, I would echo the view that at Level III the study aide providers are not that useful.  I had the Schweser notes one year and I found that the easy concepts were over-explained, the hard ones either ignored completely or underexplained.  That said, Schweser is good at telling you the types of things that are likely to be on the exam, and sometimes they do a good job of explaining the steps in between that the CFAI text doesn’t make very clear.  More so than at any other level, Schweser notes are really more of an addendum than a substitute (whereas at previous levels you could pass with just Schweser).  The one product that can be very useful are the flashcards, because they save you from making your own when it comes to formulas. 

Another product that is useful are their MP3s / audio CDs where someone reads the notes.  For the last month I had an Ipod that had nothing but CFA material on it and I tried to listen to this instead of music when going to work, waiting for public transport, or sometimes even before bed.  Not all sections are useful, but it’s good to have concepts reinforced for economics sections. 

The other thing I would add is to take at least the one to two days before the exam off from work if you can.  And truly take them off and use them to review your notes and study.  these reviews are good for not just cementing the material but for working out last-minute jitters, such as freaking out about whether a certain formula is memorized correctly. 

I’ll write more if I think of them.

I failed LIII (Band 4) for the 2nd time this year. My morning scores tell me, I need loads of practice on AM questions. However, I have a question, I feel the CFAI text just doesn’t work for me, I just find it too verbose and dry. It’s all over the place and not focused at all. I don’t think I retain much after reading it.

I tried starting with the texts in LII & LIII (post which I switched to Schweser), but somehow I feel like with such a scattered knowledge I’ll definitely fail. Is it possible to pass with Schweser, Blue box problems, EOC & practice exams? Advice?

^ i did the above and i failed knowing that i prepared for 6 months :/

Im sticking to CFAI books this time around.. some people use schweser only and they pass… so its not a rule but the more you solve the better it is.

Improvise, adapt, overcome

shilpi wrote:

I tried starting with the texts in LII & LIII (post which I switched to Schweser), but somehow I feel like with such a scattered knowledge I’ll definitely fail. Is it possible to pass with Schweser, Blue box problems, EOC & practice exams? Advice?

i personally think this is the best method.  i passed first attempt and did not read text except for about 15-20 areas where I needed a better understanding of the terms and wording.  I did about 40-50% of all the blue boxes and EOC two times.

My advice is to focus on cfai practice questions, because cfai is ultimately the one making the actual test 

Strong emphasis on EOC and blue box questions, and all the AM you can get 

As for the curriculum or schweser notes, I think either works just fine.

Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and greatest weakness.

I did EOC more than 10 times .. honestly speaking .. i got solid understanding of all what was there and I did the AM around 5-6 times too. I still failed band 4 :/ !

Improvise, adapt, overcome

jeffmorton212]</p> <p>[quote=shilpi wrote:

I tried starting with the texts in LII & LIII (post which I switched to Schweser), but somehow I feel like with such a scattered knowledge I’ll definitely fail. Is it possible to pass with Schweser, Blue box problems, EOC & practice exams? Advice?

passed using schweser, EOC, and blue bloxes. 

i read the CFAI,did EOC and most blue box examples and still Fail in band 5.did not sincerily attemp AM question just audited them which is the reason of down fall and overconfidence bias…


Gooman wrote:

I was a 5 time L3 taker (passed on try 5 and KILLED it after a band 6 on time 4), so I will add my two cents as well. First the do’s then the don’ts.

This worked for me, I don’t know if it will work for you. All I know is after 13 years and 11 total tries (some of which I knew I would fail, some of them I was pissed off to fail)  and  5 of them at level III, I am done and can finally watch a guilt free Indianapolis 500 and maybe catch a trout before the first week of June…..

Things to do:

1) Don’t get hung up on the Schweser notes - they are there for support not for study or focus

2) Do every single blue box example. in year 4 (fail) I read the blue boxes, and did most EOCs, but this year I did every blue box and when it was a tough one, I use the framework of the question and then created my own questions in addition, so I was extremely familiar with the format

3) Take your notes from the CFAI textbook. Then, and only then, review schweser or stalla to get overview and extra questions. CFAI says they don’t, but I am convinced that they look for esoterica in the book and include that to weed out the Schweser

4) Take the online Schweser class if Marc Lefebvre is teaching it, and if he isn’t, go to Omaha. Period.  They should put that guy’s name on my charter, that’s how insightful he was for me. Windsor didn’t work for me, probably because I had WAY too much fun drinking beer and hanging out (hence the 5 trips to level III)

5) Print out the Ethics and GIPs PDF’s from the CFA website. Break each into 21 bite sized chunks, and separate them each into 1 week sets (7 of each for 7 days). Every day, (in the AM for me) read one ethics piece and one gips piece. Do this for a minimum set of 4 3 week segments, finishing in mid may. 

