December tips for us June writers?

Just wondering if those of you that just wrote have any tips or advice based on your experience for those of us that will be writing in June. The idea is obviously NOT to provide us with any specifics about material covered on the exam, but rather study strategies etc. that you found useful or things you wish you had done in hindsight.

I’m personally starting my studying by doing all of the CFA EOC questions without doing any reading. I have a bachelor’s degree in finance with a minor in economics and am half way through a masters in quantitative finance, so my first goal is to see where my knowledge is lacking so I can focus on those areas later. For example, I’ve done a few chapters now and seem to be achieving around 75-85% on the EOC questions, but I tried the chapter on inventories last night and got destroyed, so I know that’s somewhere I will need to focus later on.

What strategies did you guys find successful/unsuccessful in prepping for level I?

As you noticed yourself, most people are having the hardest time with FRA material and that also takes up 1/5 of the exam. So the obvious advice is: You need to be at the top of your game for FRA and Ethics.

Other than that the advice is pretty common and straightforward I think. Finish the readings early and hit the practice questions, solve as many as you can find! Good luck!

PK is right I would prioritize those. I did a super intense 1 week focus on FRA the second last week before the test and it changed my outlook a lot. If you go into the test expecting to get 42 out of 48 FRA marks and like 30 out of 36 ethics it really sets the table.

I also learned when writing the GMAT to sacrafice a section and focus on what you know. For me it was economics, because the volume of material/marks availble seems like a lower value. I chose to just do the bare minimum in this section and spent more time where I felt there was more payoff.

I also recomend doing a mock or two early on and really see where you are not scoring well. Once you have been through the curriculum once preperation is really about capturing the marks that are left on the table.

I suggest multiplying the section weights by (1-your score in that section). Then you will have a picture of where you as a person can earn the most extra marks on the test. This will obviously be different for everyone, but keeps you focused on always improving.

Use Schweser

Do an LOS, follow each one up with the concept checkers (Schweser) and end of chapters (CFAI)

After each study session, do 60q Qbank on that SS, and 60q of everything else you’ve studied to date

After each book do the same… probably could take a full day and do 120/120 instead

Budget a full month, not just 2 or 3 weeks, for practice questions and revision post readings

Also budget to take a day or two off every so often. Doing readings aren’t so bad, but once you get into that last month and tell yourself you’ll do 240 questions every day for 7 straight days before the exam, you quickly learn what burnout is. Whether I pass L1 or not, when I prepare for June I’ll be going hard for 3 days, light review for a morning, taking 1.5 off, repeat.

Taking 6 days off work before the exam wouldn’t hurt

Oh and do what it takes to remove distractions! I actually ended up locking all my video games and tv remotes up in my desk at work. Being winter I knew it was too cold so I wouldn’t make the trek out to get them on a moment of weakness

I will say this…and this is advice that I personally did not take, but days after the exam believe it would have made a significant difference…

I like where your head is in saying that you have a great background so you’d like to see where you’re at as far as knowledge goes from the starting line. I will tell you that I would advise against this.

You need to read all of the exam books as quickly, but usefully, as possible. What do I mean by that? I mean read like this:

Read a chapter, and try to read the entire chapter in one sitting. Two at most and not more than over the course of 2 days. Once you finish reading it go back to the beginning of the chapter and look at the LOS for that chapter. Then quickly skim back through the chapter and write your own quick notes on those items that directly relate to the LOS. Not all of the background supporting information. Just the statements that support the LOS. It is good to have the background supporting info to gain a deep understanding of the LOS, but ultimately the LOS will be whats tested. It is very easy to get note-taking-happy and write yourself 3 books. Again, very short and to the point LOS ONLY notes.

You also need to buy the Schweser Qbank if not an entire package that includes one. After each reading do the 20-40 questions at the end of the chapters and then do a 60-120 Qbank quiz to test your knowledge. The answers of the Qbank questions tend to give a good explanation of the answer, so that will serve as a support mechanism to what you read.

Have all of the curriculum completed with 4 weeks minimum to go. Spend the last 4 weeks going through a ton of Qbank questions, and mock exams. Take the CFAI mock with 2 weeks to go and learn from it.

Lastly, it is very tempting to get caught up in the formulas. Schweser provides the “Quicksheet” that is a quad-fold (i believe…its packed away right now so i cant really remember) laminated sheet with every formula by every section and some key topics. This gets overwhelming and makes you think that formulas are the key to success. THIS IS WRONG.

The night before the exam I decided to get that thing out and go through the entire thing and make flash cards for the formulas I didnt know. There were only 4 that I couldnt remember and I memorized them just fine before the exam.

I found my short-fall to be that there were some areas where I assumed that calculations would be the most important thing to being successful in the sections. Turns out that may not exactly have been the case, but had I have simply made sure I knew the LOS I would have been fine. There was not one question that I felt was unreasonable or too complicated. There were plenty that I wondered why I didn’t read the CFAI text because if I would have I would have known the answers in a matter of seconds.

I hope this helps.

I’d also like to emphasize one of my points and comment on what someone else said.


