General tips and advice for new candidates

I’ve lurked on this forum during my time taking these examinations and just passed level 3 (Lvl 1 - Dec 2016, Lvl 2 - June 2017, Lvl 3 - June 2018). I figured since analystforum has been a great resource for me I’d post a few tips about my study process to hopefully help level 1 candidates starting their journey. While these tests seem daunting, it is possible to pass all 3 levels while working full time and not have to give up your entire social life. Here’s a list of what I believe to be the most important items to success:

  1. Time management: it’s important to set a study plan. 300 hours seems to be the benchmark many people use and that may be a good jumping off point but do not be a slave to that number. It’s most important to make sure you understand the material and aren’t just racking up hours of ineffectual study time. During the level 3 class that I took I was shocked at how many people were asking the instructor questions like “how many hours should I spend on X?” His response was always “enough hours until you’re getting it right”. I tracked my progress in excel to make sure I was done with a thorough review of the material approx a month and a half before test day. The last push is important to help you refresh on the items you’ve forgotten, get comfortable taking the mocks, and make sure you have the various definitions, rules and formulas committed to memory. For levels 1 and 3 I was able to follow my plan pretty closely and felt pretty good exiting the exam. Level 2 there were a lot of life things that got in the way but thankfully I was still able to pass.

  2. Studying/Materials: It’s possible there are better materials out there but I’ll just talk about what materials and strategy worked for me. For level 1 and 2 I used schweser self study materials. Level 2 I supplemented with Mark Meldrum’s videos and for level 3 I took Kaplan’s online class. For all three levels I used the CFAI materials to help reinforce items that weren’t coming quickly to me. The most important thing to remember is all these items are trying to get you to the same place. If you use your preferred source and are getting questions wrong and can’t grasp the topic try to use another source. There are plenty of analyst forum threads with candidates explaining topics to each other that can be found with a simple google search. I also searched for certain topics on YouTube and found random lectures/videos which proved to be very helpful. Usually after seeing things presented different ways something would click for me and suddenly I’d be getting over 80% of questions on that topic right. On level 1 it is certainly possible you can skip a topic you aren’t understanding and still pass. For level 2 and 3 that becomes a more dicey proposition as you may have a whole vignette or constructed response question dedicated to that topic. It’s worth exploring different sources before you leave those points on the table. And even if you still can’t fully grasp the concepts you’re more likely to get a few parts of the vignette or partial credit on the constructed response than if you initially gave up.

  3. Exam Day: it’s absolutely crucial to make sure you get a good night sleep before the exam. For level 2 I actually stayed at the hotel that hosted the exam. I really think the extra hour of sleep played a large factor in passing the exam. I’ve also found that last minute cramming may be detrimental. One of the biggest differences I noticed on test day between level 1 and level 3 was that for level 1 there were tons of candidates with all their books/flash cards/notes cramming immediately before entering the exam and for level 3 the majority of people were just patiently waiting and relaxing before the test. I believe starting the exam in a relaxed state of mind instead of a frenzy will give you an advantage over other candidates.

For December level 1 candidates, when you pass I would advise trying to take level 2 right away. The momentum from level 1 will help you build and learn the level 2 material. Also, if you happen to fail level 2, you’re in no worse of a position than if you had decided to skip it and take it the next year. Many people complain about the tight turnaround between the December and June exams but if you plan properly, you should have enough time. I bought a house, started a new job and was sick for 2.5 weeks during this timeframe and still managed to squeak by.

My apologies if this is too rambling but hopefully some of you will find this useful. If anyone has questions on the process, I’d be happy to share my insight.

Best of luck to you all!

Thanks a lot for sharing your tips with us! This is very helpful!

I have Level I exam on 1st Dec. I’ve heard that the BA II calculator is very different from a scientific calculator. So two questions -

  1. Is there a user guide that teaches you how to use it when you purchase it?

  2. If not, how do you learn all the calculator tricks to speed yourself up during the exam?

Thanks loads!

Thanks bro. This is really encouraging. I was also planning to stay in a hotel in LA. How to find the hotel that administers the exam? Do they allocate candidates? Is there gonna be no available rooms as Exam date is approaching?

Thanks for sharing, got some clarity on some things.

Smashit - The BA II plus isn’t very difficult to get used to. I’m sure there are tutorials online about how to use the TVM functions. Speed will really come from just drilling tons of questions. Other than using the basic TVM functions there isn’t much more to learn about the calculator. You may want to change the number of decimals it displays to be more precise (2nd >> Format >> Number >> Enter) and you’ll definitely need to know how to switch between an ordinary annuity and an annuity due (2nd >> BGN >> 2nd >> Set).

dasstienn - Approximately a month before the exam you’ll get an email with your exam admission ticket attached. That’ll have all the details about your testing center. I took Level 2 in NYC and booked the hotel room the day before the exam.

When you start Fixed Income section, you will get a lot of practice using TVM buttons. In corporate finance section calculating NPV and IRR. In Quant section you’ll learn statistics inputs and automatically derive Variance and standard deviation. I think these three are enough to know for the exam.

18 Monther: huge accomplishment. Congrats! Almost was an 18 monther myself but band 10 on level 3.

Very helpful and confidence building thought thoughts. Thank you vey much.

I am sure you feel relieved.

There is no way to tell early on which venue you’re going to be allocated into, assuming that the examination in the city has multiple venues to accommodate large number of candidates. However, I believe CFAI rarely changes its choice of venues from year to year. So you can bet that whatever venues CFAI used last year will be used again this year.

Another way is to make contact with someone in the CFAI who has knowledge on this info.