6) In late March, convince yourself that it is late April, and get suitably freaked out that the exam is near. I think a key factor thus year was the warm weather in the NE tricked my body into thinking it was later in the spring than it was. I woke up every warm day in March and April convinced  that the exam was VERY VERY SOON. This focused me on studying. And in reality, the exam WAS very soon, given the volume.

7) If you have a schedule or a class weekly, don’t miss it. 

8) At the beginning of April, start arriving at work an hour before everyone else. Use that to study or to read. The daily thing was a new one for me this year and it really helped. 

9) Try and go through about a thousand flash cards. Make them yourself and keep them simple (three points, or one formula, or one definition, etc.)

10) Download every practice exam you can. Buy the CFAI ones, (multiple times if you have to because you failed them) and get the Boston exam. Start doing AM practice exams in March. If you see a question you haven’t studied when you do that, skip it. My bugaboo was writing, so I needed this a lot. 
 
11) Recognize the toll that this test takes on everyone who loves you. Without a supportive wife and kids, I would never have been able to continue. When I started my 19 year old son was in grade 3. My oldest son who is now himself an investment banker was in grade 5.  As he pointed out Tuesday, I have been doing this more than half his life. It’s been a constant spring shadow in our house. My first thought on passing was to recognize that this was as much their accomplishment as mine. 
 

DON’Ts

1) Don’t freak out when you fail a practice - just redo the questions a few times. 

2) Don’t rely on any study provider. The exam comes from the notes. You have no guarantee that the person writing study notes thinks like you do. Study notes are great for review and airplane rides and to flip through while watching a hockey game, but that’s it. 

3) Don’t quit. Once you pass level II you go from being someone who wants the CFA to someone who will one day get it. This thought kept me going when I failed band 9 (try 3) and band 3 (try 2) and even band 6 (try 4). 

4) if you don’t get the time to study or work/life  interferes with your plans, don’t waste money and think a one week review class in Windsor or Omaha will save you. It won’t (try #1 - failed band 7). 

5) Don’t buy the Stalla practice exams.Unless your idea of a good investment is spending almost 200$ on a bound version of old exam questions reshuffled (questions that the CFAI will let you download for free). Man that one pissed me off. I kept the book to remind me never to buy anything from them again…. Jerks. 

I spent more time lurking on this site than posting. It was always entertaining and sometimes useful, so this is my farewell to you all. The stuff above worked for me, it may not work for you. Except the Stalla note. You’re throwing money away of you buy that exam book……that’s for everyone. 

Hope to see you soon on top of the mountain….frankly all I feel is relief……..


incredible advice and story. Congrats and I am sure your family is very proud of you. 

Congratulations to all candidates that passed level 2, you have cleared a major hurdle! Bumping up this post, another one in addition to trimonious’s with valuable info to help you study effectively and pass level 3.  Markd, gooman, and trimonious - thank you all for the insight.

Bumping for the new CFA L3 candidates.

Best regards,

Sooraj.

For those who consistently blame Schweser for their failures are misguided and wanting something to excuse the underperformance. Schweser notes are great for summarizing and explaining everything in more than enough detail to pass all three exams. I agree the qbank and mocks need adjusting for LIII but they serve as good practice and measure of understanding. People would be hard pressed to point out any specific topic on an exam that Schweser didn’t cover in enough detail to not answer it. I’m sure there’s a couple but not to the degree it’d cause you to fail. I’d presume those who like to blame their provider simply didn’t put in enough effort in their studies. Reading the notes once obviously isn’t enough. You need to mock a lot, answer lots all the blue boxes, white boxes and EOCs multiple times. Read the Schweser note twice and watch lectures. Attend a review workshop. My opinion, those who blame Schweser notes didn’t do enough. I’d be very interested to know from those who blame Schweser exactly what they did in their study regime. Disclosure for level 3 I also used Level Up a lot because I wanted to make sure I got different perspectives but I still think schweser had great notes, for all levels. And I think for level 1 and 2 theres nothing more you need. 

Gooman wrote:

I was a 5 time L3 taker (passed on try 5 and KILLED it after a band 6 on time 4), so I will add my two cents as well. First the do’s then the don’ts.

This worked for me, I don’t know if it will work for you. All I know is after 13 years and 11 total tries (some of which I knew I would fail, some of them I was pissed off to fail)  and  5 of them at level III, I am done and can finally watch a guilt free Indianapolis 500 and maybe catch a trout before the first week of June…..