I had a child on 9/4 and got lazy the week before because he was coming any time and then took 2 weeks off after he was born. I started getting burnt out and questioned whether it was even worth it anymore. Then, when I had 1 month left to go I realized I was only going to end up with 2 weeks for review when I had budgeted 5-6. What I found out was that I completely lost most of my understanding of Economics, but there was just too much to do in the final 2 weeks. So I had to take a calculated risk in shoring up my FRA and focusing on some smaller sections that I understood better, like Alts, Derivatives, and PM to try to make up for my poor Econ. This may prove to be the difference maker.

I should have never been in a position to have to “make a choice”. GIVE YOURSELF 4 WEEKS MINIMUM.

I think for FRA it was helpful for me to remember the following memory tricks about ratios…

Any ratio that has the word ‘MARGIN’ in it has revenue as the denominator of the equation. For example Operating Margin = Operating Income/Revenue.

Any ratio that has the word ‘TURNOVER’ means that the word before it is in the denominator and usually has revenue on top of it. So for example Receivables Turnover = Revenue/Acc Receivables.

The only ‘turnovers’ you need to remember that are different have different numerators. These are Payables Turnover = Purchases/Acc Payable and Inventory Turnover which is COGS/Inventory. For Ethics. I think the key messages that keep coming out during the mocks are…

  1. The priority is always. Client > Employer > You

  2. If you suspect something wrong is going on you a) Escalate it to your Supervisor or Compliance and if that doesn’t work then b) Disassociate.

  3. Family members accounts do not have any special treatment over other accounts. That also means that they shouldn’t be treated worse than other accounts either.

  4. Disclose disclose disclose!


Different people will require different approaches in terms of how to structure the learning process and how to learn. However, I will say the following:

  1. There are no shortcuts - focus on learning the material from the CFAI books and answering the EOC questions - the purpose is to learn something, not just pass an exam, and it will apparently help give you the solid base you will need for the subsequent levels.

  2. Steady wins the race - internalization is a huge part so that when you take the exam you do not feel the need to cram more stuff into your head at the last moment.

  3. Make your own notes / be creative for the tough stuff - no test prep provider really does a good job on these, IMO. I drew myself picture notes for things like CFO/CFI/CFF classifications under IFRS and US GAAP, for creating synthetics (calls, bonds, puts, underlyings), deferred tax liabilities versus assets. When I took the exam 3 days ago, if something relevant came up, it was easy to recall because I saw a picture of what I needed.

  4. Check out Arif Irfanullah’s videos for level 1 - I believe the ones for Dec 2011 level 1 are all on YouTube, so you can try out a few before deciding. [Disclaimer: I am in no way connected to Arif Irfanullah, nor have I used his products for level 1]. What I like about his approach is that it is a “no punches pulled” one - you have to learn the CFAI material, you have to do the EOC questions (repeatedly, which is something I did and found useful).

Good luck!

I totally agree with everything PDub has said. I was going to say, finish reading the material with at least 1.5 - 2.0 months till D Day! That way you give yourself a month to prepare for the mock exam. Unfortunately I could not take advantage of the mock exam because I spent too much time reading the material and doing end of chapter Schweser Concept checkers. I did this for the whole 5 months that I read. The Schweser concept checkers gave me a false sense of security because even though I could do the problems the night I read a chapter, I wasn’t focussing on retention. As overwhelming as this sounds, but KNOW EVERYTHING! Don’t underestimate anything. The only way to effectively do that is giving yourself 4-6 weeks of intense problem practice and mock tests.

And one more thing, if you take mock exam problems make sure that when you get them wrong, you learn why you got them wrong and cement the logic in your brain. There is no sense in taking mock after mock but not learning why you got something wrong. As the exam approached I made the concious decision not to take anymore mocks because I had run out of time and just had to learn from the mocks I had taken.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Really good tips here. Thanks all for input.

A) Start early.

B) Use a study package (Elan, Schweser, anything).

C) Use the CFAI only to study Ethics, the EOCs and topics you aren’t comfortable with after revising using the notes.

D) Plan to finish 5 weeks before the exam date, you’ll probably take longer than expected/won’t plan for unexpected events that will pull back your revision. 3 weeks of final revision are a must.

E) Do not underestimate the difficulty of the exam. Bare en mind only 35-38% of candidates pass.

I also wanted to mention that I really really liked the Elan Materials. They were great value for money and the Mocks appear to be much harder than others. For me it kept my expectations lower and kept me learning.

From my experience here is what I thought.

  1. Plan so that you have the last month and a half to revise. The reason I say month and a half rather than just the last month is that you will push your schedule back at times and fall behind. If this happens then you may have a month left which is still plenty of time.

  2. If you live somewhere where it will be cold in June (like Australia or something like that) then get a flu jab. I stupidly didn’t do this and it wrecked my final week before the exam because for once I actually got the flu!

  3. Areas I felt were particularly tough to learn all the material were Ethics, Financial Reporting and Analysis and Economics. I would make sure you allocate a significant amount of time to these. I know Economics isn’t part of the “big 4” topics but it does count for 20% of the reading material and isn’t quite as easy to grasp as some of the other areas.