Things to do:

1) Don’t get hung up on the Schweser notes - they are there for support not for study or focus

2) Do every single blue box example. in year 4 (fail) I read the blue boxes, and did most EOCs, but this year I did every blue box and when it was a tough one, I use the framework of the question and then created my own questions in addition, so I was extremely familiar with the format

3) Take your notes from the CFAI textbook. Then, and only then, review schweser or stalla to get overview and extra questions. CFAI says they don’t, but I am convinced that they look for esoterica in the book and include that to weed out the Schweser

4) Take the online Schweser class if Marc Lefebvre is teaching it, and if he isn’t, go to Omaha. Period.  They should put that guy’s name on my charter, that’s how insightful he was for me. Windsor didn’t work for me, probably because I had WAY too much fun drinking beer and hanging out (hence the 5 trips to level III)

5) Print out the Ethics and GIPs PDF’s from the CFA website. Break each into 21 bite sized chunks, and separate them each into 1 week sets (7 of each for 7 days). Every day, (in the AM for me) read one ethics piece and one gips piece. Do this for a minimum set of 4 3 week segments, finishing in mid may. 

6) In late March, convince yourself that it is late April, and get suitably freaked out that the exam is near. I think a key factor thus year was the warm weather in the NE tricked my body into thinking it was later in the spring than it was. I woke up every warm day in March and April convinced  that the exam was VERY VERY SOON. This focused me on studying. And in reality, the exam WAS very soon, given the volume.

7) If you have a schedule or a class weekly, don’t miss it. 

8) At the beginning of April, start arriving at work an hour before everyone else. Use that to study or to read. The daily thing was a new one for me this year and it really helped. 

9) Try and go through about a thousand flash cards. Make them yourself and keep them simple (three points, or one formula, or one definition, etc.)

10) Download every practice exam you can. Buy the CFAI ones, (multiple times if you have to because you failed them) and get the Boston exam. Start doing AM practice exams in March. If you see a question you haven’t studied when you do that, skip it. My bugaboo was writing, so I needed this a lot. 

 

11) Recognize the toll that this test takes on everyone who loves you. Without a supportive wife and kids, I would never have been able to continue. When I started my 19 year old son was in grade 3. My oldest son who is now himself an investment banker was in grade 5.  As he pointed out Tuesday, I have been doing this more than half his life. It’s been a constant spring shadow in our house. My first thought on passing was to recognize that this was as much their accomplishment as mine. 

 

DON’Ts

1) Don’t freak out when you fail a practice - just redo the questions a few times. 

2) Don’t rely on any study provider. The exam comes from the notes. You have no guarantee that the person writing study notes thinks like you do. Study notes are great for review and airplane rides and to flip through while watching a hockey game, but that’s it. 

3) Don’t quit. Once you pass level II you go from being someone who wants the CFA to someone who will one day get it. This thought kept me going when I failed band 9 (try 3) and band 3 (try 2) and even band 6 (try 4). 

4) if you don’t get the time to study or work/life  interferes with your plans, don’t waste money and think a one week review class in Windsor or Omaha will save you. It won’t (try #1 - failed band 7). 

5) Don’t buy the Stalla practice exams.Unless your idea of a good investment is spending almost 200$ on a bound version of old exam questions reshuffled (questions that the CFAI will let you download for free). Man that one pissed me off. I kept the book to remind me never to buy anything from them again…. Jerks. 

I spent more time lurking on this site than posting. It was always entertaining and sometimes useful, so this is my farewell to you all. The stuff above worked for me, it may not work for you. Except the Stalla note. You’re throwing money away of you buy that exam book……that’s for everyone. 

Hope to see you soon on top of the mountain….frankly all I feel is relief……..

here is the painful truth: this is just plain sad. I feel sorry for you…almost.

I agree with googs1484 with respect to Schweser. I used it for Level 3 and it was perfect for me. I can understand that people are different and that some might be better off using CFAI books instead of Schweser or any other prep provider. But I can’t agree to say that someone failed only because he relied on Schweser. This can only be due to a combination of reasons, but not solely due to the fact that someone used prep provider notes.

anyone know if CFAI sells practice questions or practice exams?

Chasing alpha

markd10027 wrote:

I have lurked on AF for a while and want to caputure some additional information for those who will be taking the Level III exam next June.  I’ve looked at a lot of advice given about what to study and even how to study, and I think there is too much emphasis on tactics, such as which prep providers to use and th volume of studying required, but not enough about developing a comprehensive strategy.

For some personal history, it took me three tries to pass LIII.  This level of the exam is different than L1 and L2.  It’s one thing to say this, but to understand it fully took me a few tries.  In 2010 and 2011 I failed with band 4 and band 3, respectively.  This year I did fairly well and passed.   

Here is my take on what it takes to pass.  

You need to acheive complete mastery of a sufficient number of exam components to pass so that on exam date you can demonstrate a knowledge of the topics you will be tested on.  Before I get into that, a couple of quick points:

–  No one cares how MUCH you study.  What ultimately matters is whether you can demonstrate an nderstanding the key topics that will be tested on the exam, which is a factor of HOW you study.  This is a difficult premise for someone to accept when retaking the exam, because it requires the person to realize that a mistake has been made and a tremendous amount of time has been wasted.

–  The CFA exam is what it is.  The CFA is not on trial here, you are.  Tens of thousands of individuals get their charters each year, so clearly it is possible to pass the exam.  You just have to know how.

Note that none of the information below is taken from any particular exam, but is a general impression of the types of questions that are asked, which you can obtain from past AM sessions and mock exams.  This same post could have been written by someone who has never taken LIII.

The most important piece of advice I’d like to impart is that you absolutely have to understand how the exam is structured in order to pass.  Some call this “gaming” the exam.  You can call it what you want, but the end result is the same: you need to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of a particular topic area to pass.

–  CFAI will not randomly sample questions from each study session in the curriculum.  Instead, the questions are carefully crafted to probe how well you understand the material.  And this means that you can expect the questions on the exam to be MUCH harder than the average question for that particular study session in the curriculum. Here is an example from the Ethics section.  You should not expect to be asked whether it is a violation to take someone else’s model, modify it slightly, and publish it as your own.  99% of the candidates would get this question right. Instead, you should expect to be asked whether it’s a violation for someone to discuss material non-public information in a setting when other employees might overhear him, and then whether announcing the information on an analyst call makes it public information.  That is not an obvious answer and the only way to know it is to have thoroughly read the curriculum and internalized the knowledge.  

–  As an extension of the above, you could score 80%+ on various mock exams and EOC questions but still completely fail the Ethics section on the exam.  Why?  Because the 80% of the material that you do know cold is not where the exam questions will come from. This is why a lot of the Schweser and Qbank practice questions are either worthless or will give you a false hope of success.  

–  It is better to have complete mastery of 14 out of 18 study sessions and virtually no knowledge of the other four sessions, rather than have an okay/pretty good understanding of all 18 sessions.  In the first case, you’ll ace the topic areas that you do know and bomb the ones you don’t, and will likely pass.  In the second case, you’ll fail most of the topic areas and you won’t pass.

–  250 hours of studying is plenty for you to pass.  You just need to be smart about how you do it and you need to make these hours count.  You need to think about your time as a currency that you have to invest for maximum yield.  Sure, we would all love to dedicate 750 hours to passing the exam and learn every minute detail of the curriculum.  But that won’t happen because most of us have jobs, families, and hobbies, so you need to be judicious.

–  Evaluate your own strengths and interests.  I find the Ethics section fun and I like Equities, Individual Portfolio Management, and some aspects of Fixed Income analysis.  I don’t care much for GIPS, commodities, and I never liked derivatives (the math is opaque and the minutiae of portfolio adjustments with options just seem really boring to me, but to each his own).  So, right there, I already know where I’ll get the highest rate of return on my time.  If I study the sections that interest me, I’ll be in a good mood, I’ll engage the curriculum, and it will take me less time to gain mastery of these areas.  I will enjoy it as much as one can enjoy studying.  I will also continue to think about these topics when not studying, and that will reinforce these concepts.  On the other hand, the areas that I don’t like I will find to be a chore, will have to take frequent brakes, will get frustrated, and no matter how much I study I probably won’t ever be fully comfortable with them.

–  Translate your strengths and interests into a study strategy. In addition to the areas that interest me, I would pick a few more areas that I felt I could master sufficiently to give myself a chance of passing.  This past year, I gave up on GIPS and derivatives completely.  I skimmed both of these sections on the off-chance that I’d find something easy to remember or interesting.  But I knew that there was just way too much to learn in both sections and too much math in the derivatives section to be able to master it completely.  My fear was that I would get killed studying for these sections and still not ace these sections.  I accepted that if these topics showed up on the exam, I would be guessing and would most likely fail this portion.  Instead, I focused on the other areas that weren’t my favorites but were still likely to be well-represented on the exam.  I then studied hard to make sure I understood these areas as completely as possible.

–  Spend most of your time reading and taking detailed notes of the CFAI books.  Take your time with each chapter.  Read each study session carefully and make sure you can describe what you just learned in your words by putting it into notes.  Then, create a separate study question out of the material you just learned and record it on a separate sheet of paper.  Example: have in your notes a description of what the Yardeni model is and then record a few questions that you might be asked about it.  In the Ethics section, I studied from a 15-page document that was a collection of questions and answers about all the possible things that could be asked.  If I came across an EOC question I didn’t know, I added the answer to the list.

–  Leave the EOC questions for the end of each chapter, after you truly feel like you have mastered a particular reading.  These are your out-of-sample data points, which will allow you to test how well you understand the reading and can apply the knowledge to situations you haven’t seen.
 Be fair to yourself when doing these problems, don’t look back at your notes while doing them.  Practice the problems you get wrong over and over until you know them.

–  Speed is of the essence.  The exam should be a sampling of concepts and questions you have seen before. You will not have time to think about a concept and reason it through on the exam.  You’ll have to look at the material, reference what you have learned previously, and write it down or pick the right answer.  If you are asked to list three characteristics of a suitable benchmark, you need to be able to list these out quickly.

I am sure there are other things that one could think of but this is all I have for now.
 
Good luck to everyone.

Great post. Thanks for sharing!

markd10027 that was an awesome post, scares the $hit out of me, but probably that’s what I need to pass it.

Pick up the phone 

I got a question 

Paased using only the CFAI curriculum for preparation and EOC, blue box, CFAI online topic test and few schweser mocks. What helped the most is tracking my mock performance and trying to average higher. See the table: Conservative points in the AM.

Year
AM
 
PM
PM
 
Average

2006
64%
 
Kaplan Exam 1 PM Session
70%
 
67%

2009
60%
 
Kaplan Exam 2 PM Session
71%
 
66%

2010
66.70%
 
Kaplan Exam 3 PM Session
60%
 
63%

2011
57.70%
 
Kaplan Exam 1 PM Session
70%
 
64%

2012
61.10%
 
Kaplan Exam 2 PM Session
73%
 
67%

2013
67%
 
Kaplan Exam 3 PM Session
78%
 
72%

2014
70.00%
 
2013 Mock
80%
 
75%

2015
73.33%
 
2015 Mock
83%
 
78%

Kaplan Exam 1 AM
66.70%
 
2016 Mock
75%
 
71%

2016
62.30%
 
2017 AM Mock
85%
Errata
74%

 
 
 
2017 PM Mock
76%
 
 

googs1484 wrote:

For those who consistently blame Schweser for their failures are misguided and wanting something to excuse the underperformance. Schweser notes are great for summarizing and explaining everything in more than enough detail to pass all three exams. I agree the qbank and mocks need adjusting for LIII but they serve as good practice and measure of understanding. People would be hard pressed to point out any specific topic on an exam that Schweser didn’t cover in enough detail to not answer it. I’m sure there’s a couple but not to the degree it’d cause you to fail. I’d presume those who like to blame their provider simply didn’t put in enough effort in their studies. Reading the notes once obviously isn’t enough. You need to mock a lot, answer lots all the blue boxes, white boxes and EOCs multiple times. Read the Schweser note twice and watch lectures. Attend a review workshop. My opinion, those who blame Schweser notes didn’t do enough. I’d be very interested to know from those who blame Schweser exactly what they did in their study regime. Disclosure for level 3 I also used Level Up a lot because I wanted to make sure I got different perspectives but I still think schweser had great notes, for all levels. And I think for level 1 and 2 theres nothing more you need. 

I think there’s truth to what you say. But I also think it’s not totally fair to say that people are simply blaming Schweser because they didn’t put in the effort. I failed level 3 the first time, after using Schweser. I did great in PM, failed cuz of AM. I think part of what makes people lash out at Schweser is paradoxically that Schweser is amazing for levels 1 and 2. I passed both of those easily by only using Schweser. So, I went into level 3 with blinders on, thinking that Schweser notes would get me through again. Which they did….but only for the PM. I didn’t realize how much time and effort should be spent preparing for the AM (where I scored very poorly first time), and that simply learning Schweser notes will be insufficient for that part. It’s not necessarily Schweser’s responsibility to get that message across, but if I were in charge, I would be sure to let customers know that knowing th material through and through will not get you past level 3 AM the way it did for 1 and 2.

A legitimate criticism of Schweser at Level 3 is that their mock AM exams are terrible, imo. I caught them using a command word that’s not used by CFAI. The questions in their mocks felt different, and I felt that they were too broad and open-ended compared to CFAI, and did not focus on the same topics as CFAI. Schweser mock answers, however, are a great tool for learning how to construct your answer quickly and efficiently.