  4. Make sure you have covered all the material and revised it 1-2 weeks before the exam. This way you can leave the last couple of weeks for mock exams and reviewing any areas you still need to work on.

  5. Buy the Elan 11th hour guide. I had copies of both the Elan 11th hour guide and the Schweser secret sauce and the 11th hour guide was much much better. Once you have finished covering all the material for the first time I would highly reccommend using this to review the material. Then if something comes up which isn’t covered by the 11th hour guide in a test you can take a look at the notes from whichever prep provider you go with. The 11th hour guide covers the majority of the material and provided you have been doing tests as you go along it will jog your memory and help you learn the stuff you haven’t already.

  6. That last point reminds me - do tests as you go along after each reading. And I DO NOT mean the end of chapter questions provided by Schweser - they SUCK! They are waaayyy too easy. Elan’s questions were great I thought. The Schweser Qbank is good as well BUT I didn’t think the questions were as good as the Elan guides or the EOC questions in the CFA texts. Schweser is great for learning the calculations (a lot of “plug and chug” questions in the Qbank), Elan questions and CFA EOC were more of a mix of conceptual and ‘plug and chug’. You will learn more from a mix of questions in my opinion rather than just mainly ‘plug and chug’ like Schweser.

  7. Even if you feel underprepared in the end because all doesn’t go exactly to plan (it rarely does for anyone), sit the exam anyway. You will then know what to expect next time if you fail it and you may even pass.

One final quote I felt helped inspire me throughout my first CFA Level 1 experience: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.

Just go for it and give it your best shot. What’s the worst that can happen? You fail and have a MASSIVE head start on the resit 6 month later.

EDIT: one more thing. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TAKE NOTES DURING YOUR FIRST READING! I did this at first for Quant and spent waaayyyy more time than was needed. If you need to make any notes just do them in the margins on your study notes. This and going through the material with various colours of highlighters is a much more useful way to spend your time rather than getting note taking happy. Tests will be your best way to learn the material. Not note taking.

I did EXACTLY the same thing! pdub is 100% right folks. Make sure you have at least 4 weeks to review. MINIMUM.

I started studying in June, and did not use 3rd-party notes. I actually read each study session and took my own detailed notes. I soon realized this was taking a lot of time, but fortunately I started very early. As exam time approached, I didn’t read anything out of the texts again, I only referred to my notes and did EOC problems, as well as Schweser Qbank. While this method may have saved me a few hundred dollars, it likely added 100 hours to my study time. I’ve seen other posts where people have raved about the benefits of condensed notes, and if I have to do it over again I’ll probably go that route, but I’m quite confident that I did well this past Saturday.

Bottom line is this: you have to read SOMETHING, not just do problems. EVERYTHING that is not marked ‘optional’ in the texts is fair game to appear on the exam. EOC problems usually range from 15-40 questions per reading, but after getting familiar with the content it’s easy to see that there could be hundreds of questions asked for each reading, so just doing the EOC problems won’t cut it. Same goes for Qbank; I remember in my preparation noting certain topics that I wasn’t asked a single question on in the EOCs or Qbank, but you bet your ass they could appear on the exam.

Thanks a lot guys, some very useful advice for myself and others I am sure. In terms of buying third party study packages, what is the benefit aside from the extra practice questions? After buying the books from the CFAI which contains ALL of the testable material in their own words, it seems silly to me to go spend hundreds (or thousands) on study packages from third party vendors. That being said, I definitely see the merits of having extra practice questions/mock exams and will be buying some, probably from Elan.

Again it is different for different people.

I got the elan package with study notes, 11th hour 3 mocks and the questions, which I would reccomend.

It all comes down to learning styles. I imagine the audio books and video really help some people learn. I also imagine that some people use all those extras to kind of kill time while studying. For me working thorugh questions suits me best.

I think the more questions and tests you have access too the better.

One downside of elan questions is that they are end of chapter style. If you get to the point where you want to make mini comprehensive tests, or a random 15 questions from FRA then the Qbank would be worth while. I didn’t have access to Q-bank and don’t regret it.

Something I forgot to mention which has been mentioned by others is to limit alcohol consumption in the weeks and especially days leading up to the exam. If you have to go to a party, fine. But even then, don’t get absolutely smashed to where it takes days to recover because those are CFA days which appreciate in value as the CFA exam approaches. You want to be able to keep the momentum going.

I wrote the test twice. In June of this year and then again this past weekend. Was in the 10th band in June. Feel better now then I did after taking the test in June. Granted feelings don’t count for anything but I will give you the biggest difference in my study techniques. I focused more on understanding the concepts rather than formulas or questions. This may seem obvious to most, but for me it made a huge difference. Understanding for instance how inputs into the cash conversion cycle equation affect outcomes was more helpful then remembering receivables + inventories - payables. I found that often times you can answer a question without wasting the time doing an equation if you have a good understanding of the concept that is being tested.

Also, read the standards of practice handbook at least once. Didn’t read it before June and relied solely on the Schweser books. Made a world of difference in December. I read it the week of the exam so it was fresh but I’d recommend reading it once near the beginning and then again a week or so before the test.

Good luck to you all who are writing in June. I for one hope I’m there with you…Just in a different